Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Ballantine, William

BALLANTINE, WILLIAM (1812–1887), serjeant-at-law, born in Howland Street, Tottenham Court Road, on 3 Jan. 1812, was the eldest son of William Ballantine, who was called to the bar from the Inner Temple on 5 Feb. 1813, was magistrate of the Thames police, had control of the river police force from 1821 to 1848, and died, aged 73, at 89 Cadogan Place, Chelsea, on 14 Dec. 1852. The younger William was educated at St. Paul's School, and at Ashburnham House, Blackheath. He was admitted to the Inner Temple on 28 May 1829, and was called to the bar on 6 June 1834, and occupied rooms in Inner Temple Lane. He joined the Middlesex sessions, where his father occasionally presided, and where he made the valuable acquaintance of (Sir) John Huddleston. He subsequently joined the central criminal court, and chose the home circuit, comprising Hertfordshire, Essex, Sussex, Kent, and Surrey. In this choice, he tells us, he was largely influenced by economical considerations, for in those days barristers travelled two and two in post chaises, public conveyances being forbidden. As a young man Ballantine was an assiduous haunter of the old literary taverns in Covent Garden, and he has recorded a number of brief reminiscences of the brothers Smith, Barham, Theodore Hook, Wakley, Frank Stone, Harrison Ainsworth, Talfourd, and other authors, coming down to Dickens and Thackeray and Anthony Trollope. The first case of importance in which Ballantine was engaged was a suit in the House of Lords in 1848 to annul the marriage of an heiress, Esther Field, on the ground of coercion and fraud. Sir Fitzroy Kelly, Sir John Bayley, and other distinguished counsel were in favour of the bill. Ballantine alone opposed it, but his cross-examination was so able and searching that the Earl of Devon, who was the chairman of the court, declined to move the further progress of the bill. A murder trial at Chelmsford Assizes in 1847 was the first of many in which his client's life was involved, and the trial gave Ballantine his 'first lesson in the art of silent cross-examination.'

On 3 Nov. 1856 Ballantine received the coif of a serjeant-at-law, but he had to wait until 1863 to obtain from Lord Westbury his patent of precedence, which was required to place Serjeants on the same level as queen's counsel. In 1863 he was engaged in the Woolley arson case, and in the following year he received through the Marquis d'Azeglio the thanks of the Sardinian government for his exertions on behalf of Pellizzioni, a Sardinian subject. During 1867, the last year in which the House of Commons enjoyed a jurisdiction in the case of contested elections, he practised before parliamentary committees in work of this kind. In 1868 he lost an action in which he defended the 'Daily Telegraph' on a charge of libel, against his frequent rival and opponent, Serjeant (John Humffreys) Parry [q. v.] He was, however, specially appointed by the House of Commons in 1869 to prosecute the mayor of Cork for eulogising the attempt of O'Farrell to assassinate the Duke of Edinburgh (the action was subsequently dropped), and he was no less distinguished by the tact which he displayed in the notorious 'Mordaunt case' of 1875.

The three forensic performances with which Ballantine's name is most intimately associated are his prosecution in the trial of Franz Müller for the murder of Mr. Briggs in the autumn of 1864, in which he secured a conviction despite the brilliant defence of Serjeant Parry; his defence of the Tichborne claimant during the earlier portion of that famous trial in 1871; and his defence of Mulhar Rao, Gaekwar of Baroda, arraigned for the crime of attempting to poison the British resident in the spring of 1875. The result in this case, which was tried at Baroda in February 1875, was an acquittal, but the British and native commissioners were divided as to the guilt of the Gaekwar, who was deposed on the grounds of incapacity and misconduct. Ballantine had extricated himself with skill from his position in the Tichborne case before matters became utterly desperate for his client, and in the trial of the Gaekwar his cross-examination of Colonel (afterwards Sir Robert) Phayre [q. v. Suppl.] was considered a masterpiece. His honorarium of 10,000l. in this case is probably among the largest ever paid to counsel.

Ballantine was made an honorary bencher of the Inner Temple on 22 Nov. 1878, and retired from active work as an advocate some three years later. From the Temple in March 1882 he signed the preface to his 'Some Experiences of a Barrister's Life,' an uncritical farrago of newspaper and club gossip, ranging over the period 1830-1880, interspersed with a few legal anecdotes, and strung together with little attempt at arrangement. The compound proved entertaining, and went through edition after edition. In November 1882 Ballantine set sail for America in the hope that was not to be realised of adding to his income by the delivery of a series of readings. After his return, in 1884, he issued 'The Old World and the New, by Mr. Serjeant Ballantine, being a continuation of his Experiences,' a work characterised by a greater urbanity if not by a greater coherence than his previous literary essay. Ballantine, who at the close of his life was one of the eight surviving serjeants-at-law, died at Margate on 9 Jan. 1887. He married on 4 Dec. 1841 Eliza, daughter of Henry Gyles of London, but left no issue.

Ballantine was for many years a well-known figure in metropolitan and especially in theatrical and journalistic society. His intimate knowledge of human nature made him a tower of strength for the defence in criminal trials. He was a brisk and telling speaker, but owed his unique position rather to his skill as a cross-examiner and to the fact that he was a recognised adept in the art of penetrating the motives and designs of criminals. He was generally credited with being the orignal of Chaffanbrass in Trollope's novel of 'Orley Farm.' The value of his career as a pattern for the profession was not unquestioned. According to the 'Law Times' 'he died very poor indeed,' and 'left behind him scarcely any lesson, even in his own poor biography, which the rising generation of lawyers could profitably learn.'

A good Woodburytype portrait was prefixed to 'The Old World and the New,' 1884.

[Some Experiences of a Barrister's Life, 1882; Foster's Men at the Bar, 1880, p. 21; Boase's Modern English Biography, 1892, p. 147; Men of the Time, 12th ed. 1887; Gent. Mag. 1853, i. 101; Illustrated News, 1846, i. 317, and 22 Jan. 1887 (portrait); Times, 10 Jan. 1887; Law Times, 15 Jan. 1887.]

T. S.