Williams, Montagu Stephen (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, MONTAGU STEPHEN (1835–1892), barrister, was born at his great-uncle's house, Freshford, Somerset, on 30 Sept. 1835. His grandfather was a barrister on the western circuit, and his father, John Jeffries Williams, a barrister on the Oxford circuit. He was educated at Eton, where he was a colleger, but failed to gain a scholarship at Cambridge; and at the age of twenty became for a short time a classical master at Ipswich grammar school, but he was fired by the Crimean war and decided to enter the army. His father's friend, Colonel Sibthorp, gave him a commission in the South Lincoln militia, and on 14 March 1856 he obtained an ensigncy in the 41st foot, but the conclusion of peace dashed his hopes, and when the regiment was ordered to the West Indies he quitted the service. He had a great turn for theatricals, and was for a time a member of a touring company and acted at Edinburgh, Belfast, Sunderland, and Nottingham. At Edinburgh he became acquainted with Louisa Mary Keeley, daughter of the well-known actors, and he married her in 1858. She lived till 1877. Partly on Keeley's advice, partly on that of Montagu Chambers, Q.C., his godfather, he then decided to go to the bar and read in the chambers of Holl. Meantime he wrote for the press, had a share in a magazine called ‘The Drawing Room,’ contributed to ‘Household Words,’ and was author and adapter of several plays and farces: ‘A Fair Exchange,’ ‘Easy Shaving,’ ‘Carte de Visite,’ ‘The Turkish Bath,’ and ‘The Isle of St. Tropez.’ In most of these he collaborated with Mr. F. C. Burnand; the last was produced by Alfred Wigan [q. v.] at the Olympic. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple on 30 April 1862, and joined the Old Bailey sessions and the home circuit.

Williams naturally took to criminal work. His great vitality and vigour, his striking, if irregular features, his self-possession, and his knowledge of men and of all sides of life, led him quickly to a large practice, especially as a defender of prisoners. For fifteen years he was engaged in most of the sensational criminal cases in the metropolis, and in 1879 was appointed junior prosecuting counsel to the treasury. On the other hand, he had little learning, and never practised in civil cases to any considerable extent. One of his few civil cases was Belt v. Lawes in 1882, in which he was for the plaintiff. In 1884 he began to be troubled with an affection of the throat, which in 1886 necessitated an operation for the extirpation of a portion of the larynx. This was performed by Hahn of Berlin, and its success was complete, although the voice was almost destroyed. A short attempt to return to practice at the bar proved to Williams that he must retire. He was then appointed a metropolitan stipendiary magistrate in December 1886, and sat successively at Greenwich, Wandsworth, and Worship Street. He was also made a queen's counsel in 1888. He was active in charity, and as a magistrate won the confidence of the poor. He published in 1890 ‘Leaves of a Life,’ and in 1891 ‘Later Leaves,’ autobiographical and anecdotal works, and in 1892 appeared ‘Round London,’ describing the condition of the poor both in the east and west of London. He died at his house at Ramsgate on 23 Dec. 1892. He was a man well known in society and in his profession and very popular, and among the poor he earned and deserved the name of ‘the poor man's magistrate.’

[In addition to Williams's books mentioned above see Times, 24 Dec. 1892; Law Journal, 31 Dec. 1892.]

J. A. H.