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  • A June birthday - Sir Peter Henry Edlin

A June birthday - Sir Peter Henry Edlin

The intention is to do a short post each month about an individual chosen at random from the various family trees I am researching. The only requirement is that the individual was either born or baptised in the named month. 

I have chosen Sir Peter Henry Edlin, 1819-1903, for this month of June

According to the family Bible Peter was born on 29th June 1819 and baptised St George Hanover Square on the 6th Augut 1819. His parents were Edward Colsill Edlin and Sophia Clifford Sawyer who had married in St James Westminster on 30th April 1811. Peter's father had premises in New Bond Street and property in Mortlake. He was the seventh child of a total of seventeen born to Edward and Sophia, including his sister Louisa Adelaide Edlin who married James Payn the novelist and his brother William James Edlin who took Holy Orders and became a Chaplain to Trinity College Cambridge.

In 1833 and 1834 Peter, together with his brother William James, attended the Rev. Stephen Freeman’s School in Enfield. The cost to his father for this was £84. 2s. 9 p. - this figure included £5. 4s. for Peter's dancing lessons. It was during his time in school that he appeared at the Old Bailey as a witness in a case of larceny whereby 4 boys, aged 13 or under, were accused of stealing one box and 28 books worth £4. 11s. being the property of his father. He swore that he recognised the box and books and the last time he had seen them was at school. The boys were found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. Perhaps it was this experience that stimulated his interest in making the law his career.

He entered the Middle Temple in 1844 and his sureties were John Lascelles of the Middle Temple and William Bagley of the Inner Temple.  He kept rooms at 4 Brick Court and his sureties for this were Henry James of Inner Temple and Thomas Young, a surgeon. He was called to the Bar on 10th June 1847 and there is a delightful note in the Middle Temple records dated 8th December 1847 saying that his certificate had been returned as he had gone to Calcutta.

In Calcutta on 23rd December 1848 he married Amy Alicia Swinhoe; she was the daughter of Thomas Bruce Swinhoe, solicitor to the Honourable East India Company. One of the witnesses to this wedding was L. Peel, probably Sir Laurence Peel, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Calcutta and Treasurer of the Middle Temple in 1866.

By the date of the 1851 Census Peter and Amy were living in Clifton, Bristol, and he was working as a barrister on the Western Circuit. Over the next fifteen years they had a total of six children.

It was during his time on the Western Circuit that he represented his most famous client – Constance Kent. Kate Summerscale has written an excellent book about Constance “The suspicions of Mr. Whicher or the murder at Road Hill House”. In 1860 Constance was accused of murdering her younger half-brother. Peter represented her at the first court case before the magistrates and she was acquitted. Some years later in 1865 she confessed and was found guilty at the subsequent trial, at which she was represented by John Duke Coleridge Q.C.

In March 1874 he was appointed Assistant Judge to the Middlesex Sessions. Then in 1877 he was appointed Chairman of the Joint Board of Examiners of the Inns of Court.

On the 11th February 1886, his wife Amy died at their house in Queensborough Terrace London. There is a rather sad letter dated for that day from him to the Home Office, now in the National Archives, asking permission for him to appoint a Deputy to sit at the existing Sessions. He asked that Mr. W. Forsyth Q.C. be nominated

In 1887, in Queen Victoria’s jubilee year, the Prince of Wales accepted the request of the Middle Temple to stand as Treasurer for that year and Peter accepted the post of Deputy-Treasurer. I suspect that was a case of Peter doing all the work and the Prince getting all the glory!

On 4 December 1888 he was knighted at Windsor Castle. In 1889 he became Deputy Lieutenant of Middlesex. Also in that year he was appointed Chairman of the newly formed County of London Sessions. For several years thereafter a lengthy battle took place over his pay. The pay dispute was finally resolved and he resigned from the post in 1896 at the age of 77 years.

Peter Henry Edlin died at his home in Queensborough Terrace on the 17th July 1903 and was buried on the 22nd July in the family vault in the All Souls Cemetery in Kensal Green. His will was probated on 8th September 1903.

The Times published his obituary on 20th July. It mentioned the Constance Kent case and said that “It did not detract from Mr. Edlin’s legal reputation that the girl sometime afterwards confessed that she was guilty”. The Times also erroneously stated that he had married Amy Alicia Swinhoe in 1870 rather than 1848.

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