Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anstey, Thomas Chisholm

ANSTEY, THOMAS CHISHOLM (1816–1873), lawyer and politician, who took a prominent part in various political controversies, was the son of one of the earliest settlers in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), and was born at London in 1816. He was educated at Wellington College and at University College, London, and in Hilary term 1839 was called to the bar at the Middle Temple. Although he had no personal relations with Oxford, the Oxford movement greatly affected him, and he was one of the earliest converts to Roman Catholicism that it produced. With the passionate enthusiasm that characterised his public life, he became at once an uncompromising champion of the political interests of the Roman Catholics in England and Ireland. Shortly after his conversion he was appointed professor of law and jurisprudence at the Roman Catholic College of Prior Park, near Bath, and a series of six lectures delivered there on the laws and constitution of England was published by him in 1845. He issued about the same time many pamphlets on the legal and political position of the Roman Catholics, one of which was entitled 'A Guide to the Laws affecting Roman Catholics' (1842), and another 'The Queen's Supremacy considered in its relation with the Roman Catholics in England' (1850). He also contributed frequently to the 'Dublin Magazine,' then recently started under the joint superintendence of Cardinal Newman, Daniel O'Connell, and Henry Bagshawe. On resigning his professorship, he appears to have turned his attention almost exclusively to politics. Ireland mainly interested him, and he was a violent supporter of the extreme section of O'Connell's followers. In 1846 he denounced the illegality of the arrest and imprisonment of W. Smith O'Brien by order of the House of Commons, for refusing to serve on a parliamentary committee, in a short paper reviewing the legal aspect of the question; and in 1847 his advocacy of advanced views on Irish questions was rewarded by his election as member of parliament for Youghal. In the House of Commons he rapidly made himself notorious by his intemperate attacks on the government of Lord Palmerston. Every step taken by the minister in foreign policy was decried by Anstey, 'not merely as mistaken or unprincipled in itself, but as part of a deliberate scheme for selling us to the despots of the continent, and destroying the liberties of England and Europe.' In his first session he attacked Palmerston's negotiations in connection with the treaty of Adrianople in a speech of six hours' duration. Upon almost every subject that came before parliament, and especially on Irish and colonial affairs, Anstey addressed the house; but his command of language and unusual facility as a speaker did not prevent him becoming 'a malcontent of the highest bore-power.' His political programme, on his entrance into parliament, included the repeal not only of the Irish, but also of the Scotch union, the abolition of excise duties, the reduction of the customs, and the repeal of the currency laws, and he never lost what he imagined to be an opportunity to ventilate his views on these topics. In the House of Commons he found few supporters; but Mr, David Urquhart and Anstey frequently acted together on questions of foreign policy. Ridiculed repeatedly in 'Punch,' Anstey continued to press his extravagant views on the parliament to which he was returned: but on its dissolution in 1852 he retired from parliamentary life.

Although his political conduct hardly seemed to give him any claim to government office, in 1854 Anstey was nominated attorney-general of Hongkong; but his distrust in the value of almost all existing political institutions was there only confirmed. According to his own account he found abuses imbedded in the whole government of the colony which he resolved to root out. The police, he declared, connived at Chinese piracy and at a large number of other irregularities practised by the Chinese of the district. In pursuit, therefore, of radical reforms in the administration of the colony, Anstey came into serious collision with Sir John Bowring, the governor, and many of his subordinates; after protracted disputes he was suspended in 1858 from his post by Sir John, and the suspension was confirmed by the home government. On his return to England in 1859 Anstey represented himself as the victim of a serious political injustice, and the matter was brought before parliament by Mr. Edwin James. Anstey himself stated his view of the case in an elaborate pamphlet containing a number of letters addressed by him to the Duke of Newcastle, the colonial secretary at the time. But his grievance excited little interest, and Anstey retired to India, to practise at the Bombay bar. There he rapidly achieved great success, and filled a temporary vacancy on the bench in 1865. His rapidity of decision pleasurably astonished the suitors of the court; but a too vigorous denunciation of the alleged commercial immorality of the presidency of Bengal led him into controversies with all the superior officials, and he was compelled to withdraw from his judicial appointment. The year 1866 he spent in England, and threw himself with his wonted energy into the agitation then proceeding for parliamentary reform. In a tract entitled 'A Plea for the Unrepresented for the Restitution of the Franchise,' he declared himself in favour of manhood suffrage, and attempted to prove that all limitations of the franchise were due to class-legislation, and were usurpations of original popular rights. Lord Houghton, although he disagreed with its conclusions, characterised the pamphlet as 'a valuable contribution to the argumentative and historical literature of reform' (Essays on Reform, p. 49). In another tract, published in 1867, Anstey severely criticised Disraeli's Reform Act of 1867; and during that and the following year he contributed three important papers to the 'Transactions' of the Juridical Society—one on Blackstone's theory of the omnipotence of Parliament (iii. 305-39), another on judicial oaths as administered to heathen witnesses (iii. 371-401), in which Anstey advocated the abolition of all oaths; and a third on the competence of colonial legislatures to enact laws in derogation of common liability and common right (iii. 401-57). About the close of 1868 Anstey, who had sought in vain a practice at the English bar, returned to Bombay, and reassumed his former prominent position at the bar there. He died in India on 12 Aug. 1873, and was deeply lamented by the native population of Bombay, whether Parsees, Hindoos, or Mahomedans, to whom he had always been ready to render legal assistance. In spite of his pugnacious disposition and unseemly quarrels, and in spite of his strange addiction to multifarious crotchets, 'a real high honesty of purpose' seems to have lain at the bottom of his extravagances. His aims were invariably legitimate enough, but he rarely took rational measures to attain their fulfilment.

[Times, 15 Aug. 1873; Pall Mall Gazette, 3 Sept. 1873; Times of India, 14 Aug. 1873; Tablet, 16 Aug. 1873; Weekly Register, 16 Aug. 1873; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 1847-1852; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

S. L. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.7
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
40 i 16 Anstey, Thomas C.: omit at Wellington College and
l.l. omit the government of
ii 30, 31 for he retired from parliamentary life read he failed in his candidature for Bedford, and his parliamentary life ended