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Sir William Henry Maule (1788-1858)

This article was written by John Donohoe FitzGerald and was published in 1894

Sir William Henry Maule, judge, was born at Edmonton in Middlesex on 25 April 1788. His father, Henry Maule, was a medical practitioner; his mother's maiden name was Hannah Rawson. She was of a Quaker family of Leeds. Maule received his early education at a private school kept by his uncle, John Maule, rector of Greenford, Middlesex, ‘an excellent scholar and a great brute’. Among his schoolfellows was Charles Greville, who describes him as ‘a very clever boy.’

In October 1806 Maule entered at Trinity College, Cambridge. In the mathematical tripos of 1810 he was senior wrangler, his number of marks being far above all his competitors. He also obtained the first Smith's prize. In October 1811 he was elected a fellow of Trinity. After taking his degree he remained for some time at Cambridge as a mathematical ‘coach.’ Among his pupils was Edward Ryan, afterwards chief justice of Calcutta, who continued his intimate friend for life. Another of his Cambridge friends was Charles Babbage, who acknowledges assistance received from him in his mathematical investigations. In Michaelmas term 1810 Maule became a student at Lincoln's Inn. While still a student he was offered and declined the professorship of mathematics at Haileybury College. In 1814 he was called to the bar, took chambers at 3 Essex Court, Temple, and joined the Oxford circuit. His progress at the bar was not at first rapid, but he gradually obtained a reputation as a commercial lawyer, and a considerable commercial business, being considered one of the best authorities on questions of marine insurance.

He became a king's counsel in Easter term 1833. In 1835 he was appointed counsel to the Bank of England, then a most lucrative office, in succession to Sir James Scarlett, who had been appointed chief baron. In the spring of 1837 Maule was leading counsel for the sitting member in the Carlow county election petition, and conducted the case to a successful issue with marked ability. This led to his being returned for Carlow borough in the liberal interest at the general election in August of that year. In March 1839 he was appointed a baron of the exchequer in succession to Baron Bolland and was knighted, and in Michaelmas term following he was transferred to the common pleas on the death of Mr. Justice Vaughan. He continued a member of that court till June 1855, when he resigned on account of ill-health. Shortly afterwards he was sworn of the privy council, and acted as a member of the judicial committee till his death on 16 January 1858. He was not married.

Maule was an excellent judge, combining knowledge of the law with common sense, courtesy, and ingenuity in defeating technicalities. Both at the bar and on the bench he was distinguished for his ironical humour. Of the latter a well-known instance is his speech at the Warwick assizes in pronouncing sentence of one day's imprisonment on a poor man convicted of bigamy. The prisoner's first wife, who had deserted him, lived with another man, and Maule pointed out to the prisoner the various steps which the law as it then stood required him to take in order to obtain a divorce at an expense of about £1,000. His ironical observations sometimes misled country juries.

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