Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cresswell, Cresswell

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CRESSWELL, Sir CRESSWELL (1794–1863), judge, belonged to the family of Cresswell of Cresswell, near Morpeth, Northumberland, which claimed great antiquity, descending in direct line from the time of Richard I. John Cresswell dying in 1781 left two daughters coheiresses, of whom the elder, Frances Dorothea, married Francis Easterby of Blackheath, who thereupon purchased his sister-in-law's moiety of the estates and assumed the name of Cresswell of Cresswell of Long Framlington. The fourth of the five sons of this marriage, Cresswell, was born in 1794 at a house in Biggmarket, Newcastle, and was educated from 1806 to 1810 under the Rev. Dr. Russell at the Charterhouse, where among his schoolfellows were Thirlwall, Grote, and Havelock. He afterwards proceeded to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he achieved no other distinction than that of being ‘wooden spoon,’ although his tutor was the future Mr. Justice Maule. He took his B.A. degree in 1814, and his M.A. in 1818. He joined the Inner Temple and was called to the bar in 1819, and became a member of the northern circuit, of which Brougham and Scarlett were the leaders. He soon attained a considerable practice both on circuit and in town, and combined with it the labour of issuing with Richard Vaughan Barnewall [q. v.] the valuable series of ‘King's Bench Law Reports’ from 1822 to 1830, which bears their name. After Brougham and Scarlett had left the northern circuit Cresswell and Alexander became the leaders. In 1830 Cresswell was appointed recorder of Hull, in 1834 was made a king's counsel, and from 1834 to 1842 was also solicitor-general for the county palatine of Durham. At the general election of 1837 he was returned in the conservative interest for Liverpool, and again in July 1841 defeated the whig member, Mr. William Ewart, and Lord Palmerston, who was at the bottom of the poll. He was always a strong tory. He spoke little, but always supported Sir Robert Peel. His chief speech was on the Danish claims. At the first vacancy in January 1842, Sir Robert Peel made him a puisne judge of the court of common pleas, in place of Mr. Justice Bosanquet, and here for sixteen years he sat and proved himself a strong and learned judge. In January 1858, when the probate and divorce court was created, Sir Cresswell Cresswell was appointed the first judge in ordinary, and received but declined the offer of a peerage. He was, however, sworn of the privy council. It was by his exertions that the experiment of the divorce court was successful. He reformed the old ecclesiastical rules of evidence in matrimonial causes, and did for this branch of law what Mansfield did for mercantile law. A less self-reliant man would have shrunk from the task. The work proved in the first year fifteen times as great as had been anticipated, and was always heavy. He disposed of causes very rapidly and sat daily from November to August; in all he adjudicated upon a thousand cases, and his judgment was but once reversed. On 11 July 1863 he was riding down Constitution Hill when he was knocked down by Lord Aveland's horses, which were frightened by the breakdown of the carriage they were drawing. His kneecap was broken, and he was removed to St. George's Hospital, and thence to his house in Prince's Gate. Although he was recovering from the fracture, the shock proved too strong for his constitution, and he died of heart disease on the evening of 29 July. He was unmarried and left a large fortune. He had a keen and tenacious memory and a quick and logical understanding. His industry was great and his knowledge of common law profound. He was an excellent advocate in mercantile and navigation cases, and was also employed in great will cases, for example Hopwood v. Sefton at Liverpool, and Bather v. Braine at Shrewsbury. His speaking was, however, inanimate. As a judge he was somewhat overbearing, but his summing-up was always wonderfully clear. In person he was tall, slim, and pale. He was very charitable.

[Foss's Lives of the Judges; Law Times, 22 Aug. 1863; Ann. Reg. 11 July 1863.]

J. A. H.