Open main menu

Edward Macnaghten, Baron Macnaghten

  (Redirected from Lord Macnaghten)

As depicted by "Spy" (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, 31 October 1895

Edward Macnaghten, Baron Macnaghten, GCB, GCMG, PC (3 February 1830 – 17 February 1913) was an Anglo-Irish rower, barrister, Conservative-Unionist politician and law lord.


Early life and rowingEdit

Macnaghten was born in Bloomsbury, London, the second son of Sir Edmund Workman-Macnaghten, Bt., but grew up mainly at Roe Park, Limavady. He attended school in Sunderland and then Trinity College, Dublin, and Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating Bachelor of Arts in 1852.[1] At Cambridge, he was secretary of the Pitt Club.[2]

Macnaghten was a rower at Cambridge. In 1851, he was runner up to E. G. Peacock in the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta, but avenged this the following year with a win. Macnaghten rowed bow for Cambridge in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in 1852 which was won by Oxford.[3] Also in 1852, he turned the tables on Peacock to win the Diamond Challenge Sculls from him at Henley.[4]

Legal and political careerEdit

After being called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1857, Macnaghten built up a successful practice and became Queen's Counsel in 1880. That same year he was elected to the House of Commons as Conservative Member of Parliament for County Antrim, exchanging this seat five years later for that of North Antrim. In 1912 he signed the Ulster Covenant.

Having declined the offers of a judgeship from Gladstone in 1883 and the Home Secretaryship from the Conservatives in 1886, he was in 1887 appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary as Baron Macnaghten, of Runkerry in the County of Antrim. No practising barrister who had been Queen's Counsel for less than seven years had ever before been promoted to the House of Lords.



Lord Macnaghten was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1902 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the 1911 coronation honours of George V. He also succeeded his elder brother, Francis, as fourth Baronet in the latter year.


Lord Macnaghten's most famous contribution to English law was the determination of categories of charitable trusts (in the case of Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel). He also sat in the landmark decision of Salomon v A Salomon & Co Ltd. In the case of Montgomery v Thompson (Eng.), AC 225 (1891), he held that a brewery opened in the town of Stone in Staffordshire could not use the name "Stone Ale", as this would infringe the rights of an existing seller of a product named "Stone Ale". He famously remarked, "Thirsty folk want beer, not explanations."

He is famous for the elegance of his prose. An example is given in the case of Gluckstein v Barnes [1900] AC 240, where he refused to order that fraudulent company promoters should be entitled to contribution from other participants of the fraud. He said, "In these two matters Mr. Gluckstein has been in my opinion extremely fortunate. But he complains that he may have a difficulty in recovering from his co-directors their share of the spoil, and he asks that the official liquidator may proceed against his associates before calling upon him to make good the whole amount with which he has been charged. My Lords, there may be occasions in which that would be a proper course to take. But I cannot think that this is a case in which any indulgence ought to be shewn to Mr. Gluckstein. He may or may not be able to recover a contribution from those who joined with him in defrauding the company. He can bring an action at law if he likes. If he hesitates to take that course or takes it and fails, then his only remedy lies in an appeal to that sense of honour which is popularly supposed to exist among robbers of a humbler type."

He also gave an eloquent description of a floating charge in Illingworth v Houldsworth [1904] AC 335, where he said, "A specific charge, I think, is one that without more fastens on ascertained and definite property or property capable of being ascertained and defined; a floating charge, on the other hand, is ambulatory and shifting in its nature, hovering over and so to speak floating with the property which it is intended to affect until some event occurs or some act is done which causes it to settle and fasten on the subject of the charge within its reach and grasp."

Personal lifeEdit

Runkerry House, Lord Macnaghten's home, as it stands today

He married, in 1858, Frances Arabella (d. 1903), the only child of Sir Samuel Martin, a baron of the exchequer; they had five sons and six daughters. His daughters remained living at Runkerry until c. 1950.

He died of pneumonia in 1913 at his home 198 Queen's Gate, Kensington, London, and was buried at Bushmills. One of his sons, Sir Malcolm (himself a judge), married the daughter of Charles Booth.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Macnaghten, Edward (MNTN847E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Fletcher, Walter Morley (2011) [1935]. The University Pitt Club: 1835-1935 (First Paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-107-60006-5.
  3. ^ Walter Bradford Woodgate Boating 1888
  4. ^ Henley Royal Regatta Results of Final Races 1839-1939 Archived 9 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Report 63 (1988) – Jurisdiction of Local Courts Over Foreign Land". Law Reform Commission, New South Wales. 30 May 2001. Retrieved 1 September 2008.

External linksEdit