tory ministry Herschell presided over the royal commissions on the precious metals, the metropolitan board of works, and vaccination (1887-9). He resumed the great seal in Gladstone's last administration (15 Aug. 1892), and retained it when Gladstone's place as prime minister was taken by Lord Rosebery. He retired with the rest of Lord Rosebery's administration on the eve of the general election (22 June 1895). He was nominated by Lord Salisbury's government in 1898 a member of the Anglo-American and Anglo-Venezuelan Arbitration Commissions, but served only on the former commission, which met at Washington. The commission was still sitting there when Herschell sustained, through a fall, injuries which proved fatal. He died at Washington on 1 March 1899. His body was brought to England for burial.
Herschell married, on 20 Dec. 1876, Agnes Adela, third daughter of Edward Leigh Kindersley of Clyffe, Dorset, by whom he left, with female issue, a son, Richard Farrer, who succeeded as second Baron Herschell.
In the exercise of his judicial functions Herschell seemed the very incarnation of the esprit positif. He had no love of refinements, no ambition to lay down principles of far-reaching consequence, or extend the jurisdiction of the court, but was satisfied if he could ascertain and declare the actual state of the law, leaving its amendment to the legislature (see in particular Law Reports, Appeal Cases, 1893, p. 617 ; 1897, pp. 46, 460). He was justly jealous of the importation of equitable principles into the law of negotiable instruments. He even went so far as to exonerate bankers paying forged acceptances in good faith (ib. 1891, p. 143), and relieve them from the obligation of inquiring into brokers' authority to pledge securities laid upon them by the decision in Lord Sheffield's case (ib. 1892, p. 214). He also took a somewhat liberal view of the liability of directors for false statements made in prospectuses (ib. xiv. 359). The general soundness of his law is unquestioned, but his course had been too rapid to permit of leisurely and systematic study ; and though his prodigious powers of acquisition and application went far to compensate for this defect, his judgments do not compare in weight and finish with those of his great contemporaries, Selborne and Cairns. His disposal of patronage was singularly judicious, and entirely uninfluenced by political or personal considerations.
In his programme of legal reform the forefront was occupied by codification and the abolition of the distinctions between real and personal property, towards which the Land Transfer Act of 1897 (60 & 61 Vict. c. 65) was an important step. Among changes of minor consequence he advocated the abolition of the coroner's jury, the transfer of the functions of the coroner to the police magistrate, and the legalisation of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. He was principally concerned in carrying the measures rendering bets paid by agents irrecoverable against their principals, and protecting infants against incitements to betting (55 & 56 Vict. cc. 4, 9).
Herschell was of middle height and of somewhat slight build. He had regular features and remarkably fine dark eyes. His portrait, from a sketch by Rudolf Lehmann, is in 'Men and Women of the Century' (1896), His principal recreation was music, and he was not without skill as an executant on the violoncello. His interests were unusually various. He was a member of the council and departmental president of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science ; he was president of the governing body of the Imperial Institute, founded in 1892 ; president of the Society of Comparative Legislation, founded in 1894; an original member and, after the death of Lord Coleridge, president of the Selden Society ; member of the council and vice-president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; and a freemason. He was D.C.L. (Durham), LL.D. (Cambridge), captain (from 1890) of Deal Castle, and was created G.C.B. in 1893.
He was author of an 'Address on Jurisprudence and the Amendment of the Law,' printed in the 'Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science' (1876), and of 'The Rights and Duties of an Advocate ; being an Address delivered to the Glasgow Juridical Society on 17 Dec. 1889,' printed in pamphlet form in 1890.
[Foster's Men at the Bar ; Cal. Univ. Lond. 1873, 1877, 1894, 1899; Lincoln's Inn Records; Members of Parl. (official lists) ; Hansard's Parl. Deb. 3rd ser. ccxxvi-ccclvi., 4th ser. i-lxvii.; Parl. Papers (H. C.), 1886 c. 5099, 1888 c. 5248, c. 5512, 1889 c. 5845, 1897 c. 8331, c. 8439 ; Lords' Journ. cxviii. 36 ; Selborne's Memorials, Personal and Political ; Vanity Fair, 19 March 1881 ; Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation; Pump Court, August 1884; Men and Women of the Time (1891); Burke's Peerage, 1899; Times, 26 Nov. 1885, 2 March 1899; Ann. Keg. 1899, ii. 139; Law Times, 11 March 1899; Law Journ. 4 March 1899 ; Solicitors' Journ. 4 March 1899 ; Haydn's Book of Dignities, ed. Ockerby.]