GARROW, William (1760-1840), of Plumpton, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



22 Apr. 1805 - 1806
1806 - 1807
1812 - 6 May 1817

Family and Education

b. 13 Apr. 1760, 3rd s. of Rev. David Garrow of Monken Hadley, Mdx. by Jane née Alloway of Aberdeen. educ. fa.’s sch., Hadley; articled to Thomas Southouse, London attorney 1775; L. Inn 1778, called 1783. m. c. 1780 (his wife d. 30 June 1808),1 1s. d.v.p. 1da. Kntd. 17 July 1812.

Offices Held

KC 7 Feb. 1793; bencher L. Inn 1793, treasurer 1801; solicitor-gen. to Prince of Wales 1805-6, attorney-gen. 1806-12; solicitor-gen. June 1812-May 1813, attorney-gen. May 1813-May 1817; c.j. Chester Mar. 1814-May 1817; serjt.-at-law 6 May 1837; puisne baron of Exchequer May 1817-Feb. 1832; PC 22 Feb. 1832.

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1794-7.


Garrow joined the Whig Club, 26 June 1784, and was Fox’s ‘jaw master general’ at the bar of the House on the Westminster election scrutiny. Practising on the home circuit under Thomas Erskine, he earned a reputation in nisi prius and criminal cases. In 1793 he took silk. He was counsel for the crown in the treason trials in October 1794 and in other notorious cases thereafter. On 25 Apr. 1805 he took his seat for Gatton, returned by Sir Mark Wood ‘to defend ... Lord Melville; without one sixpence of expense’. He was not then called upon to speak but, having been returned at his instigation, was listed a supporter of Pitt in July 1805. Meanwhile, by Erskine’s influence, he became solicitor-general to the Prince of Wales. In February 1806, when he succeeded Erskine as the Prince’s attorney-general, he acknowledged his dependence on the Prince’s friendship but reserved the right to show his gratitude to Pitt and Melville if questions concerning them arose in the House. The Prince insisted on his putting in a personal appearance at Carlton House and then put him at his ease.2 Despite his reservations, he proceeded to vote with the Grenville ministry for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr.

In his unpremeditated maiden speech Garrow took issue with James Paull*, 22 Apr. 1806, on his charges against the Marquess Wellesley’s conduct in India, which could not, he argued, be presented in their present shape; on that account he favoured an adjournment. On 18 June, on the same subject, he objected to hearsay evidence, clashed with Dr Laurence and was rebuked by Windham in turn. In September Lord Howick was prepared to envisage him as solicitor-general in a government reshuffle. At the election of 1806 he was returned by Lord Clinton for Callington as a friend of government, though he confided to William Adam that he had no wish to be in, and regarded himself as the Prince’s servant rather than the ministry’s. He took no part in the ensuing session, obtaining leave for the home circuit on 3 Mar.; nor did he seek re-election. By 1808 he was netting 300 guineas a case at assizes, a by-word for prosperity in his profession, though his character was impugned. Baron Charles Hompesch denounced him to the Prince, after being insulted by him in court, as a ‘liar, coward and poltroon’. His shyness out of court was contrasted with his boldness in it, but after the death of his wife in 1808 he was credited with more self-assurance in society. In April 1810 the Speaker retained him with a view to court proceedings against (Sir) Francis Burdett*.3

When the Prince became Regent in 1812, Garrow was again in the limelight. His master pressed him to come in for Aldeburgh vice McMahon at the expense of the Duke of Northumberland, but he demurred, unless he was indispensably required. In June, however, he became solicitor-general in the Liverpool ministry; had the Marquess Wellesley formed a government, he would also have been placed.4 At the ensuing election he was returned for Eye on the Marquess Cornwallis’s interest as a friend of government.

Garrow was not as well regarded in his profession as he thought: Lord Eldon deplored the appointment. James Scarlett* described him as

an eloquent scolder with a fine voice and most distinct articulation, a great flow of words, considerable quickness in catching the meaning of a witness, and great abilities in addressing juries in ordinary cases, [who] without education, without taste and without law, acquired and maintained a high reputation with the public, but none in the profession. He was not much known in private life ... but I believe he was kind-hearted, generous and humane.

William Cockburn, too, observed to Robert Peel:

Garrow was never thought a lawyer. He is a quick, sharp, clever fellow—but no profound thinker and never read anything of law. I have had occasion to consult him some times but never found his opinion right in my life on the whole.

Even before he figured in the House as law officer, he suffered in court at Brougham’s hands when he prosecuted John and Leigh Hunt for the crown in King’s bench in December 1812.5

In debate he defended the vice-chancellor bill, 11, 22 Feb. 1813, and promised opposition to Romilly’s bid to reform the criminal law, 17 Feb.: ‘The severity of the law was not too much for some cases; for the utmost rigour was sometimes called for out of mercy to society’. He took the Regent’s part when his conduct towards his wife was questioned that session. As ‘the mere creature of the Regent’, he voted against Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 24 May 1813 (as also in 1816). On 5 and 9 Apr. 1813 he opposed Romilly’s attempt to mitigate degrading punishments for treason and felony: he had silently voted against his shoplifting bill on 26 Mar. In May he succeeded Sir Thomas Plumer as attorney-general, a step predicted ever since the creation for the latter of the vice-chancellor’s office, though he had denied it when Romilly alleged it in debate. Joseph Jekyll* reported, ‘Garrow’s vanity on his new office is the joke of the bar. As a vulgar man he wonders to find himself at ministers’ dinners and talks of nothing else’. Before the year was out he was being tipped for the office of chief baron of the Exchequer, or to be Sir Vicary Gibbs’s rival for the common pleas: instead, he was appointed chief justice of Chester. When a writ was moved for his reelection, Romilly, who had grown contemptuous of him, protested at the impropriety of his combining this with the attorney-general’s office. Garrow made a point of absence on the occasion and next day wrote to thank Romilly for his compliments.6

As attorney-general Garrow had so far distinguished himself only by a more punitive re-enactment of the legislation against machine breakers in December 1813. In the session of 1814 most of his speeches were about the Stock Exchange fraud: he insisted on the justice of the proceedings against Lord Cochrane*. He opposed inquiry into the fees of the courts of justice, 28 June 1814 and 21 Feb. 1815. He opposed Romilly on the disembodiment of the militia, 28 Feb. On 6 Mar. he testified to his confrontation with the anti-Corn Law mob outside the House. He thought the mob alarming, though as a ‘friend of the people’ they let him through, and he justified military protection for Members. (He did so again on 13 May.) On 18 Mar. 1816, after presenting his constituents’ petition against the property tax, he declared in favour of it. Indeed he could be relied on to vote with ministers on critical occasions, though most of his speeches henceforward were brief interventions on legal questions. The exceptions were an elaborate defence of Ellen-borough’s conduct in the case of Lord Cochrane, 30 Apr.; a speech resisting Brougham’s bill for the liberty of the press, 8 May; and a defence of the aliens bill, 10 May 1816. A bid of his own to impose speed limits on stage coaches, 10 June 1816, was frustrated. He denounced the abuse of petitions for parliamentary reform, 29, 31 Jan., 12 Mar. 1817, but his most important speech that session was in defence of the seditious meetings bill, 28 Feb. He made it, so he informed the House, just after securing the first conviction for evasion of the Slave Trade Abolition Act. Jekyll wrote at this time, ‘What a being is Garrow to assist a ministry at such a moment with opinion and legal advice’. He leaned heavily on Shepherd, the solicitor-general, and had again to defend in debate his retention of the concomitant office of chief justice of Chester, 18 Mar., 1 May 1817. In the latter month he went out, as a puisne judge of the Exchequer. William Wellesley Pole* commented:

It will be a great relief to government to get him out of the House of Commons. He did not succeed there. I believe he had good taste enough to detest it. He was not thought equal to the chief baron’s place, which is given to Richards, of whom the law authorities speak well.

He did not retain Chester, as it was alleged that he would when a rumour of his accepting a puisne judgeship was first circulated.7

Garrow retired in 1832 with a privy councillorship. He died 24 Sept. 1840.8

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. T. Hague, Letter to William Garrow (1808), 37, 38, 43 alleges that Mrs Garrow was an ‘Irish lady of high birth’, whom he had seduced. His son Rev. David William Garrow was b. 16 Apr. 1781, cf. Farington , vii. 52.
  • 2. Hague, 48, 53; DNB ; Add. 38368, f. 206; Blair Adam mss, Garrow to Adam, 7 Feb. 1806; Farington, vi. 216.
  • 3. Grey mss, Howick to Whitbread, 20 Sept.; Blair Adam mss, Garrow to Adam, 6 Oct. 1806, 29 Aug. 1807; Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, i. 226; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2417; Farington, v. 92; vii. 52; viii. 53; Colchester, ii. 260.
  • 4. Geo. IV Letters, i. 31, 36; Add. 37297, f. 168.
  • 5. Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vii. 300; P. C. Scarlett, Mem. of Lord Abinger, 87; Add. 34458, f. 433; 40232, f. 24; Brougham, Life and Times, ii. 72.
  • 6. Horner mss 5, f. 295; Romilly, Mems. iii. 88, 95, 127-9; Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 2 July, 13, 28 Dec. 1813, 18 Feb. [1814].
  • 7. Bond mss, Jekyll to Bond, 14 Dec. [1815], 18 Feb.; Bagot mss, Wellesley Pole to Bagot, 4 May 1817.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 657.