Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Webster, Thomas (1810-1875)

WEBSTER, THOMAS (1810–1875), barrister, born on 16 Oct. 1810, was the eldest son of Thomas Webster, vicar of Oakington, Cambridgeshire. From the Charterhouse he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated B.A. as fourteenth wrangler in 1832, proceeding M.A. in 1835. In 1837 he became secretary to the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 1839 he resigned this post, but remained honorary secretary to the institution till 1841. In that year he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, and joined the northern circuit. He soon acquired a large practice in connection with scientific cases, and for many years was recognised as a leading authority on patent law. His ‘Reports and Notes of Cases on Letters Patent for Inventions’ (1844) was long the chief textbook on the subject, and still remains a standard work of reference. It was largely due to his efforts that the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852 was passed, an act by which the numerous abuses that had grown up round the ancient system of granting patents were swept away, the cost of a patent greatly reduced, and the system introduced that with certain modifications has worked well up to the present time. Webster had also a considerable parliamentary practice. He was one of the counsel engaged for Birkenhead in the great contests respecting the Liverpool and Mersey docks. In 1848 he published a handbook on ‘The Ports and Docks of Birkenhead,’ and in 1853 and 1857 he republished the reports of the acting committee of the conservators of the Mersey, and these books have been for many years the standard works of reference relating to that river. He was for long an active member of the governing body of the Society of Arts. He was in the chair at the meeting of the society in 1845 when the first proposal was made for holding the great International Exhibition of 1851, and formed one of the first committee appointed to organise that exhibition. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1847, and in 1865 he was appointed one of her majesty's counsel. He died in London on 3 June 1875.

Webster was twice married: first, in 1839, to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Richard Calthrop of Swineshead Abbey, Lincolnshire; and, secondly, to Mary Frances, daughter of Joseph Cookworthy, M.D., of Plymouth. By his first wife he had three sons (the second of whom is Sir Richard Everard Webster, G.C.M.G., attorney-general) and two daughters; by his second wife he had one son and one daughter.

[Journ. Soc. Arts. xxiii. 665; Law Times, 12 June 1875; Times, 7 June 1875; personal knowledge; information furnished by Sir Richard Webster.]

H. T. W.