Blackburn, Colin, Baron Blackburn 1813-1896, judge, second son of John Blackburn of Killearn, Stirlingshire, by Rebecca, daughter of the Rev. Colin Gillies, was born on 18 May 1813. His elder brother, Peter Blackburn, represented Stirlingshire in the conservative interest in the parliament of 1859-65. The future judge was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, in which university he graduated Bachelor of Arts (eighth wrangler) in 1835, and proceeded M.A. in 1838. In 1870 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Law from the university of Edinburgh. Admitted on 20 April 1835 student at Lincoln's Inn, he migrated thence to the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar on 23 Nov. 1838, and elected honorary bencher on 13 April 1877.
For some years after his call he went the northern circuit in a briefless or almost briefless condition. He had no professional connection, no turn for politics, no political interest, none of the advantages of person and address which make for success in advocacy, and though his well-earned repute as a legal author (see infra) led to his occasional employment in heavy mercantile cases, he was still a stuff gownsman, and better known in the courts as a reporter than as a pleader, when on the transference of Sir William Erle from the queen's bench to the chief-justiceship of the common pleas, Lord Campbell startled the profession by selecting him for the vacant puisne judgeship. He was appointed justice on 27 June 1859, and on 2 Nov. following was invested with the coif. He was knighted on 24 April 1860. The surprise with which his advancement was received was proved by the event to have been singularly ill-founded.
It was soon apparent that the new puisne possessed in an eminent degree all the essential qualities of the judicial mind. To a logical faculty, naturally acute and improved by severe discipline, he added a depth of learning, a breadth of view, a sobriety of judgment, and an inexhaustible patience, which made his decisions as nearly as possible infallible. Few causes célèbres came before him during his seventeen years' tenure of office as judge of first instance; but the dignity and impartiality with which he presided at the trial (28 Oct. 1867) of the Manchester Fenians were worthy of a more august occasion; and his charge to the grand jury of Middlesex (2 June 1868) on the bill of indictment against the late governor of Jamaica, Mr. Edward John Eyre, though not perhaps altogether unexceptionable, is, on the whole, a sound, weighty, and vigorous exposition of the principles applicable to the determination of a question of great delicacy and the gravest imperial consequence. The consolidation of the courts effected by the Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875 gave Blackburn the status of justice of the high court, which numbered among its members no judge of more tried ability when the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876 authorised the reinforcement of the House of Lords by the creation of two judicial life peers, designated lords of appeal in ordinary. Blackburn's investiture with the new dignity met accordingly with universal approbation. He was raised to the peerage on 16 Oct. 1876, by the title of Baron Blackburn of Killearn, Stirlingshire, and took his seat in the House of Lords and was sworn of the privy council in the following month (21, 28 Nov.). In the part which he thenceforth took in the administration of our imperial jurisprudence, Blackburn acquitted himself with an ability so consummate as to cause his retirement in December 1886 to be felt as an almost irreparable loss. The regret was intensified by the discovery of a curious flaw in the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, by which his resignation of office carried with it his exclusion from the House of Lords. This anomaly was, however, removed by an amending act. He died, unmarried, at his country seat, Doonholm, Ayrshire, on 8 Jan. 1896.
Blackburn was a member of the royal commissions on the courts of law (1867) and the stock exchange (1877), and presided over the royal commission on the draft criminal code (1878). He was author of a masterly Treatise on the Effect of the Contract of Sale on the Legal Rights of Property and Possession in Goods, Wares, and Merchandise, London, 1845, 8vo, which held its own as the standard text-book on the subject until displaced by the more comprehensive work of Benjamin. A new edition, revised by J. C. Graham, appeared in 1885. As a reporter Blackburn collaborated with Thomas Flower Ellis [qv.].
Eton School Lists
Foster's Men at the Bar, and Peerage, 1880
Burke's Peerage 1896
Cal. Univ. Cambr.
Times, 10 Jan. 1896
Ann. Reg. 1863-8, 1896, ii. 127
Law Times, 2, 9, 16 July 1859, 13 June 1868, 16 Dec. 1886, 15 Jan. 1887, 18 Jan. 1896
Law Mag. and Law Rev. xxv. 256
Law Journ. 18 Jan. 1896
Campbell's Life, ed. Hardcastle, ii. 372
Pollock's Personal Remembrances, ii. 86
Stephen's Life of James FitzJames Stephen
Finlason's Report of the Case of the Queen v. Eyre, 1868, p. 53
Lords' Journ. cviii. 424
Parl. Papers (H. C.), 1868-9 C. 4130, 1878 C. 2157, 1878-9 C. 2345
Ballantine's Experiences, 1890, pp. 248 et seq., 333.
Contributor: J. M. R. [James McMullen Rigg]