John Henry Fawcett (1831-1898)

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupation: Judge
Location: Carlisle

Early Life & Background

John Henry Fawcett (known throughout his life as Henry to distinguish him from his father) was born on 11th December 1831 at Petteril Bank in Upperby, just outside Carlisle. The family name may be derived from Forseti, the Norse God of Law & Justice, which may seem appropriate in view of the number of the family who became lawyers. It is suggested that they may have been Protestant Huguenots who fled France in the 17th century. His father was also John Henry Fawcett and known as John (1797-1883), barrister and attorney, and his paternal grandfather was the Rev John Fawcett (1769-1857) of Carlisle then Leeds. Henry’s father had graduated from Cambridge in 1823 then been called to the Bar by Middle Temple on 9th November 1827 and he practised as an equity conveyancer and at Cumberland Sessions. Henry’s mother was Sarah Grace Hodgson (1803-1885) who had married his father in Carlisle in 1830. Henry was baptised by his grandfather at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Carlisle on 5th March 1832. He had two brothers Morris James and Joseph Hodgson and three sisters Eleanor Agnes, Sarah Grace and Sophia Alice. The family home was Petteril Bank, a house built by his father in 1829/1830 (a date confirmed by a contemporaneous newspaper account of a theft of tools from a workman engaged in its construction), now listed Grade II and the site of the new Carlisle Record Office. In 1861 the family including Henry and his youngest two sisters lived there with four servants.

Education & Early Legal Career

Henry Fawcett was educated at Rugby before being admitted to Jesus College Cambridge in July 1850. He then migrated to Trinity Hall Cambridge in June 1851, where he was a Scholar that year. He was awarded First Class in Civil Law Classes in 1852-3 before being awarded an LLB in 1854. He was admitted to Middle Temple on 6th June 1853 and called to the Bar on 6th June 1857. He practised as a barrister initially from 5, Pump Court in the Temple (1865 & 1870) then at 5, Essex Court (1875) and also on the Northern Circuit at Cumberland, Westmorland and Liverpool Sessions. In 1864 he was appointed by the High Sheriff as Election Auditor for Cumberland for the following year and in 1865 he was one of the directors of a company seeking share capital to build a prestigious hotel in Aldeburgh in Suffolk. He is described as a Special Pleader and Revising Barrister (1868) so clearly had expertise in drafting complex legal documents. He wrote in 1866 a standard text on the Court of Referees in Parliament.  Amusingly he also appeared in Carlisle Sessions in 1861 as a litigant in person, complaining that the toll keeper James Green had obstructed his free passage on horseback along the highway at Harraby Toll Gate in Carlisle and thereafter used scurrilous and abusive language to him. He attempted to call his father to prove similar conduct by Green on previous occasions but this was not allowed and when an apology was given at Court, the complaint was withdrawn.

When in London he lived in Camberwell, where in 1871 he had two servants. He became a Freemason on 27th February 1870 at the Union Lodge in Carlisle and despite his London practice he clearly retained very close connections with the city and county of his birth. In February 1874 he unsuccessfully contested Cockermouth as a Conservative, polling 388 votes against 509 for the successful Liberal candidate Isaac Fletcher.

On 20th March 1874 at St Matthews Church, Bayswater in London he married Amelia Emily Houghton, a spinster aged twenty-three, whose father was William Henry Evelyn Houghton of Portsea in Hampshire and whose uncle was Sir Edward Perrot Bart of Plumstead in Kent. The service was conducted by his uncle the Rev. H. Fawcett, thus continuing the practice of the clerical members of the family presiding over the church services of the legal.

Judicial & Diplomatic  Career

Western powers (particularly Britain and France) when establishing diplomatic relations with countries they considered to have underdeveloped legal systems would demand extraterritorial rights. Treaty provisions then provided that the laws of the local country did not apply to citizens of the treaty powers and that the local courts did not have jurisdiction over them. Instead consular courts were established to handle civil and criminal cases concerning citizens and subjects of the country concerned. They were run by the Foreign Office and presided over by consular officers who were trained lawyers. The two posts, diplomatic and legal, thus ran in parallel. Following the Foreign Jurisdiction Act 1843 British consular courts could be found in  the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, North Africa, China, Japan, Korea and Siam (now Thailand).

The Ottoman Empire had a long-established legal system but it was perceived by the British (and others) to have two principal flaws, namely the absence of an effective appellate mechanism and a lack of any procedure to stop a disappointed litigant simply re-commencing his claim in another court in the hope of obtaining a better result. Accordingly from the early 1850’s consular courts were established by the British in Constantinople, Smyrna and Alexandria. They have been described by Spagnolo as ‘serving British subjects interspersed in a mosaic of peoples of different religions, social conditions and geographic origins stretching from the Balkans in Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean, parts of Asia and North Africa then called the Levant and now included in the Middle East’.

Thus Henry Fawcett was appointed Vice-Consul and Assistant Judge of the Supreme Consular Court of the Levant in Constantinople in 1875, then (following the sudden death of Sir Philip Francis) Acting Judge in August 1876 before final promotion to British Consul-General at Constantinople and Chief Judge of the Supreme Consular Court of the Levant in February 1877, a post he held until 1893. A number of his cases were the subject of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London (JCPC) and were thus reported in the English Law Reports. They included Pitts v La Fontaine in April 1880 (jurisdiction over land within the Ottoman Empire following insolvency), Abd-Ul-Messih v Farra in March 1888 (application of the English law of domicile in a disputed succession following a Turkish/British marriage) and Sclias v Eggleton in June 1888 (a shipping collision in Turkish waters involving a steamship from Sunderland). Indeed in the first of these the JCPC made an order to enforce their earlier ruling when Judge Fawcett refused to do so, saying that the name of the Queen was ‘a mere form’. Some strong remarks were made by the JCPC on the disobedience (being perhaps something akin to lese-majesty) but he avoided dismissal or recall and his career does not seem to have suffered!

He also tried criminal cases within his jurisdiction, which included cases concerning the Maltese. Following a particularly vicious robbery in Galata in 1876 in which two Greeks were stabbed to death, Judge Fawcett sentenced a number of Maltese men to between five-ten years in prison. A newspaper of the day opined that: “…he was just the right man in the right place to inspire such ruffians with a dread of British even-handed justice as their ever ready plea of provocation never justifies the use of the knife in the eyes of the Bench”.

Humanitarian & other work

However Henry Fawcett is chiefly remembered for his leading role in assisting the plight of refugees. In August 1877 he was engaged upon special service in Bulgaria, after Russia declared war on Turkey and the advance of the Russian army into Southern Bulgaria provided the Bulgarians with the opportunity of revenging themselves on the Turks. The result was a bloodbath and a refugee crisis. Henry Fawcett was requested by the British Government through the Ambassador Sir Henry Layard to carry relief to the starving population. He not only distributed such relief throughout the war-torn area (it was reported that he together with Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, a close friend of the Ambassador, had six weeks personally visited and relieved upwards of 7,000 starving people) but he also filed reports back to the Foreign Office in England which gave a terrible picture of the suffering of the miserable refugees, Turks and Bulgarians, who had been driven from their villages by the Russian invasion and its aftermath. This led to a campaign which drew considerable sums from the compassionate public in Britain into what was known as the Turkish Compassionate Fund following a series of advertisements in national and local newspapers. The fund raised over £30,000 (worth about £15 million at today’s value) and by early 1878 the International Refugee Committee had on hand 27,000 refugees of whom 700 were in hospital. The newspaper petition stated that for tuppence per day a refugee could be kept alive. Money orders were to be sent to Henry Fawcett in Constantinople where he also supervised the unloading and distribution of aid relief shipped from England in particular on a yacht, the Constance, commissioned by the Baroness after her return to London. A major disaster was averted.

Afterwards his humanitarian work continued, so in 1881 it was reported that nearly £700 was available to help boys rescued from virtual slavery and that their rescue was ‘…mainly due to the efforts of Mr John Henry Fawcett, Consul-General at Constantinople’. When he resigned his posts in 1893 the York Herald wrote ‘He will be remembered best by the general public as the official entrusted with the relief funds sent out to the Balkan provinces during the Russo-Turkish War and with the investigation then and afterwards of the actual condition of the peasantry. He has had a long and successful residence in the Turkish capital and all must regret to learn that failing health is the cause of his resignation’.

In May 1878 he proceeded at the request of Lord Salisbury to Volo in Eastern Turkey to investigate, with others, the circumstances of the death of Mr Ogie, the Times correspondent. Later the same year he was selected as the British member of the International Commission appointed to investigate the case of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria where there had been an uprising and severe repression by the Sultan. The investigations lasted a month and he, together with the French, Italian and Turkish members, reported a series of atrocities which seemed to show that the Russian could be every bit as savage and brutal as the Turk. The other members however refused to sign, either disbelieving the evidence offered or thinking that the Commission was travelling beyond its function of reporting solely as to the relief of the natives.

Later Life

Henry Fawcett was appointed KCMG on 21st June 1887 in recognition of these diplomatic, legal and humanitarian services in the Levant and elsewhere. His health was however failing and he resigned his posts on ill-health grounds in 1893 and returned to London before retiring to Jersey, presumably to take advantage of the climate. There he lived at 1, Thornton Villas in St Helier until he died of paralysis on 22nd August 1898 aged only 66, whilst staying over at Upper Kings Cliff also in St Helier. Probate was granted to John Follett Morris Fawcett the attorney of his widow on 22nd September 1898 in London. His effects were only £300.

He was survived by Lady Fawcett and their 4 children:

Edward Evelyn Lowther Fawcett who was born on 15th January 1875 in Kensington, London but baptised back in Carlisle on 20th August 1875. He lived in London after serving in the Royal Navy and died in 1935.

Constance Edith Beaumont Fawcett who was born on 16th July 1879 also in Kensington, London but again baptised 16th August 1879 in Carlisle. She died in 1945.

Roland Hobart Wyndham Fawcett who was born in 1883 in Constantinople and died in 1937 in Surrey after working for the Bank of England then in India.

Gerard Frederick Haworth Fawcett who was born in 1886 also in Constantinople and who died in 1951 after a career in the British Army.

In respect of Lady Amelia Fawcett there was a sad coda. She continued living in London but in 1901 was noted as merely boarding in Marylebone and in 1906 was declared bankrupt after giving evidence that, following the death of her husband in 1898, she had been left unprovided for and forced to rely on gifts and allowances from friends as well as borrowings. By then she was lodging in Kensington and her debts were £1,857 but her assets only £440.  She died penniless in 1924.


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