John Toler, Earl of Norbury

Toler, John, Earl of Norbury, an Irish judge, noted for the severity of his disposition on the bench, descended from one of the Cromwellian planters, was born in July 1740. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, took his degree in 1761, was called to the Irish Bar in 1770, and entered Parliament as member for Tralee in 1776. It was his favourite boast that he commenced his legal career with £50 in cash and a brace of hair-trigger pistols. In 1781 he obtained a silk gown, in 1789 became Solicitor-General, and in 1798 Attorney-General. For a vote in favour of the Union he was made Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas, and raised to the peerage as Baron Norbury.

The following remarks upon his character will be found in Curran and his Contemporaries: "Despite of many drawbacks, Norbury was.. a very extraordinary man. If he was deficient in learning, he abounded in common sense; if divested of genius, he was given, as its substitute, a thorough knowledge of the world, and consequently a thorough contempt for it. His very appearance set dignity at defiance, and put gravity to flight. The chivalry of Quixote was encased in the paunch of Sancho Panza. Short and pursy, with a jovial visage, and little, grey, twinkling, laughing eyes, he had a singular habit of inflating his cheeks at the end of every sentence, arid, with a spice of satire, was called 'Puffendorf,' in consequence. His court might be distinguished by the bursts of merriment that issued through its portals... There he sat in all his glory, good humour personified, puffing, and punning, and panting, till his ruddy countenance glowed like a full moon... Norbury was all things to all men, and equally sincere to all — that is, meaning nothing to any... With good humour ever in his looks, and merriment, also, ever on his lips, he was by nature fierce, obdurate, and callous. Utterly reckless of life himself, he seemed scarcely to comprehend how others could value it... Either not feeling or defying pain, he was a stranger to sympathy."[96]

Lord Norbury was a fitting instrument to carry out the severe policy of the Irish government at the period of the Union, and the assizes at which he was present were invariably followed by wholesale executions. He presided at the trial of Robert Emmet, and more than once interrupted him in the course of his speech before sentence. After he became unfitted by age for the due performance of the duties of his office, several ineffectual efforts were made to induce him to resign. At length, however, in consequence of his having fallen asleep during a trial for murder, a petition to Parliament, through Mr. O'Connell, enforced his resignation in 1827. The blow was softened by his advance in the peerage as Viscount Glandine and Earl of Norbury. He died 27th July 1831, aged 91.


23. Barrington, Sir Jonah, Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation. Paris, 1833.

54. Burke, Sir Bernard: Peerage and Baronetage.

96. Curran and his Contemporaries: Charles Phillips. Edinburgh, 1850.

125b. Encyclopaedia of Chronology: Woodward and Gates. London, 1871.

177. Ireland and her Agitators: W.J. O'Neill Daunt. Dublin, 1867.