William Scott was an English judge, jurist and Member of Parliament.
William Scott's father (also named William Scott) was a tradesman working for a coal fitter's business. The young Scott was educated at Newcastle Royal Grammar School, before going to Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, where he later (1773-1785) became the Camden Professor of Ancient History. Around 1780 he graduated as Doctor of Civil Law, and he soon embarked on a distinguished legal career, eventually becoming, in 1798, judge of the High Court of Admiralty.
He unsuccessfully tried getting elected for parliament for Oxford University in 1780, but had more luck some years later, when in 1784 he was elected M.P. on a so-called double return1 for the constituency of Downton, which was also the reason why Boswell referred to him as "Mr. Scott of University College, Oxford (now Dr. Scott of the Commons) in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, published in 1785. He was, however, unseated that same year on a petition.
He did not again seek election until 1790 when he was successfully elected Member of Parliament for Downton. He sat for this constituency until 1801, when he was finally elected for Oxford University as "a single instance of a professional man representing the university".2
Scott was married twice. In 1781 he married Anna Maria (d. 1809), daughter of John Bagnall of Erleigh Court, with whom he had four children, only one of whom, their daughter Marianne, survived her father. In 1813 he married Louisa-Catherine, the widow of John, the late Marquess of Sligo.
William Scott's younger brother, John (1751-1838) also became a politician, who rose to serve as Lord Chancellor of Britain for almost three decades (1801-1806, 1807-1827)
- 1. A double return could formerly occur when two candidates obtained equal votes and the returning officer either did not have a vote or declined to use it, in which case two names were returned instead of one. However, since the 1949 Representation of the People Act, an equality of votes requires a choice to be made by lot, so a double return can no longer occur. Cf. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmproced/855/3070202.htm
- 2. Cf. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/scott-sir-william-1745-1836
Scott accompanied Dr Johnson on the road from Newcastle to Edinburgh during the last stage of the latter's journey from London to Edinburgh, where Johnson was going to meet Boswell to go on their famous tour of Scotland. Boswell, apparently, had not met Scott before, but wrote in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides of their first meeting in Edinburgh at Boyd's Inn1 on August 14, 1773, that "Mr. Scott's amiable manners and attachment to our Socrates [Johnson] at once united me to him."
During their stay in Edinburgh, Johnson stayed in Boswell's house in James's Court, while Boswell noted sincerely regretting that he did not also have a room for Mr Scott. Scott came to breakfast on the next day, August 15, however, and he and Johnson were introduced to Boswell's friend, the banker William Forbes.
When Johnson and Boswell set up from Edinburgh on August 18, Boswell would "gladly have had Mr. Scott to go with us, but he was obliged to return to England."
- 1. Boyd's Inn was located on the site that is now the corner building of St. Mary's St. and Boyd's Entry. Engraved in the wall near the corner is the text "Boyd's Inn at which D.Samuel Johnson arrived in Edinburgh 14. August 1773, on his memorable tour to the Hebrides, occupied the larger part of the site of this building."