Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whiteside, James
WHITESIDE, JAMES (1804–1876), lord chief justice of Ireland, was born on 12 Aug. 1804 at Delgany, co. Wicklow, of which parish his father, William Whiteside, was curate. Shortly after Whiteside's birth his father removed to Rathmines, near Dublin, where he died in 1806. Mrs. Whiteside was left in narrow circumstances, but she was devoted to her children, and to her the boy was indebted for much of his early education. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1822, and graduated B.A. in 1832. In 1829 he entered as a law student at the Inner Temple, and in 1830 he was called to the Irish bar. He did not attempt to practise during his first year, preferring to study law in the chambers of Joseph Chitty [q. v.] While studying for the bar Whiteside occupied his leisure by contributing to the magazines a series of sketches, mostly of legal personages, much in the style of the ‘Sketches Legal and Political’ of Richard Lalor Sheil [q. v.] These papers, which are written in a lively manner and evince considerable powers of observation, were collected and republished in 1870 under the title of ‘Early Sketches of Eminent Persons.’ Among his subjects were James Scarlett, lord Abinger [q. v.], Thomas Denman, first lord Denman [q. v.], Sir Charles Wetherell [q. v.], and William Conyngham, first lord Plunket [q. v.] From 1831 Whiteside's progress at his profession was rapid, and he was made a queen's counsel in 1842. Rapidly gaining a reputation for an eloquence which recalled the traditional forensic splendours of Curran, Plunket, and Burke, his speech in defence of O'Connell in the state trials of 1843 placed him in front of all his contemporaries at the Irish bar.
Shortly after the O'Connell trials Whiteside's health obliged him temporarily to relinquish his profession. He visited Italy, and, taking much interest as well in the affairs of the peninsula as in the antiquities of Rome, he wrote and published his ‘Italy in the Nineteenth Century,’ 1848, 3 vols., and translated Luigi Canina's ‘Indicazione topografica di Roma Antica in Corrispondenza dell' epoca imperiale’ under the title ‘Vicissitudes of the Eternal City.’ Returning to active work, Whiteside acted as leading counsel for the defence of William Smith O'Brien [q. v.] and his fellow-prisoners in the state trials at Clonmel in 1848. Three years later (1851) he entered parliament as conservative member for Enniskillen. In 1859 he was chosen as one of the representatives of Dublin University, and held this position until his elevation to the bench. Whiteside's striking talent as a speaker made him a valuable accession to his party in the House of Commons, and on the formation of Lord Derby's first administration in 1852 he was appointed solicitor-general for Ireland, his brother-in-law, (Sir) Joseph Napier [q. v.], being attorney-general. In the same premier's second government Whiteside filled the office of attorney-general. During the liberal administration (1859–66) Whiteside was in opposition; but, despite the claims of his profession, he was able to devote much of his time to his parliamentary duties, and took an eminent part in the counsels of the conservative opposition. He attained a high position in the House of Commons, where his eloquence, wit, and geniality made him popular with all parties. In 1861, on his return to London after the marvellous speech in the celebrated Yelverton case—the most famous of all his forensic efforts—Whiteside received a remarkable compliment, being greeted with general cheers as he entered the House of Commons for the first time after the conclusion of the trial.
On the return of Lord Derby to office in 1866 Whiteside was again appointed attorney-general, but shortly afterwards accepted the office of chief justice of the queen's bench in Ireland, on the retirement of Thomas Langlois Lefroy [q. v.] Whiteside's talents were rhetorical and forensic rather than judicial; and though he brought to his high position great personal dignity and the charm of a singularly attractive personality, he was not very successful as a judge. He presided in the queen's bench division for ten years; but the last of these were clouded by ill-health. He died at Brighton on 25 Nov. 1876, and was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery near Dublin. He married, in July 1833, Rosetta, daughter of William Napier and sister of Sir Joseph Napier [q. v.], sometime lord chancellor of Ireland.
Whiteside's is one of the most brilliant names in the annals of the Irish bar. He was unapproached in point of eloquence by any of his contemporaries, and his powerful personality, at once winning and commanding, gave him an almost unexampled pre-eminence. His forensic style has been described as ‘impetuously burying facts and law under a golden avalanche of discursive eloquence;’ and his parliamentary oratory has been praised by Lord Lytton in his poem of ‘St. Stephen's.’ In person he was tall and gracefully proportioned. There is a statue of Whiteside in the hall of the Four Courts at Dublin, by Woolner.
[Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; Annual Register, 1876; Dublin Univ. Mag. xxxiii. 326, xxxv. 213; Temple Bar, xiii. 264; Remains of Sir Joseph Napier; Todd's Catalogue of Graduates, Dublin Univ.; Law Magazine and Review, May 1877; O'Flanagan's Irish Bar; Brooke's Recollections of the Irish Church, 2nd ser.]