Hunter, William Alexander (DNB01)
HUNTER, WILLIAM ALEXANDER (1844–1898), lawyer, born in Aberdeen on 8 May 1844, was the eldest son of James Hunter, granite merchant, by his wife, Margaret Boddie of Aberdeen. He was educated at the grammar school and university (King's College) of Aberdeen, entering college at the age of sixteen, with a high place in the bursary competition. In 1862-1863 he was first prizeman in logic, moral philosophy, Christian evidences, botany, and chemistry, and in 1864 graduated as M. A. with 'the highest honours' in mental philosophy and in natural science. Besides several prizes he gained the Ferguson scholarship in mental philosophy, and the Murray scholarship awarded by the univer- sity after a competitive examination in all the subjects of the arts curriculum. With this successful record he was encouraged to read for the bar, and entered the Middle Temple in 1865. After taking numerous exhibitions awarded by the council of legal education, and passing his examinations with first-class honours, he was called to the English bar in 1867, and joined the south-eastern circuit.
For some years Hunter's work was almost entirely educational. In 1868 he gained the 'proxime accessit Shaw fellowship' in philosophy, which, like the Ferguson, is open to graduates of all Scottish universities. Shortly afterwards he took the Blackwell prize for the best essay on the philosophy of Leibnitz, and on 7 Aug. 1869 was appointed professor of Roman law at University College, London. His class was never large, but he devoted much time to the preparation of his lectures, and elaborated a logical arrangement of the subject, which afterwards appeared in his textbooks. In 1878 he resigned the chair of Roman law, and on 2 Nov. was appointed professor of jurisprudence in the same college. His lectures on this subject during the four years he held the chair contained much valuable criticism of Austen and other writers, but the matter was not published except in a few magazine articles. Under the influence of John Stuart Mill he took an active part in the agitation for the political enfranchisement of women, and aided in obtaining for them opportunities of higher education. In 1875, following the example of Professor John Eliot Cairnes [q. v.], he admitted women to his class in Roman law, and extended to them the same privilege when he afterwards became professor of jurisprudence. In 1882 he resigned his chair of jurisprudence at University College, and in the same year received the degree of LL.D. from the university of Aberdeen. While professor at University College Hunter acted from time to time as examiner in Roman law and jurisprudence at the university of London, and he wrote on social and political subjects in the 'Examiner' and other newspapers. He was for five years editor of the 'Weekly Dispatch' In 1875 he wrote a pamphlet on the 'Law of Master and Servant,' and gave much attention to the interpretation of the law as it affected labour disputes. On retiring from his chair at University College in 1882 Hunter gave whatever time was not occupied in professional pursuits to political controversy. In conjunction with his friend, James Barclay, M.P. for Forfarshire, he took part in the attempts then being made by English and Scottish tenant farmers to obtain compensation for improvements. He also took up in the same interest the question of railway rates, and succeeded in obtaining important improvements in restrictions on charges and in the classification of goods and rates. He collected some materials for a work on private bill legislation, but this was never completed.
In 1885 Hunter was elected member of parliament for the north division of Aberdeen by a majority of 3,900 over the conservative candidate. His friendship with Charles Bradlaugh [q. v. Suppl.] and his intimate acquaintance with natives from India who had passed through his hands as law students had familiarised him with Indian questions, and on 21 Jan. 1886 he began his career in the House of Commons by moving an amendment to the address expressing regret that the revenues of India had been applied to defray the expenses of the military operations in Ava without the consent of parliament. This was withdrawn at Gladstone's suggestion.
At the general election in the same year Hunter declared himself in favour of home rule, and was returned for North Aberdeen unopposed. In 1888 he was appointed by the council of legal education reader in Roman law, international law, and jurisprudence. Next year the government, when legislating on local government in Scotland, appropriated probate duty to the payment of the fees of children taking the three lowest standards in elementary schools. In 1890 Hunter saw the chance of completely freeing elementary education from the payment of fees, and urged that the increase in the duties, which the government then imposed on spirits, should pay the fees in elementary schools on the standards above the three lowest. This he succeeded in carrying, and thus secured wholly free elementary education for Scotland. For this service he received the freedom of his native city in 1890. On 27 Jan, 1891 Hunter moved that the resolution refusing permission to Bradlaugh to take the oath or make affirmation should be expunged from the records of the House of Commons, and this was carried without a division. He had always been interested in old age pensions, which he was the first to press upon the attention of parliament, and gave valuable assistance to those attempting to bring forward a feasible scheme. But his health was rapidly failing, and he seldom intervened in debate during his remaining years in parliament. In 1895 he was re-elected as member for North Aberdeen by a majority of 3,548, but retired from parliament in the following year owing to the state of his health. On the recommendation of Mr. A. J. Balfour he was awarded a civil list pension of 200l. He died on 21 July 1898 at Cults in Aberdeenshire.
Hunter's most important work was 'A Systematic and Historical Exposition of Roman Law in the order of a Code embodying the Institutes of Gaius and of Justinian, translated into English by J. A. Cross,' London, 1876; 2nd edit, enlarged, 1885. The chief characteristic of this work was its order of arrangement, which was based on that recommended by Bentham for a civil code. Under the head of 'contracts' some important criticisms of Maine's theory of the origin of Stipulatio are given, and under 'ownership ' a new theory respecting bona fide Possessio is put forward entirely opposed to that of Savigny. The 'Introduction to Roman Law,' which appeared in 1880 (3rd ed. 1885), was a smaller work containing such parts of the subject as students required for pass examinations.
Besides the above works Hunter published 'The Trial of Muluk Chand for the Murder of his own Child: a Romance of Criminal Administration in Bengal. With an Introduction by W. A. Hunter, LL.D., M.P.,' 1888.