Wilde, Thomas (DNB00)

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WILDE, THOMAS, Lord Truro (1782–1855), lord chancellor, born in Warwick Square, Newgate Street, London, on 7 July 1782, was second son of Thomas Wilde, attorney, of London and Saffron Walden, Essex, by his wife Mary Ann, born Knight. He was uncle of Lord Penzance and younger brother of Sir John Wilde, D.C.L., who was called to the bar in 1805, was judge-advocate from 1818 to 1823 of New South Wales, and chief justice from 1827 (being then knighted) of the Cape of Good Hope, of which he was also from 1854 president of the legislative council until his death, leaving issue, on 13 Dec. 1859.

Wilde was educated at St. Paul's school, which he entered in 1785 and quitted in 1796 to be articled to his father. He was admitted attorney in 1805, and for some years practised as such on his own account; but in March 1811 he entered himself at the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar on 7 Feb. 1817, having already for two years practised as a certificated special pleader. Wilde had none of the personal advantages which heighten the effect of oratory. He was thick-set and of no great stature; his features were irregular, his voice was unmusical, his delivery monotonous. He had even an impediment of speech, which he evaded rather than overcame by the use of synonyms, but he had no lack of nervous English; and his mastery of the technicalities of pleading, his connection and experience, joined to great natural talent and equal industry, rendered his success only a question of time. Retained in 1820 for the defence of Queen Caroline during the progress through parliament of the bill of pains and penalties, he readily surmounted the prejudice with which he was at first received by Brougham and Denman, and distinguished himself in cross-examination. The celebrity thus early gained opened the way to an extensive common-law practice. In 1824 he was made serjeant-at-law (13 May), and in Trinity term 1827 he was advanced to the rank of king's serjeant.

On 31 May 1831 Wilde was returned to parliament in the whig interest for Newark-on-Trent. This seat, which he carried only on the fourth contest, he lost at the general election of December 1832, but recovered on 5 Jan. 1835 and retained until the dissolution of 23 June 1841. In the next parliament he represented Worcester. Like most great lawyers, Wilde was unfitted to carry the House of Commons by storm, and at first he confined himself to the discussion of points of detail in the measures for the reform of the representative system and the law of bankruptcy. In 1835 he displayed more rancour than vigour in the rambling speech with which he supported Lord John Russell's motion for a committee on Irish church temporalities (2 April). On the return of his party to power (8 April) he at first devoted himself chiefly to election petition business, and in 1836 he served on the Carlow election petition committee as legal nominee (appointed 16 Feb.) to examine witnesses without power of voting (Commons' Journals, xci. 42). On the question of privilege raised by the great case of Stockdale v. Hansard [see Stockdale, John, and cf. Hansard, Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. xxxviii. 1299, xlviii. 356) he maintained from the first the highest possible view of the dignity and authority of the House of Commons. Pending the question he succeeded Sir Robert Monsey Rolfe (afterwards Baron Cranworth) [q. v.] as solicitor-general (2 Dec. 1839), and was knighted (19 Feb. 1840). The tension between the House of Commons and the court of queen's bench was then extreme. Wilde was prepared for the most violent measures, and, though his excessive zeal was curbed on the whole by the attorney-general [see Campbell, John, first Baron Campbell], he was not to be withheld from opposing the legislative settlement of the question on the pedantic ground that it involved a tacit waiver of the privilege that it affirmed. Of the privileges of his own order he was no less jealous than of those of the House of Commons. He even opposed, and succeeded for a time in obstructing, the admission of queen's counsel to equal rights of audience with serjeants-at-law in the court of common pleas. On the other hand, reverence for the past did not blind him to the demerits of Westminster Hall as a forum, and it was under his auspices that the first steps were taken towards the concentration of the courts of justice in the Strand (Hansard, Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. lvii. 1162). He succeeded Campbell as attorney-general on 3 July 1841, but went out of office on the fall of Lord Melbourne's administration in the following September.

Wilde was one of the earliest converts to Rowland Hill's scheme of postal reform, which he introduced to the House of Commons on 27 June 1843. He also supported the measure of the same year for the more effectual suppression of the slave trade. His professional knowledge and skill showed to advantage in the discussions which arose on the report from the committee on the forged exchequer bills (4 April 1842), the reversal of the judgment against O'Connell (5 Sept. 1844), and the question of privilege raised by the case of Howard v. Gossett (30 May 1845) (ib. lxi. 1222, lxx. 399, lxxvi. 2007, lxxx. 1099).

On the formation of Lord John Russell's administration (July 1846) Wilde was reappointed attorney-general, but, in consequence of the sudden death (6 July) of Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal [q. v.], he was at once advanced to the chief-justiceship of the court of common pleas. On 30 Oct. he was sworn of the privy council. The chief-justiceship, for which the experience of a lifetime had eminently fitted him, he held for little more than four years, being induced in 1850 to accept the great seal on the failure of the government otherwise to supply the place of Lord Cottenham [see Pepys, Charles Christopher, first Earl of Cottenham]. He was sworn lord chancellor on 15 July, was at the same time created Baron Truro of Bowes, Middlesex, and took his seat in the House of Lords accordingly (Lords' Journals, lxxxii. 322). Notwithstanding his age and inexperience of equity business, he proved a competent chancellor; but his success was achieved at the cost of intense study—his judgments were invariably written—and his health suffered in consequence. From the burden of office he was relieved by the fall of the government in February 1852; nor was it reimposed by Lord Aberdeen. In 1853 he ceased to attend the House of Lords; and after two years of suffering he died at his residence in Eaton Square on 11 Nov. 1855. His remains were interred in the Dunmore vault (see infra) in the churchyard of St. Lawrence, near Ramsgate.

To Truro's initiative were due the creation of the court of lords justices (14 & 15 Vict. c. 83), the substitution of the office of chief clerk for that of master in chancery, with some minor chancery reforms, and the Common Law Procedure Act, 1852. His judgments are contained in ‘Common Bench Reports,’ vols. iii–x.; Clark's ‘House of Lords' Cases,’ vol. iii.; Macnaghten and Gordon's ‘Reports,’ vols. ii–iii.; and De Gex, Macnaghten, and Gordon's ‘Reports,’ vol. i.

Truro endowed St. Paul's school in 1853 with 1,000l. in consols, the interest of which was to be distributed in prizes. His law library was presented by his widow to the House of Lords. His portrait, by Sir Francis Grant, is at St. Paul's school; another, by Gooderson, after Grant, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. An engraving from a sketch-portrait, done while he was at the bar, is in the British Museum.

Truro married twice: first, on 18 April 1813, Mary, daughter of William Wileman, and widow of William Devaynes; secondly, on 14 Aug. 1845, Augusta Emma D'Este, daughter of Augustus Frederick, duke of Sussex, by his marriage, void under the Royal Marriage Act, with Lady Augusta Murray, second daughter of John, fourth earl of Dunmore. By his first wife he had, with a daughter, two sons, of whom the elder, Charles Robert Claude, succeeded as second Baron Truro. By his second wife he had no issue.

[Law List, 1806, p. 41; Rider's Brit. Merlin, 1818 p. 396, 1823 p. 404, 1828 p. 403; St. Paul's School Reg. ed. Gardiner, p. 196; Ann. Reg. 1827 ii. 220, 1846 ii. 104, 1850 ii. 296, 1855 ii. 316, 1859 ii. 496; Gent. Mag. 1845 ii. 520, 1846 ii. 198, 641, 1855 ii. 644; Times, 13 Nov. 1855, 30 Jan. 1860; Brougham's Autobiography, ii. 381; Arnould's Life of Lord Denman; Lord Campbell's Life, ed. Hardcastle, ii. 128; Members of Parliament, Official Lists; Memoir of Matthew Davenport Hill; Pollock's Personal Remembrances, i. 136; Ballantine's Experiences, ed. 1883, p. 271; Manning's Serviens ad Legem; Pulling's Order of the Coif; Greville Memoirs, II. iii. 125; Law Mag. and Law Rev. iv. 1 et seq.; Nichols's Herald and Genealogist, ii. 258; Legal Observer, li. 41, 61, 108; Law Rev. xxiii. 349; Bennet's Biogr. Sketches; Burke's Peerage; Foster's Peerage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.