Bacon, James (DNB01)

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BACON, Sir JAMES (1798–1895), judge, son of James Bacon, by his wife Catherine, born Day, of Manchester, was born on 11 Feb. 1798. His father's origin and history are obscure, but he was in intermittent practice as a certificated conveyancer at Somers Town and elsewhere within the metropolitan district between 1805 and 1825. The future judge was admitted on 4 April 1822 member of Gray's Inn, and was there called to the bar on 16 May 1827. He was also admitted on 3 Oct. 1833 member, and on 8 May 1845 barrister ad eundem, at Lincoln's Inn, where, on taking silk, he was elected bencher on 2 Nov. 1846, and treasurer in 1869.

For some years after his call Bacon went the home circuit, and attended the Surrey sessions, reported and wrote for the press. He is said to have been for a time sub-editor of the ‘Times;’ and the admirable style of his judgments shows that he might have achieved high literary distinction had not the demands of a growing practice proved too exacting. Eventually he limited himself to conveyancing, chancery, and bankruptcy business, of which he gradually obtained his full share. In 1859 he was appointed under-secretary and secretary of causes to the master of the rolls, and on 7 Sept. 1868 commissioner in bankruptcy for the London district. From the latter office he was advanced to that of chief judge under the Bankruptcy Act of 1869, which misconceived statute he administered with perhaps as much success as its nature permitted from its commencement until its repeal, and the transference of the bankruptcy jurisdiction to the queen's bench division of the high court of justice, in 1883.

Shortly after his appointment to the chief-judgeship in bankruptcy Bacon succeeded Sir William James as vice-chancellor on 2 July 1870, and he held the two offices concurrently till 1883. He was knighted on 14 Jan. 1871. The Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875 preserved the title of vice-chancellor during the lives of the existing vice-chancellors, while giving them the status of justices of the high court, and providing that no future vice-chancellors should be appointed. Though junior in office Bacon was considerably senior in years to vice-chancellor Malins, as also to vice-chancellors Wickens and Hall. Yet all three died while the veteran was still dispensing justice with undiminished vigour; and he thus became the last holder of a dignity of which he remembered the creation in 1813.

Bacon after 1883, when the chief-judgeship in bankruptcy was abolished, continued his labours as vice-chancellor. He was still hale and hearty when on 10 Nov. 1886 he retired from the bench at the age of eighty-eight. He was then sworn of the privy council (26 Nov.) He died of old age at his residence, 1 Kensington Gardens Terrace, Hyde Park, on 1 June 1895.

Bacon married, on 23 April 1827, Laura Frances (d. 1859), daughter of William Cook of Clay Hill, Enfield, Middlesex, by whom he left issue. Bacon's career embraced in its patriarchal span a whole era of gradual but incessant reform, which is without a parallel in our legal history. It was therefore no wonder that a vice-chancellor, who had sat at the feet of Eldon, and grown grey under St. Leonards, should exhibit some of the foibles of an old practitioner confronted with a new order of things, or that a considerable proportion of his judgments should be reversed or modified on appeal. Nevertheless, to have united at so advanced an age and for so long a period the chief-judgeship in bankruptcy with the vice-chancellorship remains a prodigious feat of mental and physical vigour.

Bacon was one of the most courteous of judges, and had also no small fund of wit and humour. His pungent obiter dicta not unfrequently enlivened the dull course of proceedings, and the clever caricature sketches with which he illustrated his notes provided relaxation for the lords-justices of appeal.

[Foster's Men at the Bar; Gray's Inn Adm. Reg.; Lincoln's Inn Records; Law Lists, 1806–1815, 1828, 1847, 1869, 1871, 1885; Burke's Peerage, 1894; Foster's Baronetage; Times, 3 June 1895; Ann. Reg. 1895, ii. 183; Law Times, 8 June 1895; Law Journ. 13 Nov. 1886, 17 Feb. 1894, 8 June 1895; Saturday Review, 8 June 1895; Pump Court, February 1895; Ballantine's From the Old World to the New, p. 209 ; Selborne's Memorials, Personal and Political, i. 291, ii. 164; Men and Women of the Time, 1891.]

J. M. R.