Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parry, John Humffreys (1816-1880)

PARRY, JOHN HUMFFREYS (1816–1880), serjeant-at-law, son of John Humffreys Parry (1786–1825) [q. v.], was born in London on 24 Jan. 1816. He received a commercial education at the Philological School, Marylebone, and spent a short time in a merchant's office in London; but his literary talents made commerce distasteful to him, and he accepted a post in the printed-book department in the British Museum. While thus occupied he attended lectures at the Aldersgate Institution and studied for the bar. He was called to the bar in June 1843 by the Middle Temple. He joined the home circuit, and soon obtained a good criminal business, principally at the central criminal court and the Middlesex sessions. Here his position became a leading one, but his appointment as a serjeant-at-law, in June 1856, assisted him to better work in the civil courts, where, thanks to an admirable appearance and voice, great clearness and simplicity of statement, and the tact of a born advocate, he was very successful in winning verdicts. He was also largely employed in compensation cases, especially for the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway. He obtained a patent of precedence in 1864 from Lord Westbury after Lords Campbell and Chelmsford had refused it on the mere ground of his being a serjeant (Ballantine, Experiences, i. 69, 207), and he afterwards led the home circuit. In November 1878 he was elected a bencher of the Middle Temple. His best-known cases were the trial of Manning in 1849; of Müller, for the murder of Mr. Briggs, in October 1864; the Overend and Gurney prosecution in 1869; the indictment of Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant, in 1873–4; and Whistler v. Ruskin in November 1878. In politics he was an advanced liberal. At the time of the first chartist movement he sympathised with the more moderate of their views, and knew many of their leaders. William Lovett [q. v.], in his latter days, mentions friendly assistance received from Serjeant Parry. Parry was also one of the founders of the Complete Suffrage Association in 1842. In 1847 he unsuccessfully contested Norwich against Lord Douro and Sir Samuel Morton Peto [q. v.], and in 1857 was beaten in Finsbury by Tom Duncombe and Mr. William Cox, being third at the poll, and spending 790l. He died on 10 Jan. 1880 at his house in Holland Park, Kensington, of congestion of the lungs, aggravated, it is said, by the faulty drainage of the house. He was twice married: first, to Margaret New, who died on 13 Sept. 1856; and afterwards to Elizabeth Mead, daughter of Edwin Abbott [q. v.]; she predeceased him by a few hours. He was buried at Woking on 15 Jan. 1880. He had two sons, of whom the elder, John Humffreys, an actor, died in 1891; the second, Edward Abbott, is judge of the county court at Manchester and Salford, and a well-known man of letters.

Socially, and especially in his own profession, Serjeant Parry was much esteemed not only for the forensic talents which made him for many years one of the best known figures in the courts, but also for the kindliness and geniality which won him a very large circle of friends.

[Times, 12 and 17 Jan. 1880; Law Times, Law Journal, and Solicitors' Journal, 17 Jan. 1880; Life of T. Slingsby Duncombe; Lovett's Autobiography; Robinson's Bench and Bar, p. 92; Montagu Williams's Leaves from a Life and Later Leaves; information from E. A. Parry, esq.]

J. A. H.