Sir William Moore Johnson, 1st Baronet, KC, PC (1828 – 9 December 1918)[1] was an Irish politician, barrister and judge. He was held in great affection by the Bar, despite a reputation for obtuseness which led to his nickname "Wooden-headed Billy". He was described as "a monument of kindness and stupidity".

He was the son of Rev. William Johnson, chancellor of the Diocese of Cloyne, and his wife Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of the Rev. William Hamilton, Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. He was educated at Dublin University, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1849, and was called to the Irish Bar four years later. In 1872, he became a Queen's Counsel.[2]

He was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Mallow in County Cork in 1880, and held the seat until 1883.[1] He also served as Solicitor General for Ireland from 1880 to 1881.[3] In 1881, he was sworn a member of the Privy Council of Ireland[4] and made Attorney General for Ireland.[3] He remained Attorney General until 1883, when he was appointed a Justice of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland. He married Susan, daughter of Richard Bayly of Green Park, Kilmallock, the following year.[2]

According to Maurice Healy, Johnson did not wish to become a judge (largely because Irish judges then were rather poorly paid). However, as Attorney General he caused a furore when, on arriving in Court to prosecute Maurice's uncle Timothy Michael Healy, he publicly shook his hand, and the Crown felt that it would be better if he ceased to be a Law Officer.

As a judge he was notorious for his inability to get the facts of a case right, leading to the nickname "Wooden-headed Billy".[5] Maurice Healy however adds that he was a fairly good lawyer and the kindest-hearted of men; in an era when many Irish judges, such as Hugh Holmes, Walter Boyd and William Drennan Andrews were noted for the severity of their sentences in criminal cases, Johnson was noted for his clemency.[6]

At the Wexford assize in 1897 he expressed his horror at the brutal murder of James Kelly, a prosperous farmer from Kilcavan, the previous month. He told the grand jury that he would not comment on the case in detail since there had been no arrest. In fact no arrest was ever made and the murder remains unsolved to this day.[7]

He was created a Baronet (of Dublin) in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom on 24 November 1909 after his retirement from the court that year. The title became extinct on his death.[3]

References

  1. ^ a b "Historical list of MPs: M". Leigh Rayment's peerage pages. Archived from the original on 10 August 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2007.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  2. ^ a b Ball, F. Elrington (2005). The Judges in Ireland, 1221-1921. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. pp. 374–375. ISBN 9781584774280. Retrieved 10 November 2007.
  3. ^ a b c "Baronets: J". Leigh Rayment's peerage pages. Archived from the original on 1 May 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2007.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ "Privy councillors". Leigh Rayment's peerage pages. Archived from the original on 7 June 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2007.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  5. ^ Sullivan, A.M. Old Ireland Butterworths 1927
  6. ^ Healy, Maurice The Old Munster Circuit Michael Joseph Ltd. London 1939
  7. ^ Ruxton, Dean "A cancelled wedding and an unsolved murder in County Wexford" Irish Times 10/03/2017
Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byJohn George MacCarthy Member of Parliament for Mallow 1880–1883 Succeeded byWilliam O'Brien Legal offices Preceded byHugh Holmes Solicitor General for Ireland 1880–1881 Succeeded byAndrew Marshall Porter Preceded byHugh Law Attorney General for Ireland 1881–1883 Succeeded byAndrew Marshall Porter Baronetage of the United Kingdom New creation Baronet(of Dublin) 1909–1919 Extinct