Gibson, Edward, first Baron Ashbourne, of Ashbourne, co. Meath 1837-1913, lord chancellor of Ireland, was born in Dublin 4 September 1837, the second son of William Gibson, of Rockforest, co. Tipperary, solicitor, by his wife, Louisa, daughter of Joseph Grant, barrister, of Dublin. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated as first senior moderator in history and English literature (1858). Called to the Irish bar (King's Inns, Dublin, 1860), he took silk in 1872. He contested Waterford unsuccessfully as a conservative in 1874, but was returned the next year for Dublin University. The conservatives were then weak in debating power on Irish questions, and Gibson, speaking with informed facility, gained distinction. His appearance was striking, with his fine forehead crowned by hair prematurely silver-white; his utterance was clamant but toned by genial humour; he was shrewd and looked wise; while his declamatory, lucid style peculiarly equipped him for popular audiences. Appointed attorney-general for Ireland in 1877, a position which he held till 1880, Gibson became the effective controller at Dublin Castle, and the exponent in the Commons of the official Irish policy. During Mr. Gladstone's second administration (1880-1885), when the Irish land war raged and the Parnellites commanded an insurrectionary country, Gibson's dexterous criticism not merely of the handling by the government of the Irish chaos, but of their general conduct of affairs, enhanced his reputation. On Lord Salisbury becoming premier in 1885, Gibson was raised to the peerage and promoted lord chancellor of Ireland with a seat in the Cabinet. He held the same office in the conservative governments of 1886-1892 and 1895-1905, thus occupying an unprecedented position during an unprecedented period of eighteen years.
Ashbourne was not deemed an erudite lawyer but, supported by the learning of (Sir) Samuel Walker [qv.], ex-lord chancellor, the genius of Lord Justice Fitzgibbon [qv.], and the acumen of Lord Justice Holmes, he proved an admirable president of an exceptionally powerful court of appeal; while he discharged the administrative duties of the chancellorship with unwearying assiduity and solicitude. He was dignified, hospitable, and popular. When he vacated the chancellorship, Ashbourne constantly sat in the appellate tribunals of the Lords and Privy Council. He piloted the Irish Land Purchase Act of 1885, known as the Ashbourne Act, but otherwise left little impress upon legislation. His familiar text was Give peace in our time, O Lord, and thus he earned for himself among intimates the sobriquet of Tutissimus. He was the author of Pitt, some Chapters of his Life and Times (1898). He died in London 22 May 1913.
Lord Ashbourne married in 1868 Frances Maria Adelaide, second daughter of Henry Cope Colles, barrister, by whom he had four sons and four daughters. He was succeeded by his eldest son, William, second Baron Ashbourne (born 1868).
The Times, 23 May 1913
personal and professional knowledge. Portrait, Royal Academy Pictures, 1899.
Contributor: A. W. S. [Arthur Warren Samuels]