WETHERELL, Charles (1770-1846), of Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx. and Old House, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. 1770, 3rd s. of Very Rev. Nathan Wetherell, DD, master of University Coll. Oxf. and dean of Hereford, by w. Ricarda, da. of Alexander Croke of Studley Priory, Oxon. educ. St. Paul’s sch. 1783; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 14 Jan. 1786, aged 15; Magdalen, Oxf. 1788-91; I. Temple 1790, called 1794; L. Inn 1806. m. (1) 28 Dec. 1826, his cos. Jane Sarah Elizabeth (d. 21 Apr. 1831), da. of Sir Alexander Croke of Studley Priory, Oxon., s.p. surv.; (2) 27 Nov. 1838, Harriet Elizabeth, da. of Col. Francis Warneford of Warneford Place, Wilts., s.p. suc. fa. 1807; kntd. 10 Mar. 1824.
KC 25 Mar. 1816; bencher, I. Temple 1816, treasurer 1825; solicitor-gen. Jan. 1824-Sept. 1826, attorney-gen. Sept. 1826-Apr. 1827, Jan. 1828-May 1829; recorder, Bristol July 1827-d.; counsel for Magdalen Coll. 1804, Oxf. Univ. 1830-d., dep. steward 1846.
Like his father, the master of University College, Oxford, who died in 1807 worth £100,000,1 Wetherell exhibited ‘the rare union of a learned and a worldly spirit’.2 Under the aegis of Lord Eldon, his father’s friend, who ‘relished the ancient traditional jokes of his alma mater, reproduced in the quaint and fanciful guise with which Mr Wetherell invested them’, he at first practised as a barrister, on the home circuit. From 1801 he devoted himself to equity business in which he had a better opportunity to shine, practising in Chancery and before the Privy Council, the Lords and parliamentary committees. Acknowledgment of his abilities came slowly (he was not made KC until 1816) and left Wetherell with a sense of resentment which helped to explain more than one curious episode in his career (such as his successful defence of James Watson in the treason trial of 1817, when he was a sworn enemy of radicalism, and his espousal of Queen Caroline’s cause in 1820).3
Wetherell contested Sudbury unsuccessfully in 1806 as an opponent of the Grenville ministry and was at first defeated at Shaftesbury on the patron’s interest in 1812:4 he was afterwards seated on petition, having in the meantime come in for Rye on the Treasury interest. In 1814 he was prepared to offer himself for his university. He invariably supported administration in Parliament and was on principle opposed to Catholic relief, parliamentary reform and innovations in general. His first speeches, which failed from ‘too great confidence’,5 were in defence of the vice-chancellor bill, 11, 15, 22 Feb. 1813. On 26 Mar., when he opposed Romilly’s bill to abolish the death penalty for stealing in shops, he said he valued practical opinions more than philosophical theories of punishment. On 5 Apr. he opposed Romilly’s bill to abolish attainders. He spoke on the Weymouth election bill, 7 and 8 Apr. He opposed the stipendiary curates bill, 5, 8 July 1813, and defended the bill to stop prosecution of non-resident clergy, 24, 31 Mar. 1814. He opposed the simple contract debts bill, 29 Apr. 1814. His subsequent speeches concerned ecclesiastical matters, and a defence of the aliens bill, 20 May, and of the Exchequer court against the charge of abuses, 30 May 1816. He was not regarded as a good speaker, thanks to his pedantry and bigoted outlook. As a lawyer it was remarked of him that his fervour led him to exaggerate his client’s case, while his language was intemperate, prolix and metaphysical: the same faults characterized his parliamentary speeches. Indeed, ‘his slovenly attire, uncouth gestures, patchwork phraseology, fanciful illustrations, odd theories, recondite allusions and old-fashioned jokes tempted men to call him a buffoon when they ought to have admired his ingenuity, reverenced his learning and honoured his consistency’.6
Wetherell hoped to become a law officer of the crown as a reward for his services but was, he felt, unjustly neglected by administration: his defence of the radical Watson in 1817 by which he intended to ‘eclipse the crown lawyers, baffle the Home secretary, resist the chief justice and rebuke the prime minister’ made his point for him without getting him anywhere. In 1818 he was left without a seat; he had canvassed Hereford in January, but gave it up. He declined to become a candidate for Westminster at the general election and likewise for Sussex. Nor, as anticipated, did he offer in the Westminster by-election of 1819. But he was too formidable a figure to be ignored indefinitely. He died 17 Aug. 1846, ‘one of the last specimens of a thorough Tory of the oldest school ... a very learned man ... but ... one of the greatest slovens that ever walked’.7
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. PCC 73 Ely. Wetherell himself left over £200,000.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 426; DNB .
- 3. Howell, State Trials, xxxii. 1; Colchester, iii. 201.
- 4. Geo. IV Letters, i. 330.
- 5. Add. 34458, f. 458; cf. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iv. 100.
- 6. Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 426.
- 7. W. Ballantine, Mems. i. 148.