Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/FitzGibbon, Gerald

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FITZGIBBON, GERALD (1837–1909) lord justice of appeal in Ireland, born in Dublin on 28 Aug. 1837, was eldest of the three children (two sons and a daughter) of Gerald FitzGibbon, K.C., master in chancery and a leading member of the Irish bar, by his wife Ellen, daughter of John Patterson of Belfast. His younger brother, Henry (d. 23 Feb. 1912), was at one time president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Gerald became classical scholar in 1858 at Trinity College, Dublin, where he highly distinguished himself in classics, law, oratory, and English composition. He was made hon. LL.D. in 1895 (Dublin Univ. Cal. 1906–7, Suppl.). He was always deeply devoted to Trinity College, to which he said he owed everything and at whose service he constantly placed till death his eloquence and industry.

FitzGibbon was called to the Irish bar in Hilary Term, 1860, with Edward Gibson, afterwards Lord Ashbourne. The two were of the same age, and they subsequently took together on the same dates the various steps which brought them to the bench. FitzGibbon was soon the leading junior, both on his circuit (the Munster) and in Dublin. He refused silk in 1868, when offered it by Brewster, lord chancellor, but accepted the promotion from Lord Chancellor O'Hagan. He was called 'within the bar' in Trinity Term, 1872. FitzGibbon's senior practice was large, and he led the Munster circuit until his retirement from circuit on becoming a law officer. Even then he was taken 'special' in important cases throughout the country. Among the cases in which he proved his eminence as an advocate was that of O'Keeffe v. (Cardinal) Cullen (May 1873), in which he secured a verdict against the cardinal from a Dublin jury largely composed of catholics, though the verdict was afterwards set aside on technical grounds, and that of Bagot v. Bagot, a will case, lasting twenty-two days from 25 April 1878, in which his masterly statement for the plaintiff, Mrs. Bagot, secured her the verdict from a dubious jury, an adverse judge, and against the views of a host of medical experts (Irish Times, 26 April 1878 and following days; Law Rep. Ireland, vol. i.).

In 1876 FitzGibbon, who was a conservative in polotics, became law adviser to Dublin Castle, an office since abolished. In 1877 he was made solicitor-general for Ireland in Lord Beaconsfield's government, and held the office until 13 Dec. 1878, when he was promoted lord justice of appeal. In the same year he was elected a bencher of the King's Inns, and next year was made a privy councillor of Ireland. FitzGibbon's career as a judge, which lasted for over thirty-one years, was highly distinguished. Many of his judgments were reviewed by the House of Lords, and in every case where he differed from the colleagues of his own court his opinion was upheld by the House of Lords. In Aaron's Reefs v. Twiss, where shares had been allotted on a fraudulent prospectus, FitzGibbon differed from the lord chancellor of Ireland, the master of the rolls, and in a minor degree from the other lord justice, and was upheld by the lords, Halsbury, Herschell, Watson, Macnaghten, Morris, and Davey (1896, Appeal Cases, p. 273; 1895, 2 Irish Reports, p. 207).

FitzGibbon was also a member of the English bar. Admitted to Lincoln's Inn on 12 Jan. 1857, he was called in Trinity Term, 1861, and was invited to the bench on 16 April 1901. He was made a privy councillor of England in 1900.

FitzGibbon was a man of many activities outside his profession. He did much for education in Ireland. He served with Lord Rosse and Lord Randolph Churchill on the commission appointed in 1878 to inquire into the condition and management of the endowed schools of Ireland (Winston S. Churchill, Lord R. Churchill, pp. 78, 79; Endowed Schools (Ireland), Report of the Royal Commissioners, 1881). The Report led to the more important commission 'on educational endowments in Ireland,' of which FitzGibbon was chairman from 1885 to 1897. During its existence they framed schemes dealing with 1350 primary schools, eighty intermediate, and twenty-two collegiate schools and institutions, and the total annual income administered under these schemes was over 140,000l. Most of FitzGibbon's vacations were devoted to this commission. He was also a commissioner of national education in Ireland from 1884 to 1896, and in that capacity was specially successful in getting the rival denominations to agree.

In 1876 FitzGibbon joined the freemasons (Trinity College Lodge), and at once took a very active part in the charities. In 1879 he became a governor of the girls' school, and was devoted to its interest. In 1902 he defrayed the cost of the physical and chemical laboratory. After a visit to Canada in 1899 he became the representative in Ireland of the Grand Lodge of Canada. In 1908 he was elected president of the General Chapter of Prince Masons in Ireland, and published a volume of 'Addresses' delivered in that office. On his death the freemason brethren founded in his memory the 'FitzGibbon Memorial Gymnasium ' in the girls' school, the 'FitzGibbon Memorial Burse' in the boys' school, and the 'FitzGibbon annuity.'

He was also active in the affairs of the Church of Ireland, serving for many years on the diocesan board of patronage for Dublin, and proving his skill in debate in the general synod. He was chancellor of many diocesan courts and lay diocesan nominator for the archdiocese of Dublin. He was one of the chief promoters of, and a generous contributor to, 'The Auxiliary Fund,' by which the great depreciation in the investments of the church and the poverty of the incumbents was supplemented. At his country house at Howth, FitzGibbon long entertained at Christmas parties of men of all kinds of distinction. In later years his regular visitors included George Salmon [q. v. Suppl. II], provost of Trinity, Monsignor Molloy, John (Viscount) Morley, Mr. Arthur Balfour, Lords Roberts and Wolseley. But his most intimate friend among English politicians was Lord Randolph Churchill, whose acquaintance he first made at Dublin Castle in 1876, when Lord Randolph's father, the duke of Marlborough, was lord-lieutenant. Subsequently they constantly corresponded on frank and confidential terms. FitzGibbon wrote to Lord Randolph deprecating his acceptance of the chancellorship of the exchequer in 1886, and expressing a preference for Goschen.

FitzGibbon died at Howth on 14 Oct. 1909, and was buried in the graveyard attached to the old ruined church of St. Fintan at Howth. In the court of criminal appeal in England the lord chief justice expressed (15 Oct.) sympathy with the bench of Ireland on his death, describing him as 'a great judge, a profound lawyer, and a man of wide and varied learning' [The Times, 16 Oct. 1909). Such a reference to an Irish judge from the bench of England seems to have been unprecedented (Law Times, 23 Oct. 1909).

FitzGibbon married in 1864 Margaret Ann, second daughter of Francis Alexander Fitzgerald, baron of the exchequer in Ireland, and had issue three sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Gerald, is king's counsel in Ireland, being the third generation of the family to attain that honour.

Two portraits in oils by Walter Osborne, R.H.A., one in the Masonic girls' school, Dublin, the other at Howth, were presented by the Order to the school and to Mrs. FitzGibbon respectively. A full-length portrait was painted by Miss Harrison for the University Club, Dublin. A portrait in judicial robes for the banqueting hall of the King's Inns, by William Orpen, R.A., was subscribed for by the bench and bar of Ireland. A marble statue by A. Bruce Joy is to be placed in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

[Private information; Winston S. Churchill, Lord Randolph Churchill, 1906; Annual Report of the Masonic Female Orphan School of Ireland for 1909 (Dublin, 1910), and of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland for 1909; Thom's Directory, 1909; The Irish Reports, Common Law; The Irish Reports, Equity; The Irish Law Reports; Appeal Cases (both series) (England); Endowed Schools (Ireland) Report of the Royal Commission, 1881; Educational Endowments (Ireland), Reports of the Commission and Evidence, published in 1886; The Times, 10 Oct. 1909; The Law Times, 23 Oct. 1909.]

D. F.