Farrer Herschell, 1st Baron Herschell

The Right Honourable
The Lord Herschell
Lord Chancellor
In office
6 February 1886  20 July 1886
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by The Lord Halsbury
Succeeded by The Lord Halsbury
In office
18 August 1892  21 June 1895
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by The Lord Halsbury
Succeeded by The Lord Halsbury
Personal details
Born 2 November 1837 (1837-11-02)
Died 1 March 1899 (1899-04) (aged 61)
Washington D. C., United States
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Alma mater University College London

Farrer Herschell, 1st Baron Herschell GCB PC QC DL FRS (2 November 1837 – 1 March 1899) was Lord Chancellor of Great Britain in 1886, and again from 1892 to 1895.


Early career

His parents were Helen Skirving Mowbray and the Rev. Ridley Haim Herschell, who was a native of Strzelno, in Prussian Poland. When Ridley was a young man, he converted from Judaism to Christianity and took a leading part in founding the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Jews. He eventually settled down to the charge of a Nonconformist chapel near the Edgware Road, in London, where he ministered to a large congregation. Farrer was educated at a private school and at University College London. In 1857 he took his BA degree at University College London, University of London. He was regarded as the best speaker at the University College London Union Debating Society.[1]

Herschell's reputation persisted after he became a law student at Lincoln's Inn. In 1858 he entered the chambers of Thomas Chitty, the famous special pleader. His fellow pupils included Archibald Levin Smith, subsequently Master of the Rolls, and Arthur Charles who became a judge of the Queen's Bench. He subsequently read with James Hannen, who went on to become Lord Hannen. His fellow pupils gane him the sobriquet "Chief Baron" because of his air of superiority. In 1860 he was called to the bar and joined the northern circuit.[1]

For four or five years he did not obtain much work. He was financially secure, however. Herschell soon made himself useful to Edward James, the then leader of the northern circuit, and to John Richard Quain, the leading stuffgownsman. For the latter he noted briefs and drafted legal opinions. When, in 1866, Quain took silk, Herschell inherited much of his junior practice.[1]

Into politics

In 1872, Herschell took silk.[2] By 1874, his business had become so good that he turned his thoughts to politics and election to Parliament. In February of that year there was a general election, with the result that the Conservative Party came into power with a parliamentary majority of fifty. The two Radicals, Thomas Charles Thompson and John Henderson who had been returned for City of Durham were unseated, and an attack was then made on the seats of two other Radicals, Isaac Lowthian Bell and Charles Mark Palmer who had been returned for North Durham. Herschell was briefed for one of the latter. He made such an impression on the local Radical leaders that they asked him to stand for City of Durham. After two weeks' electioneering, he was elected as junior member. Between 1874 and 1880, Herschell was assiduous in his attendance of the House of Commons. He was not a frequent speaker, but his few efforts garnered him a favourable reputation as a debater. On one occasion, he carried a resolution in favour of abolishing actions for breach of promise of marriage except when actual pecuniary loss had ensued, the damages in such cases to be measured by the amount of such loss. He was noticed by Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, who in 1880 appointed Herschell Solicitor General.[1]

Solicitor General

In 1880, Herschell appointed to be Solicitor General,[3] a position he held until 1885. He was therefore knighted in 1880.[4] He drafted multiple bills, most notably the Irish Land Act of 1881, the Corrupt Practices and Bankruptcy Acts of 1883, the County Franchise Act of 1884 and the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885. This last one halved the representation of Durham City, thus giving him statutory notice to quit. Betting on the local support of the Cavendish family, he contested the North Lonsdale division of Lancashire, but in spite of the powerful influence of Lord Hartington, he was badly beaten at the poll. Gladstone, however, again obtained a majority in parliament. Herschell felt the Solicitor General's post slipping away from him, and along with it all prospects of promotion. Lord Selborne and Sir Henry James, however, successively declined Gladstone's offer of the Woolsack, and in 1886 Herschell suddenly found himself lord chancellor.[1]

Lord Chancellor

Lord Herschell as Lord Chancellor, by Hubert von Herkomer.

Herschell's chancellorship lasted barely six months, because in June 1886 Gladstone's Home Rule Bill was rejected in the Commons and his administration fell. In August 1892, when Gladstone returned to power, Herschell again became Lord Chancellor. As a result, he was sworn of the Privy Council that year.[5] In May 1893, he was appointed to the Order of the Bath as a Knight Grand Cross (GCB).[6] In September 1893, when the second Home Rule BiIl came on for second reading in the House of Lords, Herschell took advantage of the opportunity to justify his own 1885 sudden conversion to Home Rule, and that of his colleagues, by comparing it to the Duke of Wellington's conversion to Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and to that of Sir Robert Peel to Free Trade in 1846. In 1895, however, his second chancellorship came to an end with the defeat of the Rosebery ministry.[1]

He was perhaps seen at his judicial best in Vagliano v. Bank of England (1891) and Allen v. Flood (1898). Latterly he showed a tendency to interrupt counsel overmuch. The latter case is an example of this. The question involved was what constituted a "molestation of a man in the pursuit of his lawful calling". At the close of the argument of counsel, whom he had frequently interrupted, one of their lordships observed that although there might be a doubt as to what amounted to such molestation in point of law, the House could well understand, after that day's proceedings, what it was in actual practice.[1]

Other public service

In addition to his political and judicial work, Herschell rendered many public services. He became a Deputy Lieutenant of the County Palatine of Durham in 1885.[7] and of the County of Kent in 1890.[8] In 1888 he presided over an inquiry directed by the House of Commons, with regard to the Metropolitan Board of Works. He acted as chairman of two royal commissions, one on Indian currency, the other on vaccination. He took a great interest in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, not only promoting the acts of 1889 and 1894, but also in sifting the truth of allegations which had been brought against the management of that society.[1] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in January 1892.[9]

In June 1893 he was appointed chancellor of the University of London succeeding the Earl of Derby. His views of reform, according to Victor Dickins, the accomplished registrar of the University, were liberal and frankly stated, though at first they were not altogether popular. He disarmed opposition by his intellectual power, rather than conciliated it by compromise, and sometimes was perhaps a little forceful in his approach various matters of controversy.[1]

His characteristic power of detachment was well illustrated by his treatment of the proposal to remove the university to the site of the Imperial Institute at South Kensington. Although he was then chairman of the Institute, the most irreconcilable opponent of the removal never questioned his absolute impartiality. Herschell had been officially connected with the Imperial Institute from its inception. He was chairman of the provisional committee appointed by Edward Prince of Wales to formulate a scheme for its organisation, and he took an active part in the preparation of its royal charter and constitution in conjunction with Lord Thring, Lord James, Sir Frederick Abel and John Hollams. He was the first chairman of its council, and, except during his tour in India in 1888, when he brought the Institute to the notice of the Indian authorities, he was hardly absent from a single meeting. For his special services in this connection he received the Order of the Bath in 1893,[1] this being the only instance of a Lord Chancellor being decorated with an order. In 1893 he became, at its foundation, president of the Society of Comparative Legislation.[1]

In 1897 he was appointed, jointly with Lord Justice Collins, to represent Great Britain on the Venezuela Boundary Commission, which met in Paris in the spring of 1899. Such a complicated business involved a careful study of maps and historic documents. Not content with this, he accepted in 1898 a seat on the joint high commission appointed to adjudicate in the Alaska boundary dispute and to adjust boundaries and other important questions pending between Great Britain and Canada on the one hand and the United States on the other hand. He started for the US in July of that year, and was received cordially at Washington D.C.. His fellow commissioners elected him their president.[1]


In February 1899, while the commission was in full swing, Herchell slipped in the street and fractured his pelvis.[10] His constitution, which at one time was a robust one, had been undermined by constant hard work, and proved unequal to sustaining the shock. On 1 March, only two weeks after the accident, he died at the Shoreham Hotel, Washington, a post-mortem examination revealing heart disease. John Hay, United States Secretary of State, at once telegraphed to Joseph Hodges Choate, the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the deep sorrow felt by President William McKinley. Sir Wilfrid Laurier said the next day, in the parliament chamber at Ottawa, that he regarded Herschell's death as a misfortune to Canada and to the British Empire.[1]

A funeral service held in St John's Episcopal Church, Washington, was attended by the president and vice-president of the United States, by the cabinet ministers, the judges of the Supreme Court, the members of the joint high commission, and a large number of senators and other representative men. The body was brought to London in a British man-of-war, and a second funeral service was held in Westminster Abbey before it was conveyed to its final resting-place at Tincleton, Dorset, in the parish church where he had been married.[1]


Herschell left a widow whom he had married in 1876, Agnes Adela, daughter of Edward Leigh Kindersley and granddaughter of Vice-Chancellor Kindersley. In 1897, she was one of the guests at the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Costume Ball.[11]

Lady Herschell died at Pau 23 February 1902.[12] They left a son, Richard Farrer Herschell (b. 1878), who succeeded as second baron, and two daughters.[1]

Styles of address



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Crackanthorpe (1911)
  2. The London Gazette: no. 23825. p. 466. 6 February 1872.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 24841. p. 2865. 4 May 1880.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 24845. p. 3067. 18 May 1880.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 26318. p. 4742. 19 August 1892.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 26404. p. 2923. 19 May 1893.
  7. The London Gazette: no. 25529. p. 5191. 13 November 1885.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 26054. p. 2971. 23 May 1890.
  9. "Fellows 1660-2007" (PDF). Royal Society. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  10. The Complete Peerage, Volume VI. St Catherine's Press. 1926. p. 498.Indicated as cause of his ensuing death.
  11. Walker, Dave. "Costume Ball 4: Ladies only". Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
  12. "Obituary - Agnes, day Herschell". The Times (36702). London. 27 February 1902. p. 9.
  13. "Report 63 (1988) – Jurisdiction of Local Courts Over Foreign Land.". Law Reform Commission, New South Wales. 30 May 2001. Retrieved 2008-09-01.


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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