McNeill, Duncan (DNB00)
McNEILL, DUNCAN, Baron Colonsay and Oronsay (1793–1874), Scottish judge, second, but eldest surviving son of John McNeill of Colonsay and Oronsay, Argyllshire, by his wife Hester, eldest daughter of Duncan McNeill of Diinmore, Argyllshire, was born in the island of Oronsay in August 1793. A portrait by Thomas Duncan of the father, an agriculturist of note and an improver of the breed of highland cattle, is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. A brother, Sir John McNeill, diplomatist, is noticed separately. Duncan was educated at the universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, taking honours in mathematics and graduating M.D. at the former. He read law in Edinburgh in the chambers of Michael Linning, writer to the signet, and in 1816 became a member of the Scottish bar. He at first undertook criminal practice in the courts of justiciary, and he consequently was appointed an advocate-depute in 1820 and sheriff of Perthshire in 1824. In November 1834 he became solicitor-general for Scotland in Sir Robert Peel's first administration, quitting office in April 1835, and he again held this post when Peel returned to office, from September 1841 till October 1842, when he was promoted to be lord advocate, in succession to Sir William Rae. In this capacity he introduced the Scottish Poor Law Bill. He retired from office on the fall of Peel in July 1846. He had been elected dean of the Faculty of Advocates in 1843 and continued to be annually reelected until he was raised to the bench. He was M.P. for Argyllshire from 1843 to 1861 and enjoyed a lucrative legal practice, especially in House of Lords appeals. In May 1861 he became an ordinary lord of session, assuming the title of Lord Colonsay and Oronsay. In 1862, when Lord-justice-general Boyle retired, he was appointed to succeed him as lord justice general and lord president of the court of session, and was sworn of the privy council. After holding that office with distinction for fourteen years, he retired in 1867 upon a pension, was raised to the peerage as Baron Colonsay and Oron- say on 26 Feb., and took his share in the judicial business of the House of Lords. He was the first Scottish lawyer raised to the peerage for the purpose of being constituted a member of the court of ultimate appeal. His knowledge of Scottish, and even of English, law was extensive, and his mental powers commanding. The sole defect of his judgments, if it be one, is their modest brevity. He died unmarried at Pau on 31 Jan. 1874, and the title became extinct. A memorial to him was erected in October 1874 in the court hall at Inverary, and a portrait by Thomas Duncan in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, has been engraved. A bust by Sir John Steell is in the same collection.
[Law Journal, 7 Feb. and 7 Nov. 1874; Law Times, 7 Feb. 1874; Solicitors' Journal, 7 Feb. 1874; Times, 2 Feb. 1874.]