Dougherty, Sir James Brown (1844–1934), presbyterian minister, academic, politician, and under-secretary for Ireland (1908–14), was born 13 November 1844 at Garvagh, Co. Londonderry, eldest of two sons of Archibald Dougherty, surgeon, and Matilda Dougherty (née Brown), both of Garvagh. On completing his early education, he entered QCB in the early 1860s and was a leading member of its literary and scientific society. He enjoyed a distinguished academic career, graduating BA in 1864 and the following year taking MA and winning a gold medal. He then entered the ministry of the presbyterian church, and was licensed by Coleraine presbytery and ordained to a church in Nottingham. He attended the general assembly of the presbyterian church in Ireland on many occasions. In 1879 he returned to academic life and was appointed professor of English and logic at Magee College, Derry, a position he held until 1895.
A long-term member of the liberal party in Ulster, he supported Gladstone in his conversion to home rule, and remained loyal while many other Ulster liberals left the party. He believed in the granting of self-government to Ireland, which he felt would ensure its emergence as an orderly, prosperous country within the empire. In 1892 he unsuccessfully stood for election in Tyrone North. A member of the educational endowments commission (1885–92) and a commissioner of national education (1890–95), he abandoned his academic career in 1895 on being appointed assistant under-secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, clerk of the privy council, and deputy keeper of the privy seal. On 14 July 1908 he was appointed under-secretary, effectively making him permanent head of the Irish executive. The appointment was a surprise and was condemned bitterly by unionists, as well as by advanced nationalists. His arrival caused considerable alarm among civil servants, who were upset by his abruptness, lack of concern for precedent, originality of behaviour, and, particularly, by the minor alterations he made to procedures of administration. He assumed personal responsibility for all correspondence received by Dublin Castle by responding in the first person in concise language instead of the traditional anonymous garrulity and obscurantism. In a difficult period marked by many labour disputes he was condemned persistently for his inaction by employers, who were outraged by his remark that it was the Castle's role to keep the ring around the two opponents. His tenure was characterised by inaction and periodic misjudgements, such as his dismissal of unionist threats of armed resistance to home rule as hyperbole. Further controversy arose on 26 July 1914 with allegations that (having earlier seemed to favour disarmament of the Howth gun-runners) he belatedly directed that they should not be forcibly disarmed but that their names should be taken and the destination of the arms traced. The lack of definite government policy was attributed, in part, to his failure to impose his own will on administration in the Castle, as he attempted only superficial changes. He retired as under-secretary in October 1914 and became MP for Derry city (1914–18).
A member of the Irish privy council from 1908, he received a range of honours and distinctions: a knighthood (1902), CVO (1903), KCB (1910), and KCVO (1911). He lived the last years of his life at 25 Lytton Grove, London, and died there 3 January 1934; he was buried in the city cemetery, Derry. He married first (1880) Mary Donaldson (d. 1887) of The Park, Nottingham; and secondly (1889) Eliza Todd of Oaklands, Dublin; they had one son and three daughters.