Cave, George, Viscount Cave, of Richmond, Surrey 1856-1928, lawyer and statesman, was born in Cheapside, London, 23 February 1856, the second of the five sons of Thomas Cave, liberal member of parliament for Barnstaple 1865-1880 and a sheriff of the City of London 1863-1864, by his wife, Elizabeth (who died in her ninety-seventh year in 1925), daughter of Jasper Shallcrass, of Banstead, Surrey. He was educated at the lycée of Caen, at Merchant Taylors' School, and at St. John's College, Oxford, of which he was a scholar and eventually (1916) an honorary fellow. Leaving Oxford with first classes in classical moderations (1875) and literae humaniores (1878), he was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1880 and began practice on the Chancery side. In 1885 he married Anne Estella Sarah Penfold, daughter of William Withey Mathews, of Chard, Somerset, afterwards of Wolston Manor House, North Cadbury.
At the bar Cave's career was in no sense spectacular. He steadily earned and received in his earlier years the satisfactory rewards which industry and a genuine aptitude for legal work usually bring, but his professional advocacy, while thorough and methodical, was not brilliant or arresting. It was not until he had been twenty-four years a junior that he took silk in 1904, when he also became recorder of Guildford. By 1913, however, his merits had begun to receive fuller recognition, and in that year he was made a bencher of his inn and received the coveted appointment of standing counsel to the university of Oxford. In the following year he became attorney-general to the Prince of Wales.
Meantime Cave had been equipping himself elsewhere for the distinguished part which he was destined ultimately to play in the public life of the nation. From an early period he concerned himself actively with local government work, first at Richmond, where his parents had made their home, and later as a member of the Surrey county council. The remarkable efficiency in the conduct of business which he there displayed resulted in his appointment in 1893 as vice-chairman of the county council and in 1894 as chairman of quarter sessions, which office he retained until 1911. From local administration he naturally turned to the wider sphere of parliament, and in 1906 he was returned as unionist member for the Kingston division of Surrey, a seat which he held through successive elections until he entered the House of Lords in 1918.
In the House of Commons Cave soon acquired a position of unique influence. In the seething turmoil of the period which centred round the budget of 1909-10, the Parliament and Home Rule Bills (1911 and 1912), and the Marconi scandal (1913), his imperturbable moderation, his persuasive urbanity, and his calm lucidity, as well as the innate sense of fairness of which these were the outward expression, contrasted conspicuously with the prevailing tone of acrid political controversy and deservedly won for him the respect of all parties. In 1915 he was sworn a privy councillor, and later in the year he succeeded Sir F. E. Smith (afterwards Lord Birkenhead) [qv.] as solicitor-general in the first Coalition government and was knighted. In this capacity Cave dealt most competently with the many difficult and unfamiliar tasks which the European War laid upon the law officers of the crown, such as the conduct of prize cases and the trial for high treason in 1916 of Sir Roger Casement [qv.]. When Mr. Lloyd George formed his government in 1916, Cave entered the Cabinet as home secretary, an office for which he was ideally suited. It was certainly to the public advantage that such matters as the introduction of compulsory military service, the control of aliens, the administration of the censorship, and the settlement of the police strike had the benefit of his wise guidance. When he quitted the House of Commons in 1918 to become a lord of appeal in ordinary, with the title of Viscount Cave, it was generally recognized that the alternative honour of the Speakership was at his disposal, such was the authority and popularity which he had acquired among his fellow members.
Lord Cave retained the seals of the Home Office until January 1919 and thereupon took up his judicial work in the place rendered vacant by the death of Lord Parker. Four years later, in October 1922, he was offered by Mr. Bonar Law, and accepted, the office of lord chancellor, thus attaining the summit of his career. This high office he held until within a few days of his death, with the brief interlude of less than twelve months in 1924 when Lord Haldane [qv.] occupied the woolsack in the first labour government. During that interlude he relieved Lord Haldane, who was pre-occupied with the chairmanship of the Committee of Imperial Defence and other tasks, by undertaking his judicial duties for him.
To Lord Cave's temperament judicial work was eminently congenial, and he presided over the august tribunals of the House of Lords and the Privy Council with dignity and courtesy. The problems of the law interested him, and counsel always had the satisfaction of knowing that their arguments were addressed to an appreciative hearer. His judgments are of the sound and useful order and deal strictly with the matter in hand, avoiding, as in all his work he instinctively avoided, any tendency to the display of rhetoric or literary ornament. Probably the most important case on which he adjudicated was the reference to the Privy Council in 1927 of the rival claims of Canada and Newfoundland in regard to the boundary of their respective territories in Labrador, when the Judicial Committee in a lengthy judgment prepared by Cave advised the king that the coast of Labrador extended far inland to the watershed, thus awarding a vast area of land to Great Britain's oldest colony.
Apart from law and politics, which formed the main occupations of his life, Lord Cave so obviously possessed the qualifications for the conduct of public inquiries that he was inevitably called upon to act as chairman of a series of very diverse commissions and committees. These included an inter-departmental committee on prisoners of war; a committee to examine the question of government machinery for dealing with trade and commerce (1919); the Southern Rhodesian commission (1919-20), which was the occasion of his visit to South Africa and of services for which he received the G.C.M.G. (1921); the munitions inquiry tribunal (1921); the committee on voluntary hospitals (1921); the committee on trade boards (1921-2); the British Empire cancer campaign (1924), and a committee on cruelty to animals (1924). He also took a share in the shaping of the legislation for the reform of conveyancing and the law of property, and was a member of the commission on land transfer (1908-1909). To all of these formidable tasks he brought the qualities of relevance and impartiality which lead to wise and practical conclusions.
Probably none of his many distinctions gave Cave more pleasure than his election in 1925 as chancellor of the university of Oxford, after a contest, which he would gladly have avoided, with Lord Oxford and Asquith. To the affairs of the university, which in the previous year (1924) had conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, he devoted himself with special solicitude.
In the early part of 1928 Lord Cave showed signs that the long labours of his strenuous life had used up his strength. He confessed that he was tired, and a troublesome question which had arisen regarding a judgment of the Privy Council in a case from the Irish Free State greatly worried him. By the end of February he was gravely ill, and on 29 March he died at his Somerset home at Burnham-on-Sea. A few days before his death he had resigned the lord chancellorship and his advancement to an earldom had been announced. The title of countess was subsequently conferred on Lady Cave.
Lord Cave was a great public servant. If his distaste for every form of display and self-advertisement tended to give an appearance of conventionality and reserve to his public work, he had another side which he showed to those who enjoyed his friendship and whose affection he had won. He would not have wished any estimate of his career to be silent on the great debt which he owed to the lifelong companionship and constant inspiration of his wife. In Lady Cave's books the reader is able to share some of the intimacies of his life. In her Three Journeys (1928) she tells of their visits: in 1901 to Zanzibar, where her brother, General Sir Lloyd William Mathews [qv.], was British minister and Lord Cave's brother, (Sir) Basil Cave, was consul; in 1919 to Rhodesia in connexion with the royal commission; and in 1920 to Canada and the United States when Lord Cave was the guest of the Canadian and American Bar Associations. In her Memories of Old Richmond (1922) and Odds and Ends of My Life (1929) some account will be found of the Caves' home at Wardrobe Court, Richmond, in the beauty and historical associations of which they took especial delight. They had no children.
There is a portrait of Cave by G. F. Kelly in the hall of Merchant Taylors' School; one by W. A. Symonds in the justices' room of the Surrey Quarter Sessions Court; a third by R. G. Eves in the benchers' rooms at the Inner Temple; and a fourth by Francis Dodd in the hall of St. John's College, Oxford. His published work was confined to some editions of legal treatises.
The Times, 30 March 1928
Sir Charles Mallet, Lord Cave, a Memoir, 1931
Lady Cave's writings