Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harmer, James

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HARMER, JAMES (1777–1853), alderman of London, was son of a Spitalfields weaver. Left an orphan at the age of ten years, he was articled to an attorney in 1792, but left his office on making an early marriage. He was afterwards transferred to Messrs. Fletcher & Wright of Bloomsbury, and practised for himself in 1799. His practice was chiefly in the criminal courts, and the experience there gained made him a strong advocate of reform in criminal procedure. His evidence before the committee for the reformation of the criminal law was declared by Sir James Mackintosh to be unequalled in its effect. He exposed the delinquency of witnesses, and especially the mode of obtaining evidence against Holloway and Haggerty, who were executed in 1807 for the murder of Mr. Steele. He also took an active part in procuring the abolition of the blood-money system. He took much trouble in investigating cases where he considered that prisoners had been wrongly committed. He wrote pamphlets on behalf of Holloway and Haggerty in 1807, on the case of George Mathews in 1819, and in 1825 on behalf of Edward Harris.

In 1833 he was elected alderman of the ward of Farringdon Without, which he had represented since 1826 in the common council, and gave up his legal practice, which is said to have been worth 4,000l. a year. He was sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1834. He resigned his alderman's gown in 1840, when his election to the mayoralty was successfully opposed on the ground of his being proprietor of the 'Weekly Dispatch,' which then advocated very advanced religious and political views. Harmer took a leading part in establishing the Royal Free Hospital. He lived at Greenhithe, Kent, where he built a mansion, Ingress Abbey, chiefly of stone procured from old London Bridge on its demolition. He died on 12 June 1853 and was buried on the 16th in Kensal Green cemetery. He left a large fortune to his grand-daughter. There is an engraved portrait by Wivell (Evans, Catalogue, No. 16870).

[Illustrated London News, 25 June 1853, xxii. 507, copied by the Gentleman's Magazine, 1853, pt. ii. pp. 201-2; Times (advt. of death), 33 June 1853; Annual Register, 1819, v. 61, 359-63; Grant's History of the Newspaper Press, iii. 41-2.]

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