Sunday, 26 January 2020

Hugh McCalmont Cairns - a great Ulster-Scot (1)

Last month was the centenary of the birth of Hugh McCalmont Cairns (1819-1885), who was Lord Chancellor of England 

Born in Belfast and named Hugh McCalmont Cairns, it is not difficult to recognise him as an Ulsterman with Scottish roots and heritage.

The first of the family to settle in Ulster came from Kirkcudbright in Scotland.  They were a distinguished family and a baronetcy, which soon became extinct, was conferred on an Alexander Cairns for military service under the Duke of Marlborough. 

Hugh McCalmont Cairns was the second son of William Cairns, who had been born at Parkmount in north Belfast and had served as a captain in the 47th regiment of foot.  His mother was Rose Anna Johnston, daughter of Hugh Johnston, a Belfast merchant.

He was born on 27 December 1819 and was educated at Belfast Academy, now Belfast Royal Academy, and Trinity College Dublin.  The name is remembered in the Belfast Royal Academy, where one of the four still named Cairns.

Hugh McCalmont Cairns studied law and was called to the Bar in 1844 but in 1852 he entered parliament as MP for Belfast, a position he held until 1866.

He was Lord Chancellor of Great Britain in 1868 and then in 1869 became leader of the Conservative opposition in the House of Lords.  Cairns was Lord Chancellor for a second time from 1874 to 1880.

Cairns was a devout Christian, with a firm faith in Jesus Christ, and he was a thoroughly evangelical Protestant.  He never allowed the demands of his legal and political work to impinge on the Lord's Day and for many years he was a Sunday school teacher.  Here was one of the great statesmen of the day, a man who deliberated on weighty matters of law, taking the time to teach boys and girls.  He was also a keen supporter of the philanthropic work of Dr Barnardo and Cairns House, one the Barnardo homes, was named after him.

He loved to hear the gospel preached and once said that to hear D L Moody preach the gospel and Ira D Sankey sing the gospel was the richest feast he could enjoy.

His half-brother Sir William Wellington Cairns KCMG (1828-1888) was Governor of Queensland and later Administrator of South Australia.

The centenary of the birth of this great Ulster-Scot passed, as far as I can see, unnoticed and that is regrettable.  A Conservative statesman, an evangelical Christian and a convinced unionist, he is someone who deserves to be remembered.

The current Lord Cairns is Simon Dallas Cairns, 6th Earl Cairns, who was born in 1939.

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