James, Edwin John (DNB00)

JAMES, EDWIN JOHN (1812–1882), barrister, eldest son of John James, solicitor, and secondary of the city of London (d. 21 July 1852, aged 69), by Caroline, eldest daughter of Boyce Combe, was born in 1812, and was educated at a private school. In early life he frequently acted at a private theatre in Gough Street, Gray's Inn Road, London, and after taking lessons from John Cooper played George Barnwell at the Theatre Royal, Bath. His appearance was against him. It is said that he looked like a prize-fighter (Cyrus Jay, The Law, 1868, pp. 396-301). At the intercession of his parents he left the stage, and on 30 June 1836 was called to the bar at the Inner Temple,and went the home circuit. Owing to his father's interest he soon acquired an extensive junior practice both civil and criminal. He was engaged in the Palmer poisoning trial, 14–27 May 1850, the trial of Dr. Simon Bernard for conspiring with Orsini to kill Napoleon III, 12–17 April 1858, and the Canadian appeal case respecting the runaway slave John Anderson, 16 Feb. 1861. In dealing with common juries he freely appealed with conspicuous success to their ignorance and prejudices, but his knowledge of law was very limited. In December 1853 he was gazetted a queen's counsel, but his inn did not elect him a bencher. From 1855 to 1861 he acted as recorder of Brighton, and on 25 Feb. 1859 he was elected member of parliament for Marylebone. He was a steady supporter of Palmerston's government. In the autumn of 1860 he visited Garibaldi's camp, and was present at the skirmish before Capua on 9 Sept. (Illustrated London News, 13 Oct. 1860, p.860, with portrait). He was now making 7,000l. a year, but was heavily in debt. On 10 April 1861 he announced his retirement from the House of Commons, and soon afterwards withdrew from Brooks's and the Reform Club. An execution took place in his residence, 27 Berkeley Square, and his liabilities were stated to exceed 100,000l.

Grave charges were meanwhile made against his professional character, and on 7 June 1861 the benchers of the Inner Temple commenced an inquiry into his conduct. It was proved that he had for his own sole benefit in 1867 and 1860 involved Lord Worsley, a young man just of age, son of Lord Yarborough, in debts amounting to about 35,000l. From a west-country solicitor he obtained in 1853, by misrepresentations, 20,000l., and when engaged in the case of Scully v. Ingram, which was a claim brought against the proprietor of the 'Illustrated London News' in connection with the floating of a new company, he, while acting for the plaintiff, borrowed 1,250l. from the defendant, on the pretence that he would let him off easily in cross-examination [see Ingram, Robert]. A fourth charge in connection with James's conduct to Colonel Dickson, in the action of Dickson v. the Earl of Wilton, was not investigated.

On 18 June 1861 James offered to resign his membership of the bar, but the offer was refused, and on 18 July 1861 he was disbarred. His name was struck off the books of the inn on 20 Nov.

In the meantime James went to America, and on 5 Nov. 1861 was admitted to the bar of New York. When his conduct in England became known in New York, an attempt was made to cancel his membership, but he denied on oath the truth of the charges, the judges were divided in opinion, and the matter dropped. In America, where he became a citizen, he gave a legal opinion against the British interest in the matter of the Trent.

A notice in the 'London Gazette' of 15 July 1862 cancelled his appointment as queen's counsel. In April 1865 he was playing at Winter Garden Theatre, New York. Returning to London in 1872, he lectured on America at St. George's Hall (17 April). In the following year he unsuccessfully petitioned the common-law judges to reconsider his case. In May 1873 he articled himself to William Henry Roberts of 46 Moorgate Street, city of London, solicitor, and about the same time again offered himself as a candidate for Marylebone. He afterwards practised as a jurisconsult, came occasionally before the public as a friend of Garibaldi, and wrote magazine articles. Latterly he fell into difficulties, and a subscription was about to be made for him when he died in Bedford Street, Bedford Square, London, on 4 March 1882. He married, 9 July 1861, Marianne, widow of Captain Edward D. Crosier Hilliard of the 10th hussars, who died on 4 June 1853. She obtained a decree of divorce in New York on 2 Jan. 1883.

James was the author of: 1. 'The Act for the Amendment of the Law in Bankruptcy,' 1842, 2. 'The Speech of E. James in Defence of S. Bernard,' 1858. 3, 'The Bankrupt Law of the United States,' 1867. 4. 'The Political Institutions of America and England,' 1872.

[Law Mag. and Law Rev. February 1862, pp. 263–86. August 1862. pp. 335–45; Times, 7 March 1862, p. 10; Daily News. 7 March 1882, p. 5: Solicitors' Journal. 11 March 1882, p. 301; Law Times, 18 March 1882, p. 358; Illustrated London News, 30 April 1869, p. 429, with portrait; Annual Register, 1882, pp. 140–143.]

G. C. B.