Christian, Edward d. 1823, Downing professor of laws, was the son of Charles Christian of Mairlandclere in Cumberland, and brother of Fletcher Christian [qv.] of the mutiny of the Bounty. The family of Christian Curwen of Cumberland was nearly connected with him, and he has been described as a far-away cousin of the first Lord Ellenborough. He graduated at St. John's College, Cambridge, taking his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1779 (when he was third wrangler and second chancellor's medallist), and that of M.A. in 1782. These distinctions, combined with the fact that he was member's prizeman in 1780, amply justified his election to a fellowship at St. John's College in the latter year, a prize which he held until 1789. He is stated in Hardwicke's Preston (p. 652) to have been the master of Hawkshead free grammar school, but this could only have been for a short time, as he entered himself at Gray's Inn on 5 July 1782, and was called to the bar on 25 Jan. 1786. For some time he went the northern circuit, but he disappointed the high expectations of future distinction which had been formed from his university career, and gradually sank so low as to become the subject of practical jokes. On the nomination of Francis Annesley, then master of Downing College, Cambridge, he obtained the post of professor of common law, and by a grace of that university the title of professor of laws of England was conferred upon him on 1 Nov. 1788. Christian was for many years one of the counsel in the long-contested case between the university and the heirs of Sir Jacob Downing, and in the charter of the new incorporation of Downing College in 1800 he was named the first professor of laws, and received a stipend of 200l. per annum. In October 1790 he put himself forward as a candidate for the position of assessor to the vice-chancellor, but lost the election by 121 votes to 129. He obtained, however, the place of professor of general polity and laws of England in the East India College in Hertfordshire, and was for a long time a commissioner of bankrupts. When the place of registrar of the Bedford level became vacant in 1805, Christian was one of the candidates, but after a severe contest, in the course of which the competitors came to blows, he was declared on a scrutiny to have been beaten by one vote. His last preferment was the chief-justiceship of the isle of Ely, a preferment which was abolished in November 1866, and this post, of the annual value of 155l., was conferred upon him by Dr. Yorke, the then occupant of the see. Christian died at Downing College, Cambridge, on 29 March 1823, as was wittily remarked, in the full vigour of his incapacity. His connection, Lord Ellenborough, was equally emphatic in condemnation. On one occasion a very doubtful nisi prius decision was cited before that sarcastic judge, and the question Who ruled that? was met with the answer, The chief justice of the isle of Ely. The peer thereupon exclaimed that Christian was only fit to rule—a copybook.
His literary publications were numerous, and some of them showed considerable research into the depths of antiquarian law. The earliest was: (1) An Examination of Precedents and Principles — that an impeachment is determined by a dissolution of parliament, 1790. This was followed by: (2) A Dissertation showing that the House of Lords in cases of Judicature are bound by precisely the same rules of evidence as are observed by all other courts, 1792; 2nd ed. 1821. His edition, with notes and additions (3), of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England appeared in four volumes, 1793-5, and was often reissued down to 1830, the successive editions bringing the editor considerable gain. To the Minutes of the Proceedings on the Court-martial held at Portsmouth August 12, 1792, on the Bounty mutineers, he added (4) an appendix purporting to give a full account of the causes of the mutiny, which evoked a reply from Admiral Bligh. In 1807 he published (5) A Vindication of the Right of the Universities of Great Britain to a copy of every new publication, the second edition appearing in 1814, and the third in 1818. Down to the former date it had been considered to rest with the publisher's discretion whether, under the statutes for the security of copyright, copies of all publications should be sent to other libraries than the British Museum, but, in consequence of Christian's action, the university of Cambridge stepped forward to enforce on its own behalf, and that of ten other public libraries, their right to such works. Christian's other publications were (6) A concise Account of the Origin of the two Houses of Parliament, 1810; (7) The Origin, Progress, and Present Practice of the Bankrupt Law, 1812-14, 2 vols. and 2nd ed. 1818; (8) Practical Instructions for suing and prosecuting a Commission of Bankrupt, 1816, 2nd ed. 1820; (9) Plan for a County Provident Bank, 1816, with which may be coupled (10) General Observations on Provident Banks, with a plan of the unlimited Provident Bank at Cambridge, included in the Pamphleteer, xvii. 276-88, and of which it may be said that the Cambridge bank ultimately involved many persons in a heavy loss; (11) Treatise on the Game Laws, 1817; (12) Charges delivered to Grand Juries in the Isle of Ely, 2nd ed. 1819, 3rd ed. 1821, many of which had previously been issued in a separate form; (13) Full Explanation of the Law respecting Prayers for the Queen and the Royal Family, which passed through three editions in 1821. Christian was elected a bencher of his inn on 7 June 1809, and discharged the duties of treasurer in 1810-11. If any one wishes to see his system of lecturing as professor at Cambridge, he can consult A Syllabus, or the Heads of Lectures publicly delivered in the University of Cambridge by Edward Christian, 1797.
Gent. Mag. June 1823, pp. 569-70
Lady Belcher's Mutineers of Bounty, p. 6
Gunning's Reminiscences, i. 210-20, ii. 159
Baker's Hist. of St. John's (Mayor), i. 309, 310
Cooper's Annals of Camb. iv. 432, 468
Biog. Dict. of Living Authors (1816), p. 62.
Contributor: W. P. C. [William Prideaux Courtney]