Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SHERIFF, n. Also sherriff, shir(r)ef(f), shirrif(e); and Sc. forms sherra, sherry (Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xxvi.), shirra(h). Pl. sheriffs, †shireives (Sc. 1705 Annandale Family Bk. (Fraser 1894) II. 229). Sc. usages. [Sc. ′ʃɪrə]

1. Orig. the chief officer in a shire or county responsible to the Sovereign for peace and order in his area and having civil and criminal jurisdiction. The office was generally hereditary in a family of landed gentry and a trained lawyer was usually appointed as sheriff-depute to perform the judicial functions of the office. After the abolition of heritable jurisdictions in Scotland in 1747 the sheriff-depute succeeded to the full office of Sheriff and is now gen. known as Sheriff-Principal, having in turn a deputy or deputies, called officially Sheriff-substitutes (though popularly known as sheriffs), who perform most of the civil and criminal judicial duties of the office beside many other functions connected with social welfare, the care of children, mental defectives, public health, rents, etc. Their decisions are subject to appeal in civil cases to the Sheriff-Principal who also conducts parliamentary elections in the county. See also combs. below. The Shirra was an affectionate nickname applied to Sir Walter Scott, who was Sheriff-Substitute of Selkirkshire (1799–1832). Derivs. sheriffdom, the county or group of counties under the jurisdiction of a Sheriff, sheriffship, the office of sheriff. Sc. 1708  Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1908) 425:
Her grace the dutches of Hamiltoun, high shirreff of the said shirreffdom or county of Lanerk.
Sc. 1738  J. Chamberlayne Pres. State Scot. 202:
The Sheriff, in effect, is the supreme Justice of Peace, to whom is mainly entrusted by the Law the securing of the Quiet and Tranquility of that Part of the Kingdom which is subject to his Jurisdiction.
Sc. 1746  Laing MSS. (Hist. MSS. Comm.) II. 378:
The originall peace officer in the constitution is the sherrif within each shire. To him belonged what was called blowing the Kings horn which all the Kings liege men were bound to follow.
Sc. 1754  Erskine Principles i. iv. § 1:
Our kings sometimes erected certain lands, which were only parts of a county, and at other times royal boroughs, with the jurisdiction of sheriff-ship within themselves.
Dmf. 1773  Dmf. Weekly Mag. 79:
I think the devil's in the shirrah.
Sc. 1819  Lockhart Peter's Letters lii.:
He is Chief Magistrate of the county — and, indeed, is known among the country people, who passionately love him, by no other name than that of “the Sherra”.
Sc. 1823  Scots Mag. (Aug.) 220:
The Sheriff is appointed by the Crown, and his only qualification is, that he be an Advocate, with or without practice, of five years standing.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb viii.:
To gar yer maister tak' ye afore the shirra.
Ags. 1891  Barrie Little Minister vii.:
Does the shirra blame the sojers?
Kcb. 1893  Crockett Raiders xvii.:
To be tried by sherras and judges that hae ye judged and condemned, afore ever ye win into the Coort.
Sc. 1896  W. K. Morton Manual 16:
The judge of first instance, called Sheriff-Substitute, resides within the territory, and is available for all summary proceedings. From him there is an appeal to the Sheriff Principal and thence to the Court of Session or the aggrieved party may appeal direct to the Court of Session.
Sc. 1914  W. F. Gray Some old Sc. Judges 172:
He [Lord Balmuto], however, appears to have enjoyed the work, if one may judge from his habit, when he became a senator, of prefacing his decisions with the remark “When I was Shirra' of Fife”.
Sc. 1929  Scots Mag. (Feb.) 327:
Here in Scotland it's a properly constituted Court afore a Baillie or the Shirra.
Sc. 1957  Scotsman (28 Aug.) 6:
Nowadays the Sheriff Courts themselves have become so busy that all the legal business of the Sheriffdom cannot be conducted by one judge.
Sc. 1965  Northern Scot (3 July) 6:
Sheriff Stuart O. Kermack, was on Tuesday installed as Sheriff Substitute at Elgin and for the Sheriffdom of Inverness, Moray and Nairn and Ross and Cromarty. The installation was carried out by Sheriff-Principal D. M. Campbell.

Combs.: (1) Sheriff-clerk, the clerk of the Sheriff-Court. Hence Sheriff-clerkship, the office of sheriff-clerk; (2) Sheriff-Court, shirra coort, the court presided over by the Sheriff (-substitute), the county court; (3) Sheriff-depute, the deputy of the high- or hereditary sheriff of a county, now the Sheriff-Principal, see definition under 1. The word depute was dropped from the title by Act 9 Geo. IV. c.29. § 22; †(4) sheriff-fee, a fee payable to the sheriff (see quot.); (5) Sherriff('s)-fiars, the average of grain prices for the year struck by the Sheriff in connection with the payment of Tiends. See Fiar, n.2, 2.; †(6) sheriff-mair, a sheriff's official messenger, a sheriffofficer. See next and cf. Mair, n.2; (7) sheriff-officer, shirra('s) offisher, the official or messenger who carries out the warrants of a Sheriff, esp. in regard to distraint of goods for debt, serves summonses, etc.; (8) Sheriff-Principal, the Sheriff of a county, the name applied orig. to the hereditary Sheriff (see 1.) till 1747, and thereafter to the Sheriff-depute (see (3)), now the senior judge of his bounds, with mainly appellate jurisdiction, the court and other work of his office being almost entirely performed by Sheriff-substitutes (see (10)); †(9) Sherriff steuart, a sheriff in a Stewartry, q.v.; (10) Sheriff-substitute, the chief acting judge in a county or group of counties forming a sheriffdom, orig. so-called as being appointed by the Sheriff-depute as his substitute (see quots., 1. (3) and (8)). Honorary sheriffs-substitute may occas. be appointed by the Sheriff-Principal to deal with summary cases in the absence of the Sheriff-substitute. Hence sheriff-substituteship. (1) Sc. 1747  Acts 20 Geo. II. c.43 § 18:
A Book, to be kept by the Sheriff Clerk of the County within which the Lands lie.
Sc. 1823  Scots Mag. (Sept.) 358:
The fees of Sheriff Clerks were, for the first time, regulated by the Act of Sederunt 1748.
Sc. 1894  Sc. Law Times (28 April) 677:
The Sheriff-Clerk shall cite seven common and three special, jurors for each such inquiry.
Sc. 1967  Sheriff Court (H.M.S.O.) 3:
The office of sheriff clerk is about as old as that of the sheriff, who from the earliest times appointed clerks to assist in discharging his functions.
(2) Bnff. 1700  Ann. Banff (S.C.) I. 171:
Abstracteing of the Shirreff Courts our antient priviledges from this to the Burgh of Cullen.
Sc. 1754  Erskine Principles i. iv. § 1:
Causes were carried for review from the baron-courts of subject-superiors, to the Sheriff-court, as the King's baron-court.
Sc. 1807  R. Bell Dict. Law Scot. I. 331:
Each shire has a head borough, where the Sheriff-court is held, and jurisdiction exercised.
Sc. 1826  Scott Journal (1890) I. 229:
Corrected proofs however, and went to Selkirk to hold Sheriff Court.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb x.:
Didna he begin as he taul's 'imsel' upo' the sweepin's o' the Shirra Coort?
Sc. 1969  Banffshire Jnl. (19 Aug.) 3:
Four youths who went on a stealing spree appeared on indictment at Banff Sheriff Court on Thursday.
(3) Sc. 1708  Burh Rec. Gsw. (1908) 425:
William Somervell of Corehouse, shirreff deput of the shirreffdom of Lanerk.
Cai. 1719  Old-Lore Misc. II. ii. 112:
They applyed the shirrif depute that he might cause seperate the witches to other prisones.
Sc. 1747  Acts 20 Geo. II. c. 43 § 29:
There shall be but one Sheriff Depute, or Stewart Depute, in every County, Shire or Stewartry in Scotland, and he shall be an Advocate of three years standing at the least.
Sc. 1829  Scott Tales Grandfather lxxxvi.:
The administration of justice was vested [in 1747] in professional persons, called Sheriffs-deput (so called as deputed by the Crown, in contradistinction to the Sheriffs principal, formerly enjoying jurisdiction as attached to their patrimony). Such a Sheriff-depute was named for each county, to discharge the judicial duties formerly exercised by hereditary judges.
Sc. 1837  Tait's Mag. (May) 335:
The consequence of giving high salaries to the Sheriffs-Depute for doing nothing, is, that the Sheriffs-Substitute are, in general, inadequately paid for doing the whole work.
Sc. 1927  Gloag and Henderson Intro. Law Scot. 14:
The appointment and terms of office of sheriffs depute (now usually termed Sheriffs Principal), and of sheriffs substitute is now regulated by the Sheriff Courts Act, 1907.
(4) Sc. 1754  Erskine Principles i. iv. § 18:
Sheriffs were likewise intitled to the twentieth part of the sum contained in every decree, in name of sheriff-fee; both proper Sheriffs and messengers, when invested with the power of Sheriffs; but by the late jurisdiction-act, fixed salaries are settled upon Sherifs-depute in place thereof. Messengers, when employed in poinding, are still entitled to their sheriff-fee, which they usually assign to the creditor, on getting a reasonable allowance for their trouble.
(5) Sc. 1723  Act of Sederunt (1790) 278:
The use of the Sheriff's Fiars is to liquidate the price of victual in diverse processes.
Sc. 1752  Bankton Institute II. iv. xiv.:
It is incumbent on all sheriffs and stewarts to strike the fiars (called the Sheriff-Fiars), i.e. To ascertain the prices that all sorts of grain shall be holden as estimated at in their countries.
(6) Sc. 1707  Morison Decisions 7404:
How his sheriff-mair was insulted in the execution of his office.
Per. 1746  T. L. K. Oliphant Lairds of Gask (1870) 166:
To 2 Sheriff Mairs for summoning 45 Gentlemen to be at Perth, the 1st of January.
Ags. 1776  First Hist. Dundee (Millar 1923) 156:
These have all the power of Sherriffs Mairs within the libertys of the Burgh, And advertise through the Toun all roups, &c.
Sc. 1827  C. I. Johnstone Eliz. de Bruce I. ix.:
The officer whistled as he looked about keenly and suspiciously; and in rushed the Sheriff maires from the hallan.
(7) Sc. 1748  Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) II. 106:
Captain Hanley, attended by a sheriff-officer, entred the house, and searched it most strictly.
Abd. 1774  Abd. Journal (10 Jan.):
John Ferrier, a Sheriff Officer of Elgin, returning from Strathaven, where he had executed a Poinding.
Sc. 1818  Scott Rob Roy xxv.:
God's malison and mine to a' sort o' magistrates, justices, baillies, sheriffs, sheriff-officers, constables and sic like black cattle.
Edb. 1828  D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xiii.:
Hornem, the sherry-officer.
Sh. 1886  G. Temple Britta 72:
A shirra officer comin' frae Lerwick after dem.
Ags. 1894  J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) 108:
The Gairner's gaena send the Sherraofficer to pund the Smith's bellows.
Abd. 1917  C. Murray Sough o' War 27:
Lead on, my Shirra's offisher, gin summons ye've to ser'.
Sc. 1927  Gloag and Henderson Intro. Law Scot. 547:
In any county where there is no resident messenger-at-arms, or in any of the islands of Scotland, a sheriff officer shall have all the powers of a messenger-at-arms in the execution of, or diligence on, any decree, warrant or order.
(8) Sc. 1896  W. K. Morton Manual 17:
Appeal is competent from the Sheriff-Substitute to Sheriff-Principal.
Sc. 1953  Scotsman (27 March) 6:
The office of Sheriff-Principal, as it now exists, was unknown to antiquity, and was still unknown as recently as the days of Sir Walter Scott.
(9) Lnk. 1723  Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 217:
At the sight of the Sherriff Steuart or Justice of Peace.
(10) Sc. 1752  J. Louthian Form of Process 249:
The said Lords reverse the foresaid Sentence of the said Sheriff-substitute.
Bte. 1761  Rothesay T.C. Rec. (1935) II. 762:
John Dunlop as Provost and Sheriff Substitute of Bute.
Sc. 1815  Scott Guy M. xii.:
The sherif-substitute of the county, who has authority from the Court of Session. . . . The sheriff-depute (that's his principal, like).
Sc. 1834  Tait's Mag. I. 442:
48 Sheriff Substituteships in the gift of the Sheriffs-depute . . . varying from ¥150 to ¥600.
Sc. 1928  Encycl. Law Scot. XIII. 526:
It is customary in all sheriffdoms to have honorary Sheriffs-Substitute to take the place of the ordinary Sheriff-Substitute when the latter through illness or absence is temporarily unable to act. The appointment is in the hands of the Sherif, and is during his pleasure.
Sc. 1951  Scotsman (6 Aug.) 4:
A Sheriff-Substitute has to carry out not only the duties of a County Judge but also duties discharged by various other legal officials in England. A County Judge has no criminal jurisdiction, whereas a Sheriff-Substitute has.
Sc. 1958  Intro. Sc. Legal Hist. (Stair Soc.) 56:
In the Circuit Courts (Scotland) Act in 1828 the Sheriff Depute is referred to as Sheriff. The same Act expressly empowered the Sheriff Depute to appoint Substitutes, who until 1838 held office at the pleasure of the Depute. In 1787 the salaries of these Substitutes were first made payable by the Crown, and for the first time in 1825 they were called Sheriffs-Substitute.

2. “A sort of lead sinker used to guide down a fishing-line and pull up a ‘lead' or hook that has stuck on the bottom of the sea” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).

[O.Sc. schyrryve, 1375, sheray, c.1425, schirra, 1438, a sheriff, schirreff clerke, 1388, -curt, 1428, -depute, 1424, -fe, 1574, -officer, 1682, -principale, 1501, schiravedom, 1386.]

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"Sheriff n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 Jan 2019 <>



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