Holker, John (1828-1882) (DNB00)
HOLKER, Sir JOHN (1828–1882), lord justice, son of Samuel Holker, a manufacturer, of Bury, Lancashire, by Sarah, daughter of John Brocklehurst of Clitheroe in that county, was born at Bury in 1828. He was educated at the Bury grammar school, and, though at first destined for holy orders, was eventually articled to Mr. Eastham, solicitor, of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland. After some years he entered as a student at Gray's Inn, was called to the bar there in 1854, subsequently became a bencher, and in 1875 treasurer of his inn. After a short time spent in London he joined the northern circuit, and settled at Manchester. Here for some time he got but little practice, and from his appearance was called ‘sleepy Jack Holker.’ He was all his life a ‘tall, plain, lumbering Lancashire man, who never seemed to labour a case nor to distinguish himself by ingenuity or eloquence, but through whom the justice of his cause appeared to shine as through a somewhat dull but altogether honest medium.’ After ten years of growing and miscellaneous practice he distinguished himself, when left alone by no less than three leaders, in a parliamentary committee in the Stalybridge and Ashton Waterworks Bill, and removed to London in 1864. He obtained the rank of queen's counsel in 1866, and at once stepped into a leading position on his circuit; he was so successful in a patent case (his first) upon his first assize after ‘taking silk’ that patent cases formed thenceforward the larger part of his practice. In 1872 he successfully contested a by-election in the conservative interest at Preston. The election, the first under the Ballot Act, attracted much attention. At the same time the Tichborne case, absorbing many of the best known leaders at the bar, left an opening, of which Holker, hitherto little known in London, was able to avail himself. At the general elections in 1874 and in 1880 he was re-elected for Preston; was appointed solicitor-general by Mr. Disraeli and was knighted (1874). On the appointment of Sir Richard Baggallay to the court of appeal in November 1875 Holker became attorney-general. His practice became enormous, and his income during two consecutive years was 22,000l. a year. Persuasiveness, shrewdness, and tact made him extraordinarily successful in winning verdicts. In the House of Commons he proved a successful law-officer; he opposed Bass's bill to abolish committals for contempt in county courts, vigorously attacked Mr. Gladstone's Eastern policy in 1877, introduced the Criminal Code Bill and Bankruptcy Bill, and carried the Summary Procedure Act and Public Prosecution Act in 1879. It was known that he was anxious to obtain the post of lord chief baron, but Sir Fitzroy Kelly was unwilling to vacate it, and he returned to private practice on the fall of Lord Beaconsfield's administration in 1880. While absent for his health's sake on the Riviera, he was appointed by the government of Mr. Gladstone, who personally appreciated his close powers of reasoning, a lord justice of appeal in January 1882. He sat in that court only a few months, though long enough to display great judicial powers, was compelled by failing health to resign his office on 19 May, died at his house in Devonshire Street, Portland Place, on 24 May, and was buried 30 May in his mother's grave at Lytham, Lancashire. Lord Coleridge, in a panegyric upon him in the court of appeal on 26 May, said of him that ‘he filled with applause the offices of solicitor-general and attorney-general, and at the time of his death stood by universal consent in the very first rank of his profession.’ Many acts of unostentatious kindness to members of his profession are ascribed to him. He married, first, Jane, daughter of James Wilson of Eccles, Lancashire; and, secondly, Mary Lucia, daughter of Patrick McHugh of Cheetham Hill, Manchester, but left no issue.
[Times, 25 May 1882; Law Magazine, Law Journal, and Solicitors' Journal, 26 May 1882.]