John Macdonald, Lord Kingsburgh

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"The Lord Advocate"
Macdonald as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, June 1888
Abercromby Place, Edinburgh

Sir John Hay Athole Macdonald, Lord Kingsburgh, KCB, PC PRSSA FRS FRSE LLD (27 December 1836 – 9 May 1919) was a Scottish Conservative Party[1] politician and later a judge.


He was born on 28 December 1836 at 29 Great King Street in Edinburgh's New Town the son of Grace Hay and Matthew Norman MacDonald (later MacDonald-Hume) of Ninewells, an affluent Edinburgh lawyer. He was privately educated at Edinburgh Academy. He studied Law at Edinburgh University and the University of Basle in Switzerland.[2]

He was called to the Scottish bar in 1859. On 30 July 1875 he was appointed by Queen Victoria to be Sheriff of the Shires of Ross, Cromarty, and Sutherland.[3] He was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland from 1876 to 1880. He was appointed as Sheriff of Perthshire in 1880, and served as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates from 1882 to 1885.[4] Edinburgh University gave him an honorary doctorate (LLD) in 1884. In 1886 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were John MacLaren, Lord MacLaren, Sir William Turner, Peter Guthrie Tait and Alexander Buchan.[5]

Elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities at the 1885 general election,[1] he served as Lord Advocate from 1885 to 1886 and from 1886 to 1888. He became a Queen's Counsel in 1880, and was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1885. He was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) by Queen Victoria in 1900.

On 5 June 1901 he was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Queen's Rifle Volunteer Brigade, the Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment).[6]

He gave up his Parliamentary seat and was appointed Lord Justice Clerk in 1888,[1] taking the title Lord Kingsburgh, and presided over the Second Division of the Court of Session until 1915. He was promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant in the Royal Company of Archers on 18 June 1915.[7]

In 1916 King George V created him a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).

He was an enthusiastic car owner and was a founding member of the Automobile Club and was the first president of the Scottish Automobile Club. He also registered Edinburgh's first ever number plate.[8] It is also believed that Macdonald coined the popular phrase "on your bike" as he turned away the incumbent Edinburgh mayor who claimed the number plate was rightfully his. As a riposte, he had the number plate S0 produced weeks later.

He died at home, 15 Abercromby Place, a short distance from his birthplace, on 9 May 1919. He is buried in St Cuthbert's Churchyard at the west end of Princes Street..[9]


In 1864 he married Adelaide Jeanette Doran. She died not long after, in 1870.


  • Practical Treatise on the Criminal Law of Scotland (1887)

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Lyon Playfair
Member of Parliament for
Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities

Succeeded by
Moir Darling
Legal offices
Preceded by
James Moncreiff
Solicitor General for Scotland
Succeeded by
John Millar
Preceded by
John Blair Balfour
Lord Advocate
Succeeded by
John Blair Balfour
Preceded by
John Blair Balfour
Lord Advocate
Succeeded by
James Robertson
Preceded by
Lord Moncreiff
Lord Justice Clerk
Succeeded by
Lord Dickson