The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Lord Sands (1857 -1934)

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for December 1904 reports:

"The 'Old Boys' of earlier and of later standing are everywhere giving a good account of themselves. Even while it is impossible here to refer to all who are eminent, the names of a few may now be set on record as bringing every credit to their former school .... one of the most successful contemporary Scottish law pleaders is Sheriff C. N. Johnston ..."

Christopher Nicholson Johnston was born on 18 October 1857 in Kincardine, Perthshire to the minister of the parish of Whithorn, Wigtownshire. He attended Madras College in St Andrews, then St Andrews University, Edinburgh University and Heidelberg University. In 1880, Johnston became an advocate and began a long career in the law. From junior counsel in the government, he rose to Advocate-Deputy in 1892. This post was a political one and so he spent a period out of office alongside the Conservative Party. His second stint at the job was between 1895 and 1899. From the turn of the century, Johnston occupied various sheriffdoms across Scotland: Caithness, Orkney and Zetland; Inverness, Elgin and Nairn; and, Perth in 1905. Three years earlier, Johnston was made a judge.

Christopher Nicholson Johnston married Agnes in 1898 and together they produced two sons and two daughters. Alongside his legal career, Johnston pursued that of a politician within the Conservative Party. He contested Paisley in 1892 without success. In December of 1916, he became MP for Edinburgh University and St Andrews University – now no longer a sheriff. As Lord Sands (1917), Johnston became senator of the college of justice in Scotland.

A third aspect of his life was the Church of Scotland. Amongst his roles within that organisation were: procurator; legal advisor; and, member of central committee. He was also a licensed lay preacher. As the official legal advisor to the Church of Scotland, Johnston was responsible for the negotiations that led to the unification of said church with the United Free Church of Scotland. He wrote on church law and was considered eminent in that field.

The final side of Johnston’s activity was involvement in education and youth work. He was from 1921 the Chair of the Carnegie Trust for the Scottish Universities and from 1919, president of the Boys’ Brigade. Amongst his awards are included: Honorary Degree of DD (University of Edinburgh – 1928); Honorary Degree of LLD (University of St Andrews – 1909); and Honorary Degree of LLD (University of Glasgow – 1930).

As a writer, he produced work on the law, biography, and theology and on a wide field of culture.
He died at home in Edinburgh on 26 February 1934. He is buried in the modern extension to Dean Cemetery off Queensferry Road in western Edinburgh. The grave lies against the north wall in the modern equivalent of Lord's Row in the original cemetery, forming one off a group of law lords buried together. His wife Nancy Warren Dunn (1868-1955) lies with him.

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for Easter 1909 reports:

"Old Boys will he pleased to learn of the honour which his Alma Mater has just conferred upon Sheriff Johnston. In presenting the recipient, Professor Scott Lang made the following reference:—Christopher Nicholas Johnston, King's Counsel, Sheriff of Perthshire, Procurator of the Church of Scotland. Mr. Johnston is an old Madras boy, and spent the first years of University life at the United College; but family arrangements required that his Arts course should be completed at the University of Edinburgh, about the same time as his friends, the Rev. Patrick Playfair and Sheriff Armour (another old Madras boy), were students there. And there, I may add, I had the not unpleasant experience of revising their examination papers. Mr. Johnston, like all St. Andrews students, has a warm heart to the city of the Northern Sea, and cherishes his scarlet gown as one of his dourest possessions. At the Bar, Mr. Johnston soon won his way to the first rank by his great ability, his extensive and sound know ledge of law, his clear intellect, and his unceasing energy. After a most successful career, he now holds, following the steps of another brilliant student of St. Andrews, Lord Ardwall, the office of Sheriff of Perthshire. Though always much sought after as a counsel, Sheriff Johnston has contributed in no small measure to the literature, of his profession, having published among other volumes a revised and much enlarged edition of the standard work on Scottish Ecclesiastical Parochial law. To Church Law Sheriff Johnston has given special attention, and in it is recognised as an authority of the first rank. A St. Andrews student like his predecessors, Mr. Shanek Cook and Sir Charles Pearson, he holds the position of chief legal adviser to the Church of Scotland. As a layman, he has found scope for his pen and opportunity for valuable service to the Church of his fathers in a handbook of Church Defence, and in various able and learned papers connected with the formula of subscription to the Confession of Faith. His latest work is a volume on the life of St. Paul and his
mission to the Ottoman Empire, in which, without entering into doctrinal discussion or didactic exposition, he brings the story of St. Paul into relation with the civil history of his time."

In 'The Madras College' Dr Thompson wrote:

"Christopher Johnston, the future Lord Sands, followed a normal course of legal study to become sheriff of Perthshire, and later, after a few years as a member of Parliament, a senator of the College of Justice. His work as procurator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, particularly in the negotiations leading to the union of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church gave him the unusual distinction for a layman of a doctorate in divinity."