The Mention of Garrow by the Wife of R L Stevenson in the Preface to Kidnapped

‘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.

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Garrow’s Last Speech in Parliament

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.

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Wilberforce Requests, Garrow Responds

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.

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William Garrow and the Royal Humane Society

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.

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Garrow’s Law and the Real Story of Women’s Rights

Episode one of the new series of ‘Garrow’s Law’ – shown last Sunday the 13th November 2011 on BBC1 – set the basis of the next episode. Lady Sarah, Garrow’s lover, sets out to obtain custody of her infant son. Despite being warned by Garrow and Southouse that as a married woman she has no rights at law, she issues an application for his custody.

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