John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell

John Scott
Earl of Clonmel

John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmel by Gilbert Stuart
Born (1739-06-08)8 June 1739
Died 23 May 1798(1798-05-23) (aged 58)

John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmel PC (Ire) KC SL (8 June 1739 – 23 May 1798), known as The Lord Earlsfort between 1784 and 1789 and as The Viscount Clonmell between 1789 and 1793, was an Irish barrister and judge. Sometimes known as "Copperfaced Jack", he was Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench for Ireland from 1784 to 1798.

Early life

Scott was the third son of Thomas Scott (died 1763) of Scottsborough (made up of the townlands of Mohubber, Modeshill and Urlings), Co. Tipperary, by his wife, Rachel (died 1784), daughter of Mark Prim (died 1745) of Johnswell, Co. Kilkenny. His parents were cousins, being two of the grandchildren of Nicholas Purcell, 13th Baron of Loughmoe. His elder brother was the uncle of Bernard Phelan, who established Château Phélan Ségur, and Dean John Scott, who first planted the gardens open to the public at Ballyin, Co. Waterford and was married to a niece of Clonmell's political ally, Henry Grattan.

While at Kilkenny College, John Scott stood up to the tormentor of a boy named Hugh Carleton, who grew up to be Viscount Carleton of Clare, Scott's fellow Chief Justice. They became firm friends, and Carleton's father, then known as the 'King of Cork', invited him to their home and became Scott's patron. In 1756, Mr Carleton sent both the young men off, with equal allowances, to study at Trinity College, Dublin and then the Middle Temple in London. On being called to the Irish Bar in 1765, Scott's eloquence secured him a position that enabled him to pay £300 a year to his patron, Francis Carleton, who through a series of disappointments had at the same time as Scott's success been declared bankrupt. He continued to gratefully support his patron until Hugh Carleton was financially able to insist that he take up the payments to his father. Scott later turned against Hugh, describing him in his diary as a "worthless wretch".


Admitted to King's Inn in 1765, he was entitled to practice as a Barrister. In 1769 he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Mullingar, a seat he held until 1783. The following year he was made a K.C. In 1772 he was Counsel to the Board of Revenue. In 1774 he was appointed Solicitor-General (1774–1777) for Ireland. Three years later, he was elected a Privy Councillor and Attorney-General for Ireland (1774–1783). He was dismissed from the latter position in 1782 for refusing to acknowledge the right of England to legislate for Ireland. In 1775, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Law (LL.D.) by Trinity College, Dublin. He held the office of Prime Serjeant-at-Law of Ireland between 1777 and 1782. He was Clerk of the Pleas of the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) in 1783 and was elected Member of Parliament for Portarlington between 1783 and 1784.

In 1784, Scott was created 1st Baron Earlsfort of Lisson-Earl, Co. Tipperary, following his appointment to Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. In 1789, he was created 1st Viscount Clonmel, of Clonmel, Co. Tipperary and in 1793 he was created 1st Earl of Clonmel. By the 1790s he had an annual income of £20,000. Due to heavy drinking and overeating he became seriously overweight, and this no doubt contributed to his early death, although his diary shows that he made frequent good resolutions about living a more temperate life. He wrote that too many of his colleagues, including Philip Tisdall, his predecessor as Attorney General, had died through failing to moderate their habits as they grew older, but it seems that he could not take his own good advice. Drinking is also thought to have been responsible for the red face which earned him the nickname "Copper-faced Jack" (commemorated in a famous Dublin night club).

He regarded most of his judicial colleagues with suspicion and dislike, which extended even to former friends like Hugh Carleton. Of his junior colleagues in the Court of King's Bench (Ireland), he admired Samuel Bradstreet, but dismissed William Henn as a fool, while John Bennett, a man noted for independence of mind, he marked down as an enemy. After the death of Bennett and the retirement of Henn, Scott finally became complete master in his own court. His rival William Downes, 1st Baron Downes, who became Lord Chief Justice in 1803, he described as "cunning and vain, and one wo wishes me ill".

In 1797, in the last conversation he would have with his wife's cousin, Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, he exclaimed: 'My dear Val, I have been a fortunate man in life. I am a Chief Justice and an Earl; but, believe me, I would rather be beginning the world as a young (chimney) sweep.' He died the following year on 23 May 1798. [1]


Scott lived at Clonmel House, 17 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He also kept a country residence, Temple Hill House, in County Dublin. Clonmell Street in Dublin is named in his honour, as is Earlsfort Terrace, also in Dublin. He had also gained a reputation of being an experienced duellist.

In 1768, he married the widowed Mrs Catherine Anna Maria Roe (died 1771), daughter of Thomas Mathew, of Thomastown Castle, co. Tipperary, and sister of the 1st Earl Landaff. In 1779, he married Margaret Lawless (1763–1829), daughter and eventual heiress of Patrick Lawless, of Dublin, a banker. He left a son and heir and a daughter by his second marriage.[1]

Many contemporaries viewed him harshly: one verdict was that "it is hard to believe that the office of Lord Chief Justice could be attained by a man most superficially read in the law... (his character) wholly at variance with truth and justice".[2] Elrington Ball described him as "an extraordinarily able man and an equally ambitious one. As he has revealed to us in his diary he had from the first no misgiving as to the object of his life being personal success, and although he wore out his mind and body in reaching his goal he made it against desperate odds."[3]

M. J. Craig said of Scott's diary – 'Parts of the diary are extremely funny, but too long to quote here; and other reasons forbid.' Its publication did considerable damage to his reputation: the public were shocked by the savage attacks on most of his judicial colleagues, including some, like Chief Justice Carleton, who had previously regarded him as a friend.

Scott was a prominent figure in Jonah Barrington's Memoirs, and the butt of many of John Philpot Currans jokes. He was also the subject of a play by John (Purcell) O'Donovan, 'Copperfaced Jack' (1963). "Copper Face Jacks" is a popular Dublin night club on Harcourt Street (part of the Jackson Court Hotel).


  1. 1 2 Dunlop 1897.
  2. Lenox-Conyngham, Melosina Diaries of Ireland Liliput Press Dublin 1998 p.57
  3. Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.2 p.171

 Dunlop, Robert (1897). "Scott, John (1739-1798)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 51. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

External links

Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Sir Richard Steele
Member of Parliament for Mullingar
With: Sir Richard Steele 1769–1776
Richard Underwood 1776–1779
Sir Skeffington Smyth 1779–1783
Succeeded by
Francis Hardy
John Doyle
Preceded by
Sir Roger Palmer
Joseph Dawson
Member of Parliament for Portarlington
With: Thomas Kelly
Succeeded by
Sir Boyle Roche
Robert Hobart
Legal offices
Preceded by
Godfrey Lill
Solicitor-General for Ireland
Succeeded by
Robert Hellen
Preceded by
Philip Tisdall
Attorney-General for Ireland
Succeeded by
Barry Yelverton
Preceded by
The Lord Annaly
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench for Ireland
Succeeded by
The Lord Kilwarden
Peerage of Ireland
New creation Earl of Clonmell
Succeeded by
Thomas Scott
Viscount Clonmell
Baron Earlsfort
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