[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886; Month, May 1893, p. 1; Tablet, 22 April 1893, p. 624; Times, 17 April 1893; Weekly Register, 22 April 1893, p. 499.]
COLERIDGE, Sir JOHN DUKE, first Baron Coleridge (1820–1894), lord chief justice of England, was the eldest son of Sir John Taylor Coleridge [q. v.], by his wife Mary, the daughter of the Rev. Gilbert Buchanan, D.D., vicar of Northfleet and rector of Woodmansterne. Henry James Coleridge [q. v. Suppl.] was his younger brother. He was born at Heath Court, Ottery St. Mary, on 3 Dec. 1820. He was educated at Eton, where he was in the remove in 1832, in the fifth form in 1835, and in the sixth in 1838; in that year he was elected a scholar of Balliol College, Oxford, matriculating on 29 Nov. 1838. As an undergraduate he was the friend and contemporary of Arthur Clough, Matthew Arnold, Dean Church, Theodore Walrond, and Lord Lingen, all of whom were with him members of a small club for purposes of discussion called the 'Decade.' Coleridge graduated B.A. in 1842 and M.A. in 1846; from 1843 to 1846 he was fellow of Exeter, of which he was elected honorary fellow in 1882.
On 27 Jan. 1843 Coleridge was admitted student of the Middle Temple, and on 6 Nov. 1846 he was called to the bar and joined the western circuit. Follett, at that time a leader of the circuit, was his friend and adviser; Karslake (afterwards Sir John) was his contemporary, professional rival, and warm friend. His scholarly eloquence soon obtained him practice. In 1855 he was appointed recorder of Portsmouth, and in 1861 he was made a queen's counsel and a bencher of his inn. During his early years at the bar he contributed to the 'Guardian' and the 'Quarterly' and 'Edinburgh' Reviews. At the general election of 1865 he was elected M.P. for Exeter, as a liberal, and sat for that city until his appointment as chief justice of the common pleas in 1873. As a private member he took an active part in the successful movement for the abolition of religious tests in the universities, and consistently supported the proposal to disestablish the Irish church. He was selected by Gladstone, then leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, to move the instruction as to rating which so materially modified Disraeli's reform bill of 1867. Upon the liberals coming into office in 1868 Coleridge was appointed solicitor-general and knighted (12 Dec.), and in 1871 he succeeded Sir Robert Porrett Collier (afterwards Lord Monkswell) [q. v.] as attorney-general. Being an exceedingly persuasive and successful advocate he was much employed during this period in the sort of actions at nisi prius which attract most public attention. His professional reputation was thoroughly established in London by his conduct of the plaintiffs case in Saurin v. Starr. This was an action for conspiracy and false imprisonment brought against the lady superior of a convent of sisters of mercy at Hull, at whose hands the plaintiff alleged that she had, while one of the inmates, suffered many grievances. Coleridge obtained a substantial verdict after a trial which was then almost if not quite unprecedented in its duration.
It was, however, entirely eclipsed in this respect by the famous 'Tichborne case' which followed a year or two later, in 1871-2. In the action of ejectment, tried in the court of common pleas before Chief-justice Bovill, Coleridge led for the defendants, his juniors being Messrs. Hawkins (now Lord Brampton), Honyman (afterwards Mr. Justice Honyman), C. Barber, and Charles (afterwards Lord) Bowen. His cross-examination of the 'claimant' [see Orton, Arthur, Suppl.] lasted three weeks, and though it was considered lacking in startling or exciting episodes, entirely destroyed in the minds of all reasonable persons who followed it any possibility of belief in the plaintiff's assertion that he was Roger Tichborne. His speech in opening the case for the defendants occupied twenty-three days, and never fell from a high level of forensic eloquence. The trial was stopped by the jury in the summer of 1873, and in November of that year, Chief-justice Bovill having died his life being supposed to have been shortened by the duration and anxiety of this case Coleridge was appointed his successor. On 10 Jan. 1874 he was, during his father's lifetime, created Baron Coleridge of Ottery St. Mary, co. Devon; he was elected F.R.S. in 1875, and created D.C.L. of Oxford University on 13 June 1877.
Coleridge retained the office of chief justice of the common pleas for seven years, and was the last person who ever held it. In 1880, on the death of Lord-chief-justice Cockburn, Coleridge was appointed chief justice of the queen's bench, and the offices of chief justice of the common pleas and chief baron of the exchequer (vacant by the death of Chief-baron Kelly) were abolished under the Judicature Acts. Coleridge and his successors seem to be indubitably entitled to the style of chief justice of England, which may previously have been an inaccurate mode of describing the chief justices of the king's (or queen's) bench, though