Mellish, George (DNB00)

MELLISH, Sir GEORGE (1814–1877), lord justice of appeal, second son of Edward Mellish, D.D., rector of East Tuddenham, Norfolk, and afterwards dean of Hereford, by his wife Elizabeth Jane, daughter of a prior dean of Hereford, William Leigh of Rushall Hall, Staffordshire, was born at Tuddenham, 19 Dec. 1814. His godfather was George Canning, who was his mother's first cousin. He was educated at Eton, where his name appears in the school lists (pp. 137 a, 147 a) in 1829, in the middle division, and in 1832 in the sixth form. At school he was a good sculler, but neither an athlete nor a diligent scholar. In 1833 he entered as a commoner at University College, Oxford, but shortly gained an open scholarship on Sir Simon Bennet's foundation. He took a second class in literæ humaniores in 1836, and graduated B.A. on 26 Jan. 1837, and M.A. on 24 Oct. 1839. He was a good speaker at the Union, as he had been at the debating society at Eton, but obtained less distinction in the schools than his talents seemed to merit. He became an honorary fellow of his college in 1872, and received the honorary degree of D.C.L. 17 June 1874.

Mellish was admitted a student of the Inner Temple 6 Nov. 1837, and read in the chambers of Spencer Walpole, John Unthank, and Crompton. For eight years he practised as a special pleader, and on 9 June 1848 he was called to the bar and joined the northern circuit. He rapidly obtained a good mercantile business, became a queen's counsel in 1861, and quitted the lead of his circuit after a few years to devote himself to a very heavy leading practice in London. Neither the bent of his mind nor the state of his health fitted him for the strain of nisi prius work, though he appeared for one of the defendants in the prosecution of Overend, Gurney & Co. His forte lay in arguments in banco, in chancery, and in the House of Lords. More than once he refused a puisne judgeship, but in 1870, on the death of Sir George Giffard, he was appointed a lord justice of appeal in chancery, was knighted, and sworn of the privy council. The experiment of appointing a common-law practitioner to so important a post in chancery was bold, but it was justified by its success, and the court, which consisted of him and Lord Justice James, continued for some years to give judgments of the highest importance and value. All his life, however, he had suffered from gout, and in spite of his great fortitude under severe pain in court, he was frequently disabled from work. He died unmarried at his house, 33 Lowndes Square, London, on 15 June 1877. His chief judicial fault was an eager habit of controversially interrupting the arguments of counsel, but his learning was profound, his intellect logical and clear, and his character impartial and amiable.

[For a lengthy estimate of his character by Lord Selborne see Law Mag. and Rev. 4th ser. iii. 62–4. See also G. K. Richards in Law. Mag. 4th ser. iii. 55; Solicitors' Journal, 23 June 1877.]

J. A. H.