Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wightman, William

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WIGHTMAN, Sir WILLIAM (1784–1863), judge, came of an old Dumfriesshire family. He was the son of William Wightman, gentleman, of St. Clement's, London, and was born in 1784. He was an undergraduate of University College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 23 March 1801, and on 21 June was elected to a Michel exhibition at Queen's College, graduating B.A. on 30 May 1805, and M.A. on 23 Oct. 1809; from 1859 to 1863 he was an honorary fellow of his college. On 31 Jan. 1804 he entered Lincoln's Inn, and, after some years of practice as a special pleader, he was called to the bar in 1821. In 1830 he transferred himself to the Inner Temple and joined the northern circuit. He was known as an exceptionally sound and clear-headed lawyer, and for several years held the important post of junior counsel to the treasury. He was appointed a member of the commission of 1830 upon the practice of the common-law courts, and of that of 1833 upon the proposal for a criminal law digest. He was engaged in many celebrated cases, particularly the prosecutions arising out of the Bristol riots; but, owing to an almost excessive modesty, was little known except to his profession. In February 1841 he was promoted to a judgeship of the queen's bench, on the resignation of Mr. Justice Littledale, and was knighted on 28 April, and here he served as a judge for nearly twenty-three years. While on circuit at York, on 9 Dec. 1863, he was seized with an attack of apoplexy, and died next day. He married in 1819, a daughter of James Baird of Lasswade, near Edinburgh.

Wightman's pre-eminent qualities as a lawyer were accuracy and caution. As a judge he had deep learning, a faculty of lucid reasoning, and abundance of good sense. He was courteous, firm, and dignified, and added greatly to the strength of the court of which he was a member. He had also great humour, considerable literary gifts, and was widely read in English letters (Campbell, Autobiography, ii. 310; Croker Papers, iii. 240).

[Foss's Lives of the Judges; Gent. Mag. 1864, ii. 250; Times, 11 Dec. 1863; Arnould's Life of Denman; Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Lincoln's Inn Admission Register.]

J. A. H.