It is ironic that after tonight’s episode of ‘Garrow’s Law’ (BBC1, 5 December 2010) people are likely to be asking ‘Who is Thomas Erskine?’, the barrister who made such a dramatic entrance in the final episode of series two. Indeed, so much has William Garrow within a few short weeks lodged himself in the public psyche as the radical reformer of his era that others – who took the greater share of the credit in the past – have been more or less relegated to a secondary or supporting role. Continue reading “Who Was Thomas Erskine?”
A Battle of Forensic Giants
William Garrow and Thomas Erskine were good friends. They were also two of the greatest barristers this country has ever seen. Garrow as champion of the poor and disadvantaged in the Old Bailey and Erskine as a freedom fighter in the shockingly biased State Trials that stained English criminal law at the end of the eighteenth century. But the two of them overlapped.
Sometimes they appeared on opposite sides in a trial and sometimes they worked together. One of the trials where they were opponents was that known as “Mrs Day’s Baby”. It is reported in the book “Sir William Garrow: His Life Times, and Fight for Justice” on pages 66 and 67. However, there is an aspect of it not mentioned in the book. The case was heard at the Huntingdon Assizes before Mr Justice Heath in 1797. It caused an enormous amount of gossip and large crowds attended the hearing. The issue before the court was whether the defendant, who was heir to a large estate, had in reality been a child purchased from a poor woman in a workhouse.