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GURNEY, Sir JOHN (1768–1845), judge, son of Joseph Gurney of Walworth, government shorthand writer [see under his father Gurney, Thomas], his mother being a daughter of William Brodie of Mansfield, was born in London on 14 Feb. 1768. He was educated partly at St. Paul's School, partly by the Rev. Mr. Smith of Bottesdale, Suffolk, and, through attending debating societies and accompanying his father in his duties in court, decided to take to the law, and was called to the bar at the Inner Temple on 3 May 1793. Having at first applied himself to Old Bailey practice and joined the home circuit, he distinguished himself on 24 Feb. 1794, during the absence of his leader, in defending an action for libel against a person named Eaton. He was chosen in consequence junior counsel for the defence in the state trials of Hardy, Horne Tooke, and Thelwall in the same year, and in 1796 defended Crossfield, who was charged with complicity in the ‘Popgun Plot.’ In 1798 he appeared for Arthur O'Connor and others on the charge of high treason, and summed up their defence. Being now leader of the Middlesex sessions, and having a good practice at Westminster Hall, he applied for a patent of precedence as a king's counsel, but it was refused him, nor did he obtain this honour until in 1816 it was won for him by his great skill in conducting the prosecution of Lord Cochrane and Cochrane Johnstone, accused of spreading false rumours for stockjobbing purposes. Against rivals so great as Scarlett and Copley he held the first place in the king's bench, and was also leader of the home circuit. In 1820 he conducted the prosecution of two of the Cato Street conspirators, and procured their conviction. On 13 Feb. 1832 he was appointed a baron of the exchequer and was knighted, and in January 1845 was compelled by failing health to retire. He died on the 1st of the following March at his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Both in his private and public life he was much esteemed. He was a good criminal lawyer, though not deeply learned, and was an independent and acute, but severe and somewhat harsh judge. In his early years he was a dissenter, but latterly he attended the services of the church of England. He married Maria, daughter of William Hawes, M.D., by whom he had several children, including Russell Gurney [q. v.] and John Hampden Gurney [q. v.]

[Foss's Judges of England; State Trials, xxii. 22, 27, xxx. 711, 1341; Law Magazine, 1845, p. 278; Ballantine's Experiences, i. 262; Campbell's Life, i. 221; Annual Register, 1845.]

J. A. H.

John Gurney (judge)