Gurney, Russell (DNB00)

GURNEY, RUSSELL (1804–1878), recorder of London, son of Sir John Gurney [q. v.], baron of the exchequer, was born in 1804, and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1826. In 1828 he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple. In 1830 he was nominated to the office of common pleader in the city of London by his father's colleague, Sir William Bolland [q. v.] He had to pay a large sum for this office, which he held, having at the same time a considerable practice in the courts, until 1845, when he had to resign it upon becoming Q.C. He was offered a larger sum than he had paid, but refused it in order that the appointment might be thrown open in accordance with the wish of the corporation. In 1850 he was appointed judge of the sheriffs' court and the small debts court by the court of common council. In 1856 he became common serjeant, and in December 1857 recorder of the city of London. In this capacity he was legal adviser to the corporation, judge of the mayor's court, and a commissioner of the central criminal court. He commanded universal respect by his dignity, impartiality, and high principle, while he showed a remarkable power of rising to the demands made by new responsibilities. In July 1865 he was elected member for Southampton as a conservative. The liberal administration in the same year showed their appreciation of his character by sending him as a commissioner (with Sir Henry Storks and Mr. Maule) to inquire into the Jamaica insurrection. He was sworn a privy councillor on his return. In 1871 Mr. Gladstone's government appointed him commissioner to settle the British and American claims under the twelfth article of the treaty of Washington. He went to the United States for the purpose, although in feeble health, the city of London consenting on this as on the former occasion to his temporary absence. In a debate after his return, Mr. Bourke (now Lord Connemara) stated, with the general assent of the house, that Gurney had discharged his functions in the most admirable way, and deserved the ‘affection, gratitude, and respect of his countrymen.’

As a member of parliament Gurney had charge of several important measures, especially the Bill to remove Defects in the Administration of the Criminal Law (1867), the Married Women's Property Bill (1870), the Public Prosecutors Bill (1871), and the Public Worship Regulation Bill (1874). He was equally respected on both sides of the house. In February 1878 failing health compelled him to resign the recordership. He stated in a letter to the lord mayor that only one of his predecessors during five hundred years had held the office so long, namely, Sir William Thompson, who was also solicitor-general and afterwards puisne judge during his recordership. An address expressive of the highest respect was presented to Gurney by the bar upon his retirement. He served between 1862 and 1877 upon royal commissions on transportation and penal servitude, on oaths, on boundaries of boroughs, on sanitary legislation, on military punishments, on Master and Servant Act, on extradition, on public schools, and on the inquiry into Christ's Hospital. He died at his house in Kensington Palace Gardens, 31 May 1878. Two years before his death he was prime warden of the Fishmongers' Company, of which he had been a member for many years. Gurney was a man of slight frame, but strikingly handsome. In private life he was remarkable for gentleness, courtesy, and an affectionate nature. He married, on 1 Sept. 1852, Emelia, daughter of the Rev. Samuel Ellis Batten, by Caroline, youngest daughter of John Venn, rector of Clapham.

[Information from Mrs. Russell Gurney, and articles in Times and Pall Mall Gaz.]

L. S.