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Sir Samuel Shepherd (1760-1840)

This article was written by William Prideaux Courtney and was published in 1897

Sir Samuel Shepherd, a lawyer, was born on 6 April 1760. He was the son of a jeweller in London, a friend of Garrick, and a dabbler in poetry. The boy was at the Merchant Taylors' school from 1773 to 1774, and was then at a school at Chiswick, probably that of Dr. William Rose. In July 1776 he was entered at the Inner Temple, where he became pupil of Serjeant Charles Runnington, who married his sister in 1777. On 23 November 1781 he was called to the bar.

Shepherd went the home circuit, and soon acquired a considerable practice both on circuit and in the court of common pleas. Lord Mansfield complimented him, Buller gave him sound advice, and Kenyon remarked ‘he had no rubbish in his head.’ With Erskine he spent many long vacations in travel. About 1790 he began to suffer from deafness, and this infirmity increased as years passed away. In 1793 he declined the dignity of king's counsel, but he was created serjeant-at-law in Easter term 1796, and in the following Trinity term became king's serjeant. On the death of Serjeant Cockell he rose to be king's ancient serjeant.

The Prince of Wales made Shepherd his solicitor-general in June 1812, and about Christmas 1813 he was appointed solicitor-general to the crown. He was knighted on 11 May 1814, and in the spring of 1817 was made attorney-general. From 11 April 1813 to June 1819 he sat in parliament for Dorchester. In the House of Commons he brought in the foreign enlistment bill, and the bill abolishing ‘the wager of battle and the right of appeal in felony.’ In the law courts his chief cases were the prosecution in June 1817 of James Watson for high treason at the Spa Fields meeting in the previous December, and that of Richard Carlile for publishing Paine's ‘Age of Reason.’

By common consent Shepherd was a sound lawyer, who but for his physical defect could have filled to general satisfaction the highest positions in his profession. He refused the two offices of chief justice of the king's bench and of the common pleas, which became vacant in the long vacation of 1818, as he had made up his mind ‘never to accept a judicial office involving the trial of prisoners.’ The objection did not apply to the post of lord chief baron of the court of exchequer in Scotland, which he held from June 1819 to February 1830. He was raised to the privy council on 23 July 1819.

Shepherd became very popular in Edinburgh society, and was on terms of close intimacy with Sir Walter Scott, who praises ‘the neatness and precision, closeness and truth’ of his conversation, the perfect good humour and suavity of his manner, ‘with a little warmth of temper on suitable occasions.’ Scott never saw a man so patient under such a distressing malady. Ill-health forced Shepherd to resign his post in 1830, when he retired, to the deep regret of Edinburgh society, to a cottage at Streatley in Berkshire, where he owned a small property. For the last three years of his life he was blind. He died on 3 November 1840, and was buried in the churchyard of Streatley, where a monument was erected to his memory. Lord Campbell praises his knowledge of English literature. He and his friend William Adam, lord chief commissioner of the jury court, presented in 1834 to the Bannatyne Club, of which they were members, a volume of the ‘Ragman Rolls’ (1291-1296). He was also a member of the Blair-Adam Club, of which William Adam and Sir Walter Scott were leaders, and joined in the club's annual excursions; but his alarm at the Scotch ‘crags and precipices’ once drew from Scott a tirade against cockneyism.

He married, in 1783, a Miss White, whom Scott pronounced ‘fine and fidgety.’ She died at Hyde Park Terrace, London, on 24 March 1833, aged 74. Their son, Henry John Shepherd (1783?-1855), bencher of Lincoln's Inn (K.C. 1834), recorder of Abingdon, and commissioner of bankrupts, was author of ‘A Summary of the Law relating to the Election of Members of Parliament,’ 1825; 3rd edit. 1836; and of ‘Pedro of Castile,’ a poem, 1838. He died at Caversham, near Oxford, on 21 May 1845 (Gent. Mag. 1855. ii. 108). He married, on 11 April 1808, Lady Mary (1777-1847), second daughter of Neil Primrose, third earl of Rosebery. She was author of three philosophical treatises. The niece of Sir Samuel was the first wife of his intimate friend John Singleton Copley (afterwards Lord Lyndhurst) .

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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