‘While my husband and Mr. Henley were engaged in writing plays in Bournemouth they made a number of titles, hoping to use them in the future. Dramatic composition was not what my husband preferred, but the torrent of Mr. Henley’s enthusiasm swept him off his feet. However, after several plays had been finished, and his health seriously impaired by his endeavours to keep up with Mr. Henley, play writing was abandoned forever, and my husband returned to his legitimate vocation. Having added one of the titles, The Hanging Judge, to the list of projected plays, now thrown aside, and emboldened by my husband’s offer to give me any help needed, I concluded to try and write it myself.
On February 28, 1817, Sir William Garrow addressed the House of Commons with a lengthy speech on the pending Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill. His remarks were in stark contrast to what many remember him for today – the defender of prisoner rights. He spoke in support of temporarily suspending the rights of a prisoner accused of treason. As the last major speaker before the vote was taken in the House of Commons, he helped carry the day for the passage of this highly debated and controversial act, an act that to this day is the subject of special attention in the tide of English history.
At a special time in William Garrow’s career, the first few months of 1817, William Wilberforce asks a special favor of Garrow. He requests Garrow to defend John Hatchard on the charge of libel for actions he has taken as publisher of material for the African Institute. It is thought to be the last time in his long career that Garrow serves as defense counsel, the role he pioneered in the English legal system.
William Wilberforce was one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and continued throughtout his life to fight the institution of slavery. The African Institute’s materials served as a voice for the anti-slavery forces in England, and the plantation owners were fighting back. It is interesting to observe that Wilberforce wants Garrow, in his private capacity, to defend Hatchard, even though Garrow, as Attorney General and lead prosecutor for the Crown, would normally prosecute in a case of the King v. John Hatchard. Garrow chooses to assist in the defense of Hatchard.
As a descendant of William Garrow, I feel drawn to continue to explore the real life of William Garrow. This is in addition to enjoying the fictional aspects of Garrow romanticized in the BBC “Garrow’s Law”, a drama that moves quickly between fact and fiction.
Concerning the real William Garrow, I have been attempting to understand his engagement in the various civic societies seeking to improve the quality of life in London and the surrounding area, in addition to his newly remembered legal career. He was a member of the Royal Society with its international acclaim for probing scientific understanding, and for five years served as a trustee of the British Museum. He was a Vice President of the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary, focused on dealing with tuberculosis in London’s children who were living in abject poverty. And he was a lifetime sponsor (contributor) to the Philanthropic Society, a boy’s town type program for children of convicted felons, children heading toward a life of crime themselves. Upon retirement he became a member of the Privy Council. In addition, he had a long time involvement as a Vice President of the Royal Humane Society. It is his involvement in the Royal Humane Society that is the subject of this report.
Legal historian and Garrow Society founder member John Hostettler has written a new book which is out now, just in time for Christmas. Continue reading “New Book Offers Fresh Material on William Garrow”
Garrow prosecuted General Thomas Picton, who, while serving as the first British governor of Trinidad, ordered that a young free person of color, Louisa Calderon, be tortured to get her to confess a crime. Being brought home to face a series of related charges, Picton was eventually tried on the single count of using torture on Louisa Calderon. The trial commenced on February 24, 1806 in the court of King’s Bench. Garrow was prosecutor. It was a much followed event in London. And it was this trial that was featured in the next to last episode of the BBC1 historic drama “Garrow’s Law” (originally aired 27 November 2011). The trial is also featured as Chapter 7 of our biography: “Sir William Garrow, His Life, Times and Fight for Justice.” The trial is one of the highly remembered cases in Garrow’s career. Continue reading “Thomas Picton: “Inflict the torture upon Louisa Calderon””
Garrow’s aggressive style of cross-examination often uncovered circumstantial information that motivated juries to bend the rules and reduce the severity of punishment.
In episode 2 of series 3 of “Garrow’s Law” on BBC1, two men are accused of destroying silk looms in an act of industrial sabotage. When the jury bring in a verdict of not guilty on the one against whom his co-accused had pleaded King’s Evidence to secure his own release, Justice Buller told the jury to change their verdict – but they declined to do so. This is an example of what is called jury nullification.