Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shee, William

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SHEE, Sir WILLIAM (1804–1868), judge, born at Finchley, Middlesex, on 24 June 1804, was the eldest son of Joseph Shee of Thomastown, co. Kilkenny, and of Laurence Pountney Place in the city of London, merchant, by his wife Teresa, daughter of John Darell of Scotney Castle, Kent. He was sent at a very early age to a French school at Somers Town, kept by the Abbé Carron, the friend and early counsellor of Lamennais. Thence he went in 1818 to St. Cuthbert's College, Ushaw, near Durham, where his cousin Nicholas (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman was then a student. He subsequently attended lectures at the university of Edinburgh, and became a member of the Speculative Society. He was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 31 May 1823, and studied law in the chambers of Mr. Chitty, the well-known special pleader. On 19 June 1828 he was called to the bar, where he gradually acquired an extensive practice. He led with great power and success the Maidstone sessions, and on taking the coif ‘obtained a considerable lead upon the home circuit’ (Ballantine, Some Experiences of a Barrister's Life, 1882, p. 171). He took the degree of serjeant-at-law on 19 Feb. 1840, received a patent of precedence in Trinity vacation 1845, and was appointed queen's serjeant in 1857.

Shee was a moderate and consistent liberal throughout his life. Soon after his call to the bar he distinguished himself by an eloquent speech in favour of catholic emancipation, at the great protestant meeting held on Pennenden Heath, near Maidstone, on 24 Nov. 1828. He unsuccessfully contested the borough of Marylebone at the general election in July 1847. In July 1852 he obtained a seat in the House of Commons for the county of Kilkenny, which he continued to represent until the dissolution of parliament in March 1857. Shee spoke in the house for the first time on 12 Nov. 1852, during the debate on the report on the address (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. cxxiii. 139–41). In the absence of William Sharman Crawford [q. v.] from parliament, Shee took charge of the Tenant Right Bill, which he reintroduced on 25 Nov. 1852 (ib. pp. 529, 530). On 7 Dec. following he made a long and exhaustive speech on Napier's Tenants' Improvement Compensation Bill (ib. pp. 1089–1123). On the same day the Tenant Right Bill was read a second time, but it was subsequently condemned by the select committee, to which it and Napier's scheme of Irish land reform had been referred. On 16 Feb. 1854 Shee brought in a bill which, with the exception of three clauses, was the exact counterpart of Sharman Crawford's bill of the previous session (ib. 3rd ser. cxxx. 770–7), but it met with little encouragement. On 13 June in the same year Shee moved for leave to bring in a bill to amend the laws relating to the temporalities of the church of Ireland, and to increase the means of religious instruction and church accommodation in that country. This motion was, however, rejected after a debate of three nights by a majority of eighty-six votes (ib. 3rd ser. cxxxiv. 116–36). Convinced of the impossibility of carrying Sharman Crawford's bill through parliament, Shee, with Sharman Crawford's concurrence, on 20 Feb. 1855 brought in a Tenants' Improvement Compensation Bill, founded on two of Sir Joseph Napier's bills as amended by the select committee of 1853 (ib. 3rd ser. cxxxvi. 1634–44). This bill also met with but little success, and was ultimately dropped. Owing to the unpopularity which he incurred by the abandonment of Sharman Crawford's measure, Shee lost his seat for Kilkenny county at the general election in April 1857, and he was again defeated there at the general election in May 1859. In 1860 he refused the offer of the chief-justiceship of Madras. He was nominated as a candidate at the by-election for Stoke-upon-Trent in September 1862, but he only received thirty-two votes.

Shee was an earnest and conscientious advocate, and an able though somewhat heavy speaker. He possessed an extensive knowledge of the law, as well as a large share of sound common-sense, and his genial manners made him very popular with all those who came into contact with him. He was counsel in most of the famous trials of his day. He conducted the defence of William Palmer (1824–1856) [q. v.], and he appeared on behalf of the plaintiff in the famous Roupell case. In the former case he incurred considerable blame for avowing in his speech his own belief in Palmer's innocence. On 19 Dec. 1863 he was appointed by Lord Westbury a justice of the court of queen's bench in the place of Sir William Wightman, and on 10 June 1864 he received the honour of knighthood (London Gazette, 1863 p. 6645, 1864 p. 3072). He was the first Roman catholic who had been promoted to the English bench since the Revolution. After sitting on the bench for little more than four years, he died from an attack of apoplexy on 19 Feb. 1868, at his residence in Sussex Place, Hyde Park Gardens, London, aged 63.

He married at Paris, on 26 Dec. 1837, Mary, second daughter of Sir James Gordon, bart., of Gordonstown and Letterfourie, Banffshire, by whom he had, with other issue, two sons, viz. George Darell Shee [see below], and Henry Gordon Shee, Q.C., recorder of Burnley, and judge of the Salford Hundred court of record. Lady Shee died on 11 Oct. 1861, aged 45.

He edited several editions of Lord Tenterden's ‘Treatise of the Law relative to Merchant Ships and Seamen’ [see Abbott, Charles, first Lord Tenterden], and Samuel Marshall's ‘Treatise on the Law of Insurance.’ He was the author of:

  1. ‘Reflections on the Trial of the Prince de Polignac and his Colleagues before the Chamber of Peers of France in 1830 … In a Letter addressed to an Advocate of the Cour Royale at Paris,’ London, 1836, 8vo.
  2. ‘The Act for the more effectual Application of Charitable Donations and Bequests in Ireland (7 & 8 Vict. cap. xcvii.), with Notes explanatory of the alteration introduced by it into the Law of Ireland, and some notice of the Law of England and Scotland relating to the same subject,’ London, 1845, 8vo.
  3. ‘Three Letters addressed to the Rev. J. Fitzpatrick on the Justice and Policy of appropriating a portion of the Revenues of the Irish Protestant Church to the Increase and Maintenance of Church Accommodation for the Catholic People of Ireland,’ London, 1849, 8vo.
  4. ‘The Church of Rome in Ireland in its relation to the State, with Remarks on the Question of the Endowment of the Roman Catholic Clergy,’ London, 1849, 8vo.
  5. ‘A Letter to the Hon. A. Kinnaird [on Church of England] Missions to the Roman Catholics of Ireland,’ London, 1852, 8vo.
  6. ‘The Irish Church; being a Digest of the Returns of the Prelates, Dignitaries, and Beneficed Clergy,’ &c., London and Dublin, 1852, 8vo; a second edition, the preface of which is dated 5 Sept. 1863, was published in that or the following year.
  7. ‘The Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, 17 & 18 Vict. cap. 104, and the Merchant Shipping Repeal Act, 1854, 17 & 18 Vict. cap. 120, with a Notice explanatory of the principal alterations made by them in the Statute Law now in force relating to Merchant Shipping, being a Supplement to the ninth edition of Abbott on the Law of Merchant Ships and Seamen,’ London, 1854, 8vo.
  8. ‘The Tenants' Improvements Compensation (Ireland) Bill,’ London, 1855, 8vo.
  9. ‘A Proposal for Religious Equality in Ireland, and for a charitable Settlement of the Irish Church Question,’ Dublin, 1857, 8vo.
  10. ‘Papers and Letters on Subjects of Literary, Historical, and Political Interest, and Speeches at Public Meetings, in Parliament, and at the Bar,’ vol. i., London, 1862, 8vo, privately printed.
  11. ‘Papers, Letters, and Speeches in the House of Commons on the Irish Land Question, with a Summary of its Parliamentary History from the General Election of 1852 to the close of the Session of 1863,’ London, 1863, 8vo. This is practically the second volume of Shee's ‘Papers and Letters,’ but though ‘vol. ii.’ appears on the original cloth cover, it is absent from the title-page.

George Darell Shee (1843–1894), eldest son of the above, born on 12 July 1843, was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated LL.B. in 1866. He was admitted to the Middle Temple on 6 Nov. 1862, and was called to the bar on 30 April 1867. He joined the south-eastern circuit, became district probate registrar for East Suffolk, and in July 1883 was appointed recorder of Hythe. He married, on 14 Oct. 1873, Jane, eldest daughter of Harry Innes of Thomastown, and died at Landguard Lodge, Felixstowe, on 15 Dec. 1894. He was the author of ‘A Remonstrance,’ Dublin, 1886, 8vo, which was addressed to Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, in reply to his attack on Sir W. Shee, in a book entitled ‘The League of the North and South.’

[Authorities in text; R. B. O'Brien's Parl. Hist. of the Irish Land Question, 1880, pp. 91–102; T. P. O'Connor's Parnell Movement, 1886, pp. 188–94; Ewald's Life and Letters of Sir James Napier, 1892, pp. 70–82; Sir C. G. Duffy's League of North and South, 1886; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, ix. 265–6; Serjeant Robinson's Bench and Bar Reminiscences, 1891, p. 63; Wills's Irish Nation, 1875, iv. 48–9; Law Mag. and Review, new ser. i. 304–25; Solicitors' Journal and Reporter, viii. 121–2, 247, xii. 344–5; Law Journal, iii. 139; Journal of Jurisprudence, xii. 222–4; Law Times, 22 Feb. 1868 pp. 303, 317–318, 22 Dec. 1894 p. 192; Illustrated London News, 2 Jan. 1864 (with portrait), 29 Feb. 1868; Annual Register, 1868, pt. ii. pp. 171–2; Walford's County Families, 1894, p. 918; Foster's Men at the Bar, 1885; Official Return of Lists of M.P.'s, ii. 428; McCalmont's Parl. Poll Book, 1879, pp. 132, 170, 238; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Lincoln's Inn Registers; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.