1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chelmsford, Frederic Thesiger, 1st Baron
CHELMSFORD, FREDERIC THESIGER, 1st Baron (1794–1878), lord chancellor of England, was the third son of Charles Thesiger, and was born in London on the 15th of April 1794. His father, collector of customs at St Vincent’s, was the son of a Saxon gentleman who had migrated to England and become secretary to Lord Rockingham, and was the brother of Sir Frederic Thesiger, naval A.D.C. to Nelson at Copenhagen. Young Frederic Thesiger was originally destined for a naval career, and he served as a midshipman on board the “Cambrian” frigate in 1807 at the second bombardment of Copenhagen. His only surviving brother, however, died about this time, and he became entitled to succeed to a valuable estate in the West Indies, so it was decided that he should leave the navy and study law, with a view to practising in the West Indies and eventually managing his property in person. Another change of fortune, however, awaited him, for a volcano destroyed the family estate, and he was thrown back upon his prospect of a legal practice in the West Indies. He proceeded to enter at Gray’s Inn in 1813, and was called on the 18th of November 1818, another change in his prospects being brought about by the strong advice of Godfrey Sykes, a special pleader in whose chambers he had been a pupil, that he should remain to try his fortune in England. He accordingly joined the home circuit, and soon got into good practice at the Surrey sessions, while he also made a fortunate purchase in buying the right to appear in the old palace court (see Lord Steward). In 1824 he distinguished himself by his defence of Joseph Hunt when on his trial at Hertford with John Thurtell for the murder of Wm. Weare; and eight years later at Chelmsford assizes he won a hard-fought action in an ejectment case after three trials, to which he attributed so much of his subsequent success that when he was raised to the peerage he assumed the title Lord Chelmsford. In 1834 he was made king’s counsel, and in 1835 was briefed in the Dublin election inquiry which unseated Daniel O’Connell. In 1840 he was elected M.P. for Woodstock. In 1844 he became solicitor-general, but having ceased to enjoy the favour of the duke of Marlborough, lost his seat for Woodstock and had to find another at Abingdon. In 1845 he became attorney-general, holding the post until the fall of the Peel administration on the 3rd of July 1846. Thus by three days Thesiger missed being chief justice of the common pleas, for on the 6th of July Sir Nicholas Tindal died, and the seat on the bench, which would have been Thesiger’s as of right, fell to the Liberal attorney-general, Sir Thomas Wilde. Sir Frederic Thesiger remained in parliament, changing his seat, however, again in 1852, and becoming member for Stamford. During this period he enjoyed a very large practice at the bar, being employed in many causes célèbres. On Lord Derby coming into office for the second time in 1858, Sir Frederic Thesiger was raised straight from the bar to the lord chancellorship (as were Lord Brougham, Lord Selborne and Lord Halsbury). In the following year Lord Derby resigned and his cabinet was broken up. Again in 1866, on Lord Derby coming into office for the third time, Lord Chelmsford became lord chancellor for a short period. In 1868 Lord Derby retired, and Disraeli, who took his place as prime minister, wished for Lord Cairns as lord chancellor. Lord Chelmsford was very sore at his supersession and the manner of it, but, according to Lord Malmesbury he retired under a compact made before he took office. Ten years later Lord Chelmsford died in London on the 5th of October 1878. Lord Chelmsford had married in 1822 Anna Maria Tinling. He left four sons and three daughters, of whom the eldest, Frederick Augustus, 2nd Baron Chelmsford (1827–1905), earned distinction as a soldier, while the third, Alfred Henry Thesiger (1838–1880) was made a lord justice of appeal and a privy councillor in 1877, at the early age of thirty-nine, but died only three years later.
See Lives of the Chancellors (1908), by J. B. Atlay, who has had the advantage of access to an unpublished autobiography of Lord Chelmsford’s.