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James Anthony Lawson

James Anthony Lawson, PC (Ire), QC (1817–1887) was an Irish academic, lawyer and judge.

Background and educationEdit

Lawson was born at Waterford, the eldest son of James Lawson, by Mary Anthony, daughter of Joseph Anthony, and was educated at the endowed school there. Having entered Trinity College Dublin, he was elected a Scholar in 1836, obtained a senior moderatorship in 1837, and was a gold medallist and first class in ethics and logic. He graduated B.A. 1838, LL.B. 1841, and LL.D. 1850, and served as Whately professor of political economy from 1840 to 1845.

Legal and judicial careerEdit

Lawson was called to the Irish Bar in 1840, and soon obtained a good practice, especially in the courts of equity. On 29 January 1857 he was gazetted a Queen's Counsel, elected bencher of King's Inns, Dublin, 1861, and acted as Law Adviser to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1858 to 1859. He was appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland in February 1861, and in 1865 Attorney-General for Ireland, when he was sworn a member of the Irish privy council.

As Attorney-General he had in 1865 to grapple with the Fenian conspiracy, when he suppressed the Irish People newspaper, and the leaders were arrested and prosecuted. On 4 April 1857 he unsuccessfully contested the seat for Dublin University, but on 15 July 1865 came in for Portarlington, and continued to represent that place till November 1868, when he was defeated on the general election in December. He was appointed fourth justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Ireland, in December 1868, and held the post till June 1882, when he was transferred to the Queen's Bench division.

During the Land League agitation he presided at several important political trials. His firm conduct made him obnoxious to those who were breaking the laws, and an attempt was made to murder him while walking in Kildare Street, Dublin, on 11 November 1882, by Patrick Delaney, who was afterwards tried for the Phoenix Park murders, and became a Crown informer. He was made one of the Irish church commissioners in July 1869, gazetted a privy councillor in England on 18 May 1870, acted as a commissioner for the great seal from March to December 1874, was a vice-president of the Dublin Statistical Society, and was in 1884 made DCL of Oxford.

Personal lifeEdit

Lawson died at Shankill, near Dublin, 10 August 1887, having married in 1842 Jane, eldest daughter of Samuel Merrick of Cork. In the 1860s he built a Victorian gothic mansion by the sea in Shankill called Clontra which was designed by Deane & Woodward.


  • ‘Five Lectures on Political Economy,’ 1844.
  • ‘Duties and Obligations involved in Mercantile Relations. A lecture,’ 1855.
  • ‘Speech at the Election for Members to serve in Parliament for the University of Dublin,’ 1857. With H. Connor he compiled
  • ‘Reports of Cases in High Court of Chancery of Ireland during the time of Lord Chancellor Sugden,’ 1865.
  • 'Hymni Usitati Latine Redditi,with Other Verses'. Kegan Paul,Trench & Co. 1883.


  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Lawson, James Anthony". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

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