WILDE, Thomas (1782-1855), of 7 King's Bench Walk, Inner Temple and 69 Guildford Street, Russell Square, Mdx.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. 7 July 1782, 2nd s. of Thomas Wilde, attorney, of College Hill, London and Saffron Walden, Essex and w. Margaret Anne Knight. educ. St. Paul’s 1785-96; I. Temple 1811, called 1817. m. (1) 12 Apr. 1813,1 Mary (d. 13 June 1840), da. of William Wileman, wid. of William Devaynes†, banker, of Pall Mall, Mdx., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) 13 Aug. 1845, Augusta Emma D’Este, illegit. da. of Augustus Frederick, duke of Sussex and Lady Augusta Murray, s.p. kntd. 19 Feb. 1840; cr. Bar. Truro 15 July 1850. d. 11 Nov. 1855.
Sjt.-at-law 13 May 1824; king’s-sjt. 1827; sol.-gen. Dec. 1839-July 1841; att.-gen. 3 July-Sept. 1841, 2-6 July 1846; PC 30 Oct. 1846; l.c.j.c.p. 7 July 1846-July 1850; ld. chan. July 1850-Feb. 1852.
Wilde, whose father was a prosperous London attorney, left school at 14 to enter the family firm. His elder brother John (1780-1859) went to Cambridge, was called to the bar in 1805 and was chief justice of the Cape, 1827-55. Wilde, a natural if laborious law student, was admitted attorney in 1805 and, declining a partnership, practised successfully on his own at 7 Castle Street, Falcon Square. Setting his sights on the bar, he enrolled at the Inner Temple in 1811, worked as a certificated special pleader from 1815 and was called in 1817, at the age of 35. His experience and connections, allied to technical ability and great industry, enabled him to rise rapidly and do well on the western circuit, despite his unprepossessing looks, a speech impediment and professional prejudice against his ‘origin and manners’, which still operated in 1834.2 On the recommendation of Alderman Matthew Wood* he was retained in 1820 for the defence of Queen Caroline against the bill of pains and penalties. He soon dispelled the doubts of his seniors Brougham and Denman, and was ‘extremely able and acute’ in cross-examination.3 As one of the queen’s executors he was involved in the negotiations with ministers over her funeral arrangements in August 1821.4 He subsequently developed an extensive common law practice and in May 1824 was made serjeant-at-law. Soon afterwards Crabb Robinson witnessed his defence in a libel case, when ‘he spoke with vehemence and acuteness combined. His vehemence is not united to elegance, so that he is not an orator, but the acuteness was not petty. He will soon be at the head of the common pleas’.5 Appointed king’s serjeant in 1827, he went on to lead the western circuit.
In February 1829 he was persuaded by professional colleagues to contest the Newark by-election on the independent Blue interest against the duke of Newcastle’s anti-Catholic nominee Sadler. At the rowdy nomination he condemned Newcastle’s electoral ‘tyranny’ over the borough, where recalcitrant tenants had been summarily evicted, and welcomed the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation. He was beaten by 214 votes in a poll of 1,388.6 He subsequently espoused and helped to promote the Blues’ legal campaign against Newcastle’s electoral interference and dictation.7 At the general election of 1830 he was a rumoured candidate for Hull, but in the event he tried again at Newark, where he was beaten into third place.8 He stood again on a vacancy in February 1831, when his campaign was handicapped by his absence at the trials of the ‘Swing’ rioters in Hampshire and he was easily beaten by a local man who had Newcastle’s support.9 In April 1831 the Grey ministry’s patronage secretary Ellice told Brougham, now lord chancellor, that it might be possible to provide Wilde with a seat for £2,500, a price ‘not too great for that desirable object’.10 At the general election precipitated by the defeat of the reform bill he offered again for Newark, after turning down an invitation to stand for Poole.11 He declared for reform and the ballot, condemned the undue influence exercised by Newcastle and said he would ‘desert the Whigs the moment they deserted reform’. He topped the poll. At a celebration dinner he reiterated his commitment to reform, but argued that the best safeguard for the poor rested in the just influence of property in the hands of benevolent men. He said that he considered the proposed £10 English borough franchise to be too exclusive, but that he would waive his objection in order to secure the greater object.12
Wilde voted silently for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, having failed to catch the Speaker’s eye, 6 July,13 and against the adjournment, 12 July, and the proposal that the borough disfranchisement schedules should be determined by the 1831 census, 19 July; but he was absent (on the circuit) from the divisions on details, 26 July-9 Aug. 1831. On 17 Aug. he spoke and voted for allowing urban freeholders a county vote, and next day he was in the government minority against the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will. He defended the provisions for returning officers, 19 Aug., and opposed Hunt’s proposal for a general householder franchise, 24 Aug., when he called on reformers not to ‘urge their exclusive views, as that would certainly tend to defeat the measure’ in the Lords. He tried to clarify the clause dealing with borough tenants’ qualification, 26 Aug., and divided with ministers against preserving freemen’s voting rights, 30 Aug., and permitting non-resident freeholders of the four sluiced boroughs to vote, 2 Sept. He praised the ‘simplicity’ of the registration procedure, 5 Sept. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept., after endorsing the Hertford petition complaining of Lord Salisbury’s ‘gross abuse of power’, and for the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. He denied Sir Abraham King’s entitlement to compensation for surrendering his Irish patent office, 11, 18 July, when he acquiesced in the grant of £240,000 for the civil list, but called for future inquiry and asked Lord Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer, to speak up when addressing the House. On 21 July he defended Henry Bingham Baring* and the Hampshire magistrates against the allegations of assault made by the Deacles; and when their petition for redress was brought up, 22 Aug., he refuted the accusation that he had traduced them. He gave up an important chancery brief and the first two days of the circuit in order to address the committee of privileges on the Wellesley Pole case, on which he was at odds with Brougham, 22 July. Edward Littleton* believed he was ambitious to become solicitor-general and therefore keen to make ministers ‘feel his power’. According to Lord Holland, ‘upon a hint’ he ‘backed out of it’ and went the circuit.14 On 22 Aug. he spoke in favour of the immediate compensation of Lescene and Escoffery for their expulsion from Jamaica. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., but voted against the issue of a new writ for Liverpool, 5 Sept. He upheld the Irish master of the rolls’s right to appoint his own secretary, 16 Sept., and criticized some of the Lords’ amendments to the game bill, which ‘invaded the rights of property’, 30 Sept. He welcomed Brougham’s bill to reform the ‘most imperfect and inefficient’ bankruptcy administration, 5 Oct., and supported the proposal to transfer the business of the Scottish exchequer court elsewhere, 7 Oct. He voted for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., and supported clauses of the bankruptcy bill, 14, 15, 17 Oct. 1831.
Wilde, who was reported to be a contender for the office of solicitor-general in December 1831,15 voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill on the 17th, and divided steadily for its details. He approved the proposal that sheriffs should appoint borough returning officers, 24 Jan., and on 16 Feb. 1832 commended the clause which clarified prevailing election law. He was absent from the division on the third reading, 22 Mar. He was in the minority for Hobhouse’s vestry reform bill, 23 Jan., but divided with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted for the motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. He spoke and was a minority teller for Buxton’s motion for the immediate abolition of slavery, 24 May.16 He was named to the East India select committee, 25 May. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July 1832, when he presented a private petition against the bankruptcy bill and regretted that no opportunity had been given to discuss the measure.
At the general election of 1832 Wilde, who never joined Brooks’s, was defeated at Newark by two Conservatives. He regained the seat in 1835. He was described in 1837 as ‘an excellent speaker’ and a ‘stoutly and compactly formed’ man with ‘large’ eyes ‘full of fire and intelligence’.17 Appointed solicitor-general by Lord Melbourne in 1839, he attained the pinnacle of his profession less than 11 years later. His judicial patience became a by-word. He died at his London home in Eaton Square in November 1855 and was succeeded in the peerage by his elder surviving son Charles Robert Claude (1816-91).18
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Simon Harratt
- 1. The Times, 15 Apr. 1813.
- 2. Holland House Diaries, 265.
- 3. Brougham, Life and Times, ii. 381; Arnould, Denman, 160-1.
- 4. Creevey Pprs. ii. 21-22, 24.
- 5. Crabb Robinson Diary, i. 406.
- 6. The Times, 27, 28 Feb., 2, 4-6, 8 Mar.; Nottingham Jnl. 7, 14 Mar. 1829.
- 7. The Times, 2, 7, 16 Oct. 1829.
- 8. Lincoln and Stamford Mercury, 9 July; Nottingham Jnl. 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 9. Lincoln and Newark Times, 23 Feb.; Nottingham Jnl. 26 Feb 1831.
- 10. Brougham mss.
- 11. Dorset Co. Chron. 14 Apr. 1831.
- 12. Lincoln and Newark Times, 4, 11, 25 May 1831.
- 13. Life of Campbell, ii. 518.
- 14. Hatherton diary, 20, 22 July 1831; Holland House Diaries, 15.
- 15. Life of Campbell, ii. 2.
- 16. Bodl. (Rhodes House) Buxton mss Brit. Emp. S. 444, vol. 2. p. 251, H. Buxton to F. and R. Cunningham [25 May 1832].
- 17. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 309, 312.
- 18. Gent. Mag. (1855), ii. 664-5.