Abercromby, James, first Baron Dunfermline 1776-1858, third son of General Sir Ralph Abercromby [see Abercromby, Sir Ralph], was born 7 Nov. 1776. He was educated for the English bar, and was called at Lincoln's Inn in 1801, soon after which he obtained a commissionership of bankruptcy. Subsequently he became steward of the estates of the Duke of Devonshire. In 1807 he entered parliament as member for Midhurst, and in 1812 he was returned for Calne, which he continued to represent till 1830
Without special claims for promotion as a politician, he owed his success chiefly to his power of clear and judicious statement, and the prudent use he made of opportunities. His career was also influenced to a considerable extent by the prominent part which he took in the discussion of Scotch business. In 1824 and 1826 he brought forward a motion for a bill to amend the representation of the city of Edinburgh; but although on both occasions he received large support, the power of election remained until 1832 in the hands of the self-elected council of thirty-three. On the accession of Canning to power in 1827, Abercromby was appointed judge-advocate-general. In 1830 he became chief baron of the exchequer of Scotland, and when in 1832 the office was abolished, he received a pension of 2,000l. a year. A parliamentary career being again open to him, he was chosen along with Francis Jeffrey to represent Edinburgh in the first reformed parliament. As on various questions of privilege he had manifested a special knowledge of the forms of the house, his claims for the speakership were considered by his party in 1833, but Edward John Littleton, afterwards Baron Hatherton [qv.], was ultimately chosen to oppose Manners Sutton, who was elected. In 1834 Abercromby entered the cabinet of Lord Grey as master of the mint, but the ministry became disunited on the Irish question. At the opening of the new parliament in 1835 the condition of the political atmosphere was in some respects so uncertain, that the choice of a speaker awakened exceptional interest as a touchstone of party strength; and amid much excitement Abercromby was chosen over Manners Sutton by 316 votes to 306. As speaker Abercromby acted with great impartiality, while he possessed sufficient decision to quell any serious tendency to disorder. His term of office was marked by the introduction of several important reforms in the management of private bills, tending to simplify the arrangements and minimise the opportunities for jobbery. In spite of failing health he retained office till May 1839. On retiring he was created Baron Dunfermline of Dunfermline in the county of Fife. He died at Colinton House, Midlothian, 17 April 1858
Lord Dunfermline, after his retirement, continued to interest himself in public affairs connected with Edinburgh, and was one of the originators of the United Industrial School for the support and training of destitute children, with a provision for voluntary religious instruction in accordance with the beliefs of the parents. He wrote a life of his father, Sir Ralph Abercromby, which was published posthumously in 1861.
Gent. Mag. 3rd series, iv. 547-551
Annual Register, c. 403-5
Anderson, History of Edinburgh (1856)
Journal of Lord Cockburn (1874)
Memoirs of Lord Brougham, iii. 230-231
Greville Memoirs, ii. 333, iii. 95, 201, 204, 213
Encyclopędia Britannica, 9th edit. i. 37.
Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]