Vernon, Thomas (1654-1721) (DNB00)

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VERNON, THOMAS (1654–1721), law reporter, was the only son and heir of Rev. Richard Vernon of Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, and was born on 25 Nov. 1654. Being admitted a student of the Middle Temple on 11 May 1672, he was called to the bar on 30 Oct. 1679, and chosen a bencher of that society on 29 Oct. 1703. Practising for forty years in the court of chancery, Vernon became generally recognised (according to Lord Kenyon) as the ablest man in his profession, whose opinion on intricate points of law successive judges treated with the greatest respect. Such was the weight of his opinion as counsel that Lord Talbot, referring to a case decided by the Earl of Macclesfield, mentioned as a circumstance of weight that Vernon had always grumbled at the determination of that case. As an instance of the ‘ruling passion,’ Lord Cobham, writing to Pope, suggests ‘Counsellor Vernon retiring to enjoy himself with 5,000l. a year which he had got, and returning to the chancery to get a little more when he could not speak so loud as to be heard.’ Vernon was referred to in complimentary terms in the poem ‘Corona Civica,’ addressed to the lord keeper, 1706.

In 1715 Vernon was admitted an honorary freeman of the city of Worcester (Sir Thomas Phillips, Collections); and at the general election in the same year he successfully contested the county of Worcester as a whig, and held the seat until his death without issue at the age of sixty-six on 6 Feb. 1721. A monument was erected to his memory in Hanbury church. In 1679 he married Mary, daughter of Sir Anthony Keck, knt., a commissioner of the great seal in 1689.

Vernon realised a considerable fortune by his profession, and greatly increased his possessions in Worcestershire and the adjoining counties. He built the mansion of Hanbury Hall about 1710. About 1720 he purchased the manor and wood of Shrawley, and by his will, which was dated 17 Jan. 1711 and proved in March 1721, he left a charity of 18l. to that parish, and other considerable legacies to the poor of Audley and Hanbury. He also had a town house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and was lord of the manor of Feckenham.

Vernon is best remembered for his ‘Reports of Cases decided in Chancery, 1681–1718.’ During his long career he was an industrious note-taker; but it seems probable that he intended them merely for his own use, and not for publication. The manuscripts were found in his study after his death, and became the subject of a suit in chancery (Atcherly v. Vernon) between his widow, his residuary legatee, and the heir-at-law. The widow claimed them as included in the bequest of ‘household goods and furniture;’ the trustees of the residuary estate as embraced by the expression ‘the residue of my personal estate;’ while the heir contended that, as guardian of the reputation of the testator, the manuscripts belonged to him. Lord Macclesfield finding the decision difficult, and the parties probably thinking that it was doubtful, the dispute was settled in the best of all possible ways by the chancellor's keeping the manuscripts himself, by the consent of all, to have them printed under the direction of the court without making any profit of them. Under the direction of Lord Macclesfield and of Lord King they were first published in 1726–8, the editors being William Melmoth the elder [q. v.] and William Peere Williams [q. v.] This edition, however, was found to be so full of errors and discrepancies that, at the suggestion of Lord Eldon, a new and far superior edition was brought out in 1806–7, ably edited by John Raithby [q. v.]; and another edition appeared in 1828.

Vernon has been sometimes confused in error with Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park, Middlesex, formerly secretary to the Duke of Monmouth. This person was a lord commissioner of trade and foreign plantations from September 1713 to September 1714, and was M.P. for Whitchurch as a tory from 1710 till he was expelled the house in May 1721, and again from 1722 till his death in 1726.

[Information supplied by Sir H. F. Vernon, bart., of Hanbury Hall; Official Returns of Members of Parliament; Wallace's Reporters; Pope's Works, ed. Roscoe; Nash's History of Worcestershire; Williams's Worcestershire Members.]

W. R. W.