William Brett, 1st Viscount Esher

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The Right Honourable
The Viscount Esher
PC QC
William Baliol Brett.jpg
Lord Esher by John Everett Millais.
Solicitor-General
In office
10 February 1868 – 16 September 1868
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli
Preceded by Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn
Succeeded by Sir Richard Baggallay
Master of the Rolls
In office
April 1883 – 1897
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by Sir George Jessel
Succeeded by Sir Nathaniel Lindley
Personal details
Born 13 August 1815 [1]
Died 24 May 1899
London, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Eugénie Mayer (1814–1904)
Alma mater King's College London
Caius College, Cambridge

William Baliol Brett, 1st Viscount Esher PC, QC (13 August 1815 – 24 May 1899), known as Sir William Brett between 1868 and 1883, was a British lawyer, judge and Conservative politician. He was briefly Solicitor-General under Benjamin Disraeli and then served as a justice of the Court of Common Pleas between 1868 and 1876, as a Lord Justice of Appeal between 1876 and 1883 and as Master of the Rolls. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Esher in 1885 and further honoured when he was made Viscount Esher on his retirement in 1897.

Background and education[edit]

Brett was a son of the Reverend Joseph George Brett, of Chelsea, London, by Dorothy, daughter of George Best, of Chilston Park, Boughton Malherbe, Kent.[2] He was educated at Westminster School, King's College London and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.[3] Brett rowed for Cambridge University Boat Club against Leander Club in 1837 and 1838, then in the victorious Cambridge crew against Oxford University in the 1839 Boat Race.[4]

Legal, judicial and political career[edit]

Called to the Bar in 1840, Brett went to the northern circuit,[5] and became a Queen's Counsel in 1861.[6] On the death of Richard Cobden in 1865 he unsuccessfully contested Rochdale as a Conservative, but in 1866 was returned for Helston in unique circumstances. He and his opponent polled exactly the same number of votes, whereupon the mayor, as returning officer, gave his casting vote for the Liberal candidate. As this vote was given after four o'clock, however, an appeal was lodged, and the House of Commons allowed both members to take their seats.[5]

Brett rapidly made his mark in the House, and in early 1868 he was knighted[7] and appointed Solicitor General under Benjamin Disraeli. On behalf of the crown he prosecuted the Fenians charged with having caused the Clerkenwell Outrage. In parliament he took a leading part in the promotion of bills connected with the administration of law and justice. In August 1868 he was appointed a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas.[8] Some of his sentences in this capacity excited much criticism, notably so in the case of the gas stokers' strike, when he sentenced the defendants to imprisonment for twelve months, with hard labour, which was afterwards reduced by the Home Secretary to four months.[5]

On the reconstitution of the Court of Appeal in 1876, Brett was elevated to the rank of a Lord Justice of Appeal. He was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time.[9] After holding this position for seven years, he succeeded Sir George Jessel as Master of the Rolls in 1883.[10] In 1885 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Esher, of Esher in the County of Surrey.[11] He opposed the bill proposing that an accused person or his wife might give evidence in their own case, and supported the bill which empowered Lords of Appeal to sit and vote after their retirement. The Solicitors Act 1888, which increased the powers of the Incorporated Law Society, owed much to his influence. In 1880 he delivered a speech in the House of Lords, deprecating the delay and expense of trials, which he regarded as having been increased by the 1873 Judicature Act.[5] He retired from the bench at the close of 1897, and was created Viscount Esher, of Esher in the County of Surrey,[12] a dignity never given to any judge, Lord Chancellors excepted, for mere legal conduct since the time of Lord Coke.[5]

Important judgments[edit]

Family[edit]

Lord Esher married Eugénie Mayer (1814–1904) in 1850.[15] Eugénie was possibly the illegitimate daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte and Fanny Meyer,[citation needed] though other sources suggest that her father was one Louis Mayer.[15] They had two sons, Reginald, and Eugène,[15] and a daughter Violet, wife of William Humble Dudley Ward and mother of William Dudley Ward.[2] Lord Esher died in London in May 1899, aged 81, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Reginald.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/online/content/esher1897.htm
  2. ^ a b thepeerage.com William Baliol Brett, 1st Viscount Esher
  3. ^ "Brett, William Baliol (BRT835WB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ Woodgate, Walter Bradford (1888). Boating. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. pp. 255–256. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "William Baliol Brett, 1st Viscount Esher", Encyclopaedia Britannica
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 22483. p. 792. 26 February 1861.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 23359. p. 1519. 6 March 1868.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 23417. p. 4733. 28 August 1868.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24389. p. 6673. 1 December 1876.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25218. p. 1777. 3 April 1883.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25493. p. 6673. 1 December 1885.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26910. p. 6227. 12 November 1897.
  13. ^ *Lunney, M. & Oliphant, K. (2003). Tort Law:Text and Materials (2nd ed ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. pp91–91. ISBN 0-19-926055-9. 
  14. ^ Henderson, J.A. et al. The Torts Process, Seventh Edition. Apsen Publishers, New York, NY: 2007, p. 424
  15. ^ a b c Hedley, S. (2004) "Brett, William Baliol, first Viscount Esher (1815–1899)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 20 November 2007 (subscription or UK public library membership required)

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert Campbell
Member of Parliament for Helston
18661868
Succeeded by
Adolphus William Young
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn
Solicitor General
February 1868 – September 1868
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Baggallay
Preceded by
Sir George Jessel
Master of the Rolls
1883 – 1897
Succeeded by
Sir Nathaniel Lindley
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Esher
1897–1899
Succeeded by
Reginald Brett