Reeves, William Conrad (DNB12)

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REEVES, Sir WILLIAM CONRAD (1821–1902), chief justice of Barbados, born at Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1821 (the date is often given erroneously), was one of three sons of Thomas Phillipps Reeves, a medical man, by a negro slave Peggy Phyllis. Reeves, cared for by his father's sister, received some education at private schools and attracted the notice of Samuel Jackman Prescod, a journalist. The boy was fond of reading. Prescod gave him employment on his paper, the 'Liberal.' Reeves learned shorthand, and mastering the details of management, was soon able on occasion to edit and manage the paper. He joined the debating club at Bridgetown, and proved ready in debate.

Disappointed in the hope of obtaining an official appointment, Reeves by the kindness of friends went to England, and became a student at the Middle Temple in May 1860, being called to the bar on 6 Jan. 1863. While in London he acted as correspondent for the Barbados press. In 1864 he returned to Barbados to practise at the local bar. From May 1867 he acted for a short time as attorney-general of St, Vincent, an island which at that time was under the same governor as Barbados, and soon gained an assured position in Barbados.

In August 1874 Reeves entered the local house of assembly of Barbados as member for St. Joseph, and became solicitor-general. In April 1876, when the governor, Sir John Pope-Hennessy [q. v.], provoked a conflict between the crown (as represented by himself) and the legislature. Reeves resigned office and took up the cause of the old constitution of Barbados as against schemes of confederation and crown government. Reeves was acclaimed by all classes and colours as a Pym or Hampden. Equally in 1878 he opposed the proposal introduced by Sir George Strahan for the reform of the elective house of assembly by the introduction of crown nominees, He thus became the champion of the ancient Barbados constitution, and the general public marked their sense of his services by presenting him with an address and a purse of 1000 guineas.

In 1881, however, the next governor. Sir William Robinson, enlisted Reeves's cordial support in framing the executive committee bill. The enactment of this bill enabled the executive to secure a proper control in matters of finance and administration without interference with the traditions of the house of assembly. The governor acknowledged Reeves's support by appointing him attorney-general in Feb. 1882. Reeves was created K.C. in 1883. As attorney-general he helped in 1884 to carry out an extension of the franchise. Later in the year he went on long leave to recruit his health, returning to Barbados in 1885.

In 1886 Reeves became chief justice of Barbados. The promotion was a rare recognition of worth in a black man, and was well justified in the result. He was knighted in 1889. His judgments were clear and well worded. Several of them were collected in a volume by Sir William Herbert Greaves, a successor as chief justice, and Mr. Clark, attorney-general. Reeves died on 9 Jan. 1902, at his home, the Eyrie, St. Michael's, and was accorded a public funeral, With a service in the cathedral at Westbury cemetery. Reeves married in 1868 Margaret, eldest daughter of T. P. R. Rudder of Bushey Park, St. Thomas, Barbados. He left one daughter, who was married and resided in Europe.

[Memoir by Valence Gale reprinted locally in 1902; information furnished by Chief Justice Sir H. Greaves; Barbados Globe and Barbados Agricultural Reporter, 10 Jan. 1902; The Times, 31 Jan. 1902; Who's Who, 1901.]

C. A. H.