Perry, Thomas Erskine (DNB00)
|←Perry, Stephen Joseph||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 45
Perry, Thomas Erskine
PERRY, Sir THOMAS ERSKINE (1806–1882), Indian judge, born at Wandlebank House, Wimbledon, on 20 July 1806, was the second son of James Perry [q. v.], proprietor and editor of the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ by his wife Anne, daughter of John Hull of Wilson Street, Finsbury Square, London. He was baptised in Wimbledon church on 11 Oct. 1806, Lord Chancellor Erskine and Dr. Matthew Raine of the Charterhouse being two of his sponsors (Bartlett, History and Antiquities of Wimbledon, 1865, pp. 115–16), and was educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1829. He was admitted a member of Lincoln's Inn on 3 Feb. 1827, and was for some time a pupil of John Patteson [q. v.], afterwards a justice of the king's bench; but, taking a dislike to the law, he went in 1829 to Munich, where he resided with his friend, the second Lord Erskine, the British minister, and studied at the university. On his return to England, in the beginning of 1831, Perry took an active part in the reform agitation. He became honorary secretary of the National Political Union of London, and founded the Parliamentary Candidate Society, the object of which was, according to the prospectus, dated 21 March 1831, ‘to support reform by promoting the return of fit and proper members of parliament.’ He was proposed as a candidate for Wells at the general election in the spring of 1831, but subsequently withdrew from the contest at the advice of his committee. At the general election in December 1832 he unsuccessfully contested Chatham in the advanced liberal interest against Colonel Maberly, the government candidate. Having left the society of Lincoln's Inn on 30 May 1832, he was admitted to the Inner Temple on 2 June following, and was called to the bar on 21 Nov. 1834. Though he joined the home circuit, Perry appears to have devoted himself to law reporting. In this work he collaborated with Sandford Nevile, and subsequently with Henry Davison. With Nevile he was the joint author of ‘Reports of Cases relating to the Office of Magistrates determined in the Court of King's Bench,’ &c. [from Michaelmas term 1836 to Michaelmas term 1837], London, 1837, 8vo, pts. i. and ii. (incomplete), and ‘Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench, and upon Writs of Error from that Court to the Exchequer Chamber,’ &c. [from Michaelmas term 1836 to Trinity term 1838], London, 1837–9, 1838, 8vo, 3 vols. He was associated with Davison in the production of ‘Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench, and upon Writs of Error from that Court to the Exchequer Chamber,’ &c. [from Michaelmas term 1838 to Hilary term 1841], London, 1839–42, 8vo, 4 vols.
Having lost the greater part of his fortune by the failure of a bank in 1840, Perry applied to the government for preferment, and was appointed a judge of the supreme court of Bombay. He was knighted at Buckingham Palace on 11 Feb. 1841 (London Gazette, 1841, pt. i. p. 400), and was sworn into his judicial office at Bombay on 10 April in the same year. In May 1847 he was promoted to the post of chief justice in the place of Sir David Pollock, and continued to preside over the court until his retirement from the bench in the autumn of 1852. Owing to his strict impartiality in the administration of justice and his untiring exertions on behalf of education, Perry was exceedingly popular among the native community of Bombay. A sum of 5,000l. was subscribed as a testimonial of their regard for him on his leaving India in November 1852; this sum, at his request, was devoted to the establishment of a Perry professorship of law. Soon after his return to England he wrote several letters to the ‘Times,’ under the pseudonym of ‘Hadji,’ advocating the abolition of the East India Company and the constitution of an independent council under the executive government. At a by-election in June 1853 he unsuccessfully contested Liverpool. In May of the following year he was returned for Devonport in the liberal interest, and continued to sit for that borough until his appointment to the India council. He spoke for the first time in the House of Commons on 26 June 1854 (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxxxiv. 691–4), and in August following took part in the debate on the revenue accounts of the East India Company, when he expressed his desire that ‘our government in India should assume the most liberal form of policy that was compatible with the despotism that must always exist in an Asiatic country’ (ib. cxxxv. 1463–71). On 22 Dec. 1854 he warmly supported, in an able and interesting speech, the third reading of the Enlistment of Foreigners Bill (ib. cxxxvi. 830–7). On 10 May 1855 he unsuccessfully moved for the appointment of a select committee to consider how the army of India might be made ‘most available for a war in Europe’ (ib. cxxxviii. 302–22, 358–9). On 4 March 1856 he protested against the annexation of Oude, and moved for a return ‘enumerating the several territories which have been annexed or have been proposed to be annexed to the British dominions by the governor-general of India since the close of the Punjáb war’ (ib. cxl. 1855). On 18 April he called the attention of the house to the increasing deficit of the India revenue, and attacked Lord Dalhousie's policy of annexation (ib. clxi. 1189–1207). He was also a strenuous advocate of the policy of admitting natives to official posts in India. On 10 June 1856 he brought forward the subject of the rights of married women, and moved that ‘the rules of common law which gave all the personal property of a woman in marriage, and all subsequently acquired property and earnings, to the husband are unjust in principle and injurious in their operation’ (ib. cxlii. 1273–1277, 1284). In the following session he both spoke and voted against the government on Cobden's China resolutions (ib. cxliv. 1457–63, 1847). On 14 May 1857 he brought in a bill to amend the law of property as it affected married women (ib. cxlv. 266–74), which was read a second time on 15 July, and subsequently dropped. He moved the second reading of Lord Campbell's bill for more effectually preventing the sale of obscene books and pictures (20 & 21 Vict. c. 83), and joined frequently in the discussion of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Bill in committee. Perry gave his hearty concurrence to the first reading of Lord Palmerston's Government of India Bill on 12 Feb. 1858 (ib. cxlviii. 1304–12), and supported the introduction of the Sale and Transfer of Land (Ireland) Bill on 4 May following (ib. cl. 40–1). He took a prominent part in the discussion in committee of the third Government of India Bill, and on the third reading of the bill declared his ‘solemn conviction that it would not last more than four or five years, and that in that time the council would probably be found unworkable’ (ib. cli. 1087–8). He spoke for the last time in the house on 19 July 1859, during the debate on the organisation of the Indian army, when he insisted that ‘in future the government of India must be more congenial to the feelings and wishes of the people’ (ib. clv. 40–4). Shortly after Lord Palmerston's reinstatement in office Perry was appointed a member of the council of India (8 Aug. 1859). On his resignation of this post, a few months before his death, the queen gave her approval to his admission to the privy council. He was, however, too ill to be sworn in. He died at his residence in Eaton Place, London, on 22 April 1882, aged 75.
Perry married, first, in 1834, Louisa, only child of James M'Elkiney of Brighton, and a niece of Madame Jérôme Bonaparte; she died at Byculla on 12 Oct. 1841. He married, secondly, on 6 June 1855, Elizabeth Margaret, second daughter of Sir John Van den Bempde-Johnstone, bart., and sister of Harcourt, first lord Derwent, who still survives.
Perry wrote: 1. ‘Letter to Lord Campbell, Lord Chief Justice of England, on Reforms in the Common Law; with a Letter to the Government of India on the same subject, &c.,’ London, 1850, 8vo. 2. ‘Cases illustrative of Oriental Life and the application of English Law to India decided in H. M. Supreme Court at Bombay,’ London, 1853, 8vo. 3. ‘A Bird's-eye View of India, with Extracts from a Journal kept in the provinces, Nepal,’ &c., London, 1855, 8vo. He translated Savigny's ‘Treatise on Possession, or the Jus Possessionis of the Civil Law,’ London, 1848, 8vo, and wrote an introduction to ‘Two Hindus on English Education … Prize Essays by Náráyan Bhai and Bkáskar Dámodar of the Elphinstone Institution, Bombay,’ Bombay, 1852, 8vo. He also contributed a ‘Notice of Anquetil du Perron and the Fire Worshippers of India’ and ‘the Van den Bempde Papers’ to the ‘Biographical and Historical Miscellanies’ of the Philobiblon Society, and an article of his on ‘The Future of India’ appeared in the ‘Nineteenth Century’ for December 1878 (iv. 1083–1104).[New Monthly Magazine, cxvii. 382–91 (with portrait); Law Magazine and Review, 4th ser. vii. 436; Law Journal, xvii. 234; Solicitors' Journal, xxvi. 438; Times, 12 Jan. and 24 April 1882; Illustrated London News, 29 April 1882; Men of the Time, 10th edit. 1879; Dod's Peerage, &c., 1882; McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book, 1879, pp. 47, 72, 155, 164; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 414, 431, 446; Whishaw's Synopsis of the Bar, 1835, pp. 108–9; Grad. Cantabr. 1856, p. 298; Parish's List of Carthusians, 1879, p. 182; Lincoln's Inn and Inner Temple Registers; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vii. 287; Brit. Mus. Cat.]