Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillimore, Robert Joseph
PHILLIMORE, Sir ROBERT JOSEPH (1810–1885), baronet, civilian and judge, third son of Joseph Phillimore [q. v.], was born at Whitehall on 5 Nov. 1810. In 1824 he was elected a Westminster scholar, went to Christ Church, Oxford, with a studentship in 1828, won the college prizes for Latin verse and Latin prose, and graduated B.A. with a second class in classics, 26 Jan. 1832, B.C.L. 14 May 1835, and D.C.L. 2 Nov. 1838. His college friendships were numerous, lasting, and important. With Mr. W. E. Gladstone he was intimate through life, and was the first person to propose him as candidate for the representation of Oxford. Stephen and Henry Glynne, Lord Canning, and George Anthony Denison, afterwards archdeacon of Taunton and his brother-in-law, were also his early friends.
From 20 Feb. 1832 to 6 April 1835 he held the post of a clerk in the office of the board of control. On 2 Nov. 1839 he was admitted an advocate at Doctors' Commons, and on 7 May 1841 was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, of which inn he ultimately became a bencher and treasurer. He at once obtained a considerable practice, and also soon received a number of ecclesiastical appointments. He became commissary of the deans and chapters of St. Paul's and Westminster, official to the archdeaconries of Middlesex and London in 1840, and successively chancellor of the dioceses of Chichester in 1844, Salisbury in 1845, and Oxford in 1855. He found some time, too, to devote to literature. He brought out several pamphlets—‘The Constitution as it is’ in 1837, a ‘Letter to Lord Ashburton’ in 1842, the ‘Case of the Creole’ in the same year—and some judgments of the ecclesiastical courts of special interest. His intimacy with the Grenville family, his father's friends, led to his being entrusted with the correspondence of George, lord Lyttelton, from 1734 to 1773, preserved at Hagley, which he edited with notes and published in 1845. His practice meantime was fast increasing; in his own department of the profession he appeared in almost every case of importance. He became judge of the Cinque ports in 1855, succeeded his father in the same year as admiralty advocate, was appointed a queen's counsel in 1858, when the probate and divorce court was established, and in 1862 was appointed queen's advocate and knighted. The American war, then raging, raised numbers of questions on which he, sometimes alone, sometimes with the attorney-general and the solicitor-general, was the responsible adviser of the ministry. Before his appointment the Alabama had put to sea, but his opinion was constantly taken by the foreign secretary on other international questions, until after the seizure of the confederate commissioners on board the British mail-steamer Trent, when he published a pamphlet, ‘The Seizure of the Southern Envoys.’
In 1847 he contested Tavistock and Coventry both unsuccessfully; but in 1852 he was elected for Tavistock as a liberal-conservative, and in parliament followed his friend Mr. Gladstone, and gave a general support to the government of Lord Aberdeen. In 1853, and also in 1854, he introduced bills for the amendment of the law relating to simony and the sale of next presentations; and in 1854, with the assistance of Lord Brougham, he introduced and carried the useful act (17 and 18 Vict. c. 47) which for the first time, by a practical and beneficial revolution of procedure, enabled the ecclesiastical courts to take evidence vivâ voce, and not as before only by the slow and cumbrous methods of written depositions. He was also the author of the act of 1856 for the abolition of the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts in suits for defamation (18 and 19 Vict. c. 41). While in parliament he spoke frequently, and with effect, on questions where his knowledge of ecclesiastical or international law gave him a special authority; his best speeches were those on church rates in May 1853, against the abandonment of the belligerent right to seize enemy goods in neutral ships in 1854, and on the dispute about the lorcha ‘Arrow’ in 1857, out of which the Chinese war arose. He contested Coventry at the general election in the latter year, but, failing to win the seat, did not again seek to enter parliament.
In 1867 Phillimore succeeded Dr. Stephen Lushington [q. v.] as judge of the high court of admiralty and as official principal of the archbishopric of Canterbury or dean of arches, and was sworn of the privy council. Dr. Lushington, however, did not resign the mastership of faculties, an office held since 1857 with the office of dean of arches, and constituting practically the emoluments of that post, but retained it till his death in 1873. Thus Phillimore for five years served the country as an ecclesiastical judge at a salary that did not pay the expenses of his office, and at the cost to himself of resigning his three chancellorships of Chichester, Oxford, and Salisbury. It was at the earnest request of Archbishop Longley that he consented to take this course, but only in 1873 was he appointed to the mastership of faculties with its salary of 600l. a year (see preface to his edition of his ‘Judgments,’ 1876). His chief ecclesiastical judgments were those in Martin v. Maconochie, 1868 (see Dale, Judgments of the Privy Council, and Sir R. Phillimore in Martin v. Maconochie, 1871), Elphinstone v. Purchas, 1870, on eucharistic ritual (see Law Reports, 3 Adm. and Eccl. 66; and Law Reports, 3 Privy Council, pp. 245 and 605); Sheppard v. Bennett, on the doctrine of the Real Presence, 1869 and 1870 (Law Reports, 2 Adm. and Eccl. 335, and 3rd ditto, 167; and Law Reports, 2 Privy Council, p. 450); and Boyd v. Phillpotts, the Exeter reredos case, in 1874 (Law Reports, 4 Adm. and Eccl. p. 297; and Law Reports, 6 Privy Council, p. 435). In 1871 and 1872, at the request of the government, he temporarily held the office of judge-advocate-general; and in 1875, pursuant to section 8 of the Judicature Act, 1875, he resigned his ecclesiastical judgeship. He was created a baronet in 1881, and in March 1883 resigned his judgeship in the probate division of the high court.
In 1879 he was president of the Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations. He served, too, on numerous royal commissions, including those on neutrality, naturalisation, ritual, and the building of the courts of justice, and also on the judicature and the ecclesiastical courts commissions. His influence upon church affairs through the leaders of the high church party was very considerable, and, as an old boy and a member of the governing board, he took a deep and continuous interest in the concerns of Westminster school. He died on 4 Feb. 1885 at The Coppice, near Henley-on-Thames, and was buried in Shiplake churchyard.
Phillimore belonged to a class of lawyers that has now passed away. He was a scholar both in the classic and in modern languages, and a jurist of wide reading. As an advocate he displayed great industry and tact, and he had a polished address and a considerable gift of eloquence; ‘very handsome and very clever’ was Dean Stanley's impression of him at their first meeting in 1835 (Prothero, Life of A. P. Stanley, i. 149). His best forensic appearances were in his defence of his brother-in-law, Archdeacon Denison, against the charge of heresy, and his conduct of the Smethurst will case (see Ballantine, Experiences of a Barrister's Life, i. 258), of Smith v. Tebbitt (Law Reports, 1 P. and M. p. 398), the case of the Banda and Kirwee booty, and the Knightsbridge ritual case. On the bench he was dignified, painstaking, and courteous; and he delivered a series of important judgments, full of historical and legal knowledge, and luminously expressed. It is true that some of his ecclesiastical judgments were not upheld by the privy council upon appeal, though in the last ritual case, Read v. Bishop of Lincoln, the privy council decidedly returned on several points to a view closely approximating to Phillimore's, whose churchmanship and reading of church law and history were of the old high-church type. As a judge in admiralty and matrimonial causes, and as an occasional member of the judicial committee of the privy council prior to 1874, he left his mark on the law, and that at a time when new practice and an increasing volume of litigation were occasioning many new departures. The Teutonia (Law Reports, 3 Adm. and Eccl. p. 394), and the Charkieh (Law Reports, 4 Adm. and Eccl. p. 59), in admiralty; Cheese v. Lovejoy (Law Reports, 2 P. D. p. 251) in probate; and De Barros v. De Barros (Law Reports, 2 P. D. p. 81) in matrimonial case, are among his leading decisions.
He was a prolific author. He published in 1842 an edition of Dr. Burn's ‘Ecclesiastical Law,’ and a subsequent edition in 1873; an ‘Essay on the Laws of Divorce,’ 1844; a treatise on ‘The Law of Domicil,’ 1847; a pamphlet on the legal aspects of Russia's claim to intervene on behalf of the Christian subjects of Turkey, 1853; a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1872 on clergy discipline. His ‘Commentaries on International Law,’ 4 vols., 1854–61, he re-edited in 1871; and three volumes of a third edition appeared in his lifetime. A collection of his own leading ecclesiastical judgments from 1867 to 1875 appeared in 1876. During the earlier part of his judicial career, being a good German scholar, he amused his leisure with a translation of Lessing's ‘Laocoon,’ which he published, with learned notes and prefaces, in 1874.
He married, in 1844, Charlotte, third daughter of John Denison, M.P., of Ossington Hall, Newark, Nottinghamshire, and sister of Viscount Ossington, sometime speaker of the House of Commons, who died on 19 Jan. 1892. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son, Sir Walter Phillimore, D.C.L., judge of the High Court from 1897. He had also three daughters—Catherine Mary and Lucy, authors of several works, and Alice Grenville, a member of the Institute of Sick Nursing, 1883.
[Times, 5 Feb. 1885; Law Journal, 7 Feb. 1885; Law Times, 14 Feb. 1885, and 27 Oct. 1894; Solicitors' Journal, 7 Feb. 1885; art. by H. P. Liddon in Guardian, 11 Feb. 1885; World, 11 Feb. 1885; Revue du Droit International, vol. xvii. No. 2, article by Professor Holland; Tablettes Biographiques, memoir by L. de la Mazure, 1885; Westminster School Register; Carmina et Epigrammata recitata in aula collegiata apud Westmonasterienses, May 1885; information from Sir Walter Phillimore.]