James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger
Background and education
Scarlett was born in Jamaica, where his father, Robert Scarlett, had property. In the summer of 1785 he was sent to England to complete his education at Hawkshead Grammar School and afterwards at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his B.A. degree in 1789. Having entered the Inner Temple he took the advice of Samuel Romilly, studied law on his own for a year, and then was taught by George Wood. He was called to the bar in 1791, and joined the northern circuit and the Lancashire sessions.
Legal and political career
Though Scarlett had no professional connections, he gradually obtained a large practice, ultimately confining himself to the Court of King's Bench and the northern circuit. He took silk in 1816, and from this time till the close of 1834 he was the most successful lawyer at the bar; he was particularly effective before a jury, and his income reached £18,500, a large sum for that period. He first entered parliament in 1819 as Whig member for Peterborough, representing that constituency with a short break (1822–1823) till 1830, when he was elected for the borough of Malton. He became Attorney General, and was made a Knight Bachelor when Canning formed his ministry in 1827; and though he resigned when the Duke of Wellington came into power in 1828, he resumed office in 1829 and went out with the Duke in 1830.
His opposition to the Reform Bill caused him to leave the Whigs and join the Tories, and he was elected, first for Cockermouth in 1831 and then in 1832 for Norwich, for which he sat until the dissolution of parliament in 1835. He was appointed Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1834, and presided in that court for more than nine years. He was appointed to the Privy Council at the end of that year. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Abinger, of Abinger in the County of Surrey and of the City of Norwich in 1835, taking his title from the Surrey estate he had bought in 1813. The qualities which brought him success at the bar were not equalled on the bench; he had a reputation for unfairness, and complaints were made about his domineering attitude towards juries.
While he was studying in England, he became the guardian of Edward Moulton, who later assumed his mother's family name, and became the father of the poet Elizabeth Barrett, later Elizabeth Barrett Browining. The Scarletts and the Barretts had been friends for many years in Jamaica, and it seems natural that James Scarlett would have been selected to keep an eye on young Moulton, while the boy was at school in England. In a note prefixed to the Collected Edition of his wife's poems, Robert Browning tells us that "On the early death of his father, he (Edward Moulton) was brought from Jamaica to England when a very young child, as ward to the late Chief Baron Lord Abinger, then Mr. Scarlett, whom he frequently accompanied in his post-chaise when on pursuit."
Lord Abinger was twice married (the second time only six months before his death), and by his first wife (d. 1829) had three sons and two daughters, the title passing to his eldest son, Robert. His second son was General Sir James Yorke Scarlett, leader of the heavy cavalry charge at Balaklava. His third son, Peter Campbell Scarlett, was a diplomat. His elder daughter, Mary, married John Campbell, 1st Baron Campbell, and was herself created Baroness Stratheden. Sir William Anglin Scarlett, Lord Abinger's younger brother, was chief justice of Jamaica. While attending the Norfolk circuit on 2 April, Lord Abinger was suddenly seized with apoplexy, and died in his lodgings at Bury.
A more distant relation was the painter John Scarlett Davis.
Styles of address
- 1769–1816: Mr James Scarlett
- 1816–1819: Mr James Scarlett KC
- 1819–1827: Mr James Scarlett KC MP
- 1827–1834: Sir James Scarlett KC MP
- 1834–1835: The Right Honourable Sir James Scarlett KC MP
- 1835–1837: The Right Honourable The Lord Abinger PC KC
- 1837–1844: The Right Honourable The Lord Abinger PC QC
- Fouldes v. Willoughby (1841)
- "Scarlett, James (SCRT785J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "Scarlett, James (1769-1849)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abinger, James Scarlett, 1st Baron". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 63. This cites:
- The London Gazette: . 8 May 1827.
- The London Gazette: . 16 December 1834.
- The London Gazette: . 9 January 1835.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Lord Abinger
- Portraits of James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Works by or about James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger in libraries (WorldCat catalog)