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Essex History... Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal, 1776-1846

PUBLISHED: 20:17 02 April 2015 | UPDATED: 20:17 02 April 2015

Portrait of Sir Nicholas Tindal by W.J. Newton, engraved by Wililam Ward, 1834

Portrait of Sir Nicholas Tindal by W.J. Newton, engraved by Wililam Ward, 1834

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Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office tells the tale of Judge Nicholas Tindal as she highlights another remarkable character from our county's history

In the centre of our county town, opposite the Shire Hall, stands a statue of Judge Nicholas Tindal. The statue was designed by noted architect Fred Chancellor and erected in 1851 as a tribute to one of the 18th-century town’s best-known sons.

Nicholas Tindal was born in Moulsham in 1776 and grew up to become a celebrated figure in English common law.

Tindal must have been introduced to the world of the law early on, as his father Robert was an attorney in Chelmsford. He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. After university he studied at Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the bar in 1809.

In the same year he married Merelina Symonds, the daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy. They had one daughter and four sons together, but Merelina died in 1818 aged just 29.

Tindal was known for his wide and detailed knowledge of the law and in 1818, as defence counsel for Abraham Thornton in a murder case, he successfully argued that Thornton was entitled to trial by battle, a medieval law that had never been repealed. Thornton was accused of the murder of Mary Ashford, but a jury had acquitted him. Mary’s brother, William Ashford, launched his own private appeal, and Thornton was rearrested. Tindal’s successful argument that Thornton was entitled to trial by battle led to his release as Ashford (perhaps unsurprisingly) declined the offer. This was the last case of its kind; such appeals and trial by battle were both abolished the following year.

As a lawyer, Tindal is perhaps best known for his work as a defence counsel at Queen Caroline’s trial for adultery in 1820. Caroline’s marriage to George IV had never been a happy one, but she was much more popular with the British public than her husband. She was widely seen as a woman wronged and George was forced to give up his pursuit of her for a divorce.

From 1826-29, Tindal served as Solicitor-General and in 1829 he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, a position he held until his death in 1846. In this role he was responsible for some significant legal reforms, such as the introduction of the special verdict ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’. He also introduced the defence to a charge of murder of provocation.

As a judge, Tindal presided over a number of high-profile cases, such as the action against Lord Melbourne, then Prime Minister, who was accused of criminal conversation (adultery) with Caroline Norton by her husband, George Norton. After nine days, the jury threw out Norton’s claim, but the scandal nearly brought down the government.

Tindal had a reputation for learnedness, was respected by his fellow lawyers and was popular with the public for displaying judicial independence from the state.

He continued to work right up until 10 days before his death following a stroke in 1846. He is buried in Kensal Green cemetery in Middlesex. Following his death, the Chelmsford Chronicle of July 17, 1846 wrote that he had ‘gone to the tomb amidst that which public men can seldom secure — the honest praise and the deep regret of all’.

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