Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rolt, John

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ROLT, Sir JOHN (1804–1871), judge, second son of James Rolt, merchant, of Calcutta, by Anne Braine, daughter of Richard Hiorns, yeoman, of Fairford, Gloucestershire, and widow of Samuel Brunsdon, of the baptist mission at Serampore, was born at Calcutta on 5 Oct. 1804. Brought to England by his mother about 1810, he was educated at dissenting private schools at Chipping Norton and Islington. His father died in 1813, and his mother in the following year; and about Christmas 1818 Rolt was apprenticed to a London firm of woollendrapers. Though his hours were long, he managed, by early rising and reading as he walked, to repair in a measure the defects of his education. On the expiration of his indentures in 1822–1823, he found employment in a Manchester warehouse in Newgate Street, which he exchanged in 1827 for a clerkship in a proctor's office at Doctors' Common. His next step was to obtain two secretaryships—one to a school for orphans, the other to the protestant dissenters' school at Mill Hill. Meanwhile he pursued his studies, and entered in 1833 the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar on 9 June 1837. Confining himself to the court of chancery, he rapidly acquired an extensive practice, and took silk in Trinity vacation 1846. After some unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament, he was returned in the conservative interest for the western division of Gloucestershire, 31 March 1857, and for ten years continued to represent the same constituency. In 1862 he carried through the House of Commons the measure commonly known as Rolt's Act (25 and 26 Vict. c. 42), by which an important step was taken towards the fusion of law and equity. In 1866 he succeeded Sir Hugh Cairns as attorney-general, 29 Oct., and was knighted on 10 Nov.

In parliament Rolt made no great figure, but he voted steadily with his party, and did the drudgery connected with the carriage of the Reform Bill of 1867. On 18 July of that year he succeeded Sir George James Turner [q. v.] as lord justice of appeal, and on 3 Aug. was sworn of the privy council. Incipient paralysis, due to long-continued overwork, compelled his resignation in February 1868, and on 6 June 1871 he died at his seat, Ozleworth Park, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire. His remains were interred on 12 June in Ozleworth churchyard.

Rolt was neither a profound lawyer nor a great advocate; but he was thoroughly versed in chancery practice, had sound judgment, and quickness of apprehension.

In early life Rolt abandoned dissent for the church of England, to which he became strongly attached.

Rolt married twice: first, in 1826, Sarah (d. 1850), daughter of Thomas Bosworth of Bosworth, Leicestershire; secondly, in 1857, Elizabeth (d. 1867), daughter of Stephen Godson of Croydon. By his first wife he had issue, with four daughters, a son John, who succeeded to his estate; he had also a son by his second wife.

[Times, 8 June 1871; Law Journal, 9, 23 June 1871; Law Times, 10 June 1871; Law Mag. and Law Rev. xxxii.; Solicitors' Journ. 10 June 1871, Ann. Reg. 1867 ii. 259, 1871 ii. 155; Law List; Gent. Mag. 1867, ii. 234, 279; Foss's Biogr. Jurid.; Nash's Life of Lord Westbury; Return of Members of Parl. (official).]

J. M. R.