The Viscount Esher
Lord Esher by John Everett Millais.
10 February 1868 - 16 September 1868
|Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn|
|Sir Richard Baggallay|
|Master of the Rolls|
April 1883 - 1897
|Sir George Jessel|
|Sir Nathaniel Lindley|
|Born||13 August 1815|
|Died||24 May 1899 (aged 83)|
|Children||3, including Reginald|
|Alma mater||King's College London |
Caius College, Cambridge
William Baliol Brett, 1st Viscount Esher, PC (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.
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. He was educated at Westminster School, King's College London and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. 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.
Called to the Bar in 1840, Brett went to the northern circuit and became a Queen's Counsel in 1861. On the death of Richard Cobden in 1865, he unsuccessfully contested Rochdale as a Conservative, but in an 1866 by-election, he was returned for Helston in unique circumstances. He and his opponent polled exactly the same number of votes, and the mayor, as returning officer, then gave his casting vote for the Liberal candidate. As the vote was given after four o'clock, however, an appeal was lodged, and the House of Commons allowed both members to take their seats.
Brett rapidly made his mark in the House, and in early 1868, he was knighted 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. 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.
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. After holding the position for seven years, he succeeded Sir George Jessel as Master of the Rolls in 1883. In 1885 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Esher, of Esher in the County of Surrey. He opposed the bill proposing that an accused person or his wife might give evidence in their own case and supported the bill that 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 Judicature Act 1873. He retired from the bench at the close of 1897, and was created Viscount Esher, of Esher in the County of Surrey, a dignity never given to any judge, Lord Chancellors excepted, for mere legal conduct since the time of Lord Coke.
Lord Esher married Eugénie Mayer (1814-1904) in 1850. Eugénie was possibly the illegitimate daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte and Fanny Meyer, though other sources suggest that her father was one Louis Mayer. They had two sons, Reginald, and Eugène, and a daughter Violet, wife of William Humble Dudley Ward and mother of William Dudley Ward. Lord Esher died in London in May 1899, aged eighty-one, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Reginald.
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Helston
1866 - 1868
Adolphus William Young
Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn
| Solicitor General
February 1868 – September 1868
Sir Richard Baggallay
Sir George Jessel
| Master of the Rolls
1883 – 1897
Sir Nathaniel Lindley
|Peerage of the United Kingdom|
|New creation|| Viscount Esher
| Baron Esher|