Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wickens, John

WICKENS, Sir JOHN (1815–1873), judge, second son of James Stephen Wickens of Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, by his wife, Anne Goodenough, daughter of John Hayter of Winterbourne Stoke, Wiltshire, was born at his father's house on 13 June 1815. He was educated at Eton (under Dr. Keate), where he gained the Newcastle. Subsequently he won in 1832 an open scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, matriculating in the university on 30 Nov. of that year. He graduated B.A. with a ‘double first’ in Michaelmas term 1836, and M.A. in 1839, but was an unsuccessful candidate for a Balliol fellowship. Having entered at Lincoln's Inn, he was called to the bar in May 1840. His practice was of somewhat slow growth, but he gradually obtained reputation as a conveyancer and equity draftsman; and when in 1852 a number of leading juniors took silk, Wickens stepped at a bound into a large and lucrative court business, which never deserted him. He was retained in most of the heavy chancery suits of the day, and appeared frequently before the House of Lords and the privy council. During the later years of his career at the bar he was equity counsel to the treasury, the duties connected with which post precluded him from applying for a silk gown even had he been so inclined. They were also deemed incompatible with a seat in the House of Commons, and he never figured as a parliamentary candidate.

In 1868 he was made vice-chancellor of the county palatine of Lancaster on the elevation of Sir W. M. James to a vacant lord-justiceship. In 1871 he was elected a bencher of his inn, and in April of that year was raised to the bench as vice-chancellor in succession to Sir John Stuart, and received the honour of knighthood in due course. His sound knowledge of law, together with the great satisfaction he had given in the palatinate court, raised expectations which were not destined to be fulfilled, as his health broke down within a short period of his appointment, and he died at his seat, Chilgrove, near Chichester, on 23 Oct. 1873.

During his short tenure of office, Wickens acquired a reputation for slowness and for too close an adherence to that case law, of which he was an acknowledged master; but he was famous for his intimate acquaintance with all matters relating to practice, and his judgments were rarely appealed from. At the bar he was chiefly renowned as an equity pleader and as a writer of opinions; but though no great speaker, he possessed a gift of clear and vigorous expression, together with a trenchant, concise way of arguing a legal point, which rendered his services as an advocate of no inconsiderable value. In private life he was remarkable for the extent and variety of his literary knowledge, and he was the object of the warmest regard both from his personal and professional friends. He was famed for wit as well as learning, and it was current rumour that his failure to obtain a Balliol fellowship was due to some ill-timed display of the former quality.

He married, in 1845, Harriet Frances, daughter of William Davey of Cowley House, Gloucestershire. His daughter, Mary Erskine, is wife of Mr. Justice Farwell.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Lord Selborne's Memorials, 1st ser. vol. i.; Eton School Lists; Law Times, lvi. 11; Solicitors' Journal, xviii. 20; Times, 27 Oct. 1873 (containing an erroneous statement that he won the Newdigate prize at Oxford).]

J. B. A.