Coleridge, Bernard John Seymour, second Baron Coleridge 1851-1927, judge, is the fourteenth member of this distinguished Devonshire family to be noticed in this Dictionary. He was born at the family seat at Ottery St. Mary, Devon, 19 August 1851, the eldest son of John Duke (afterwards first Baron) Coleridge [qv.], lord chief-justice of England, grandson of Sir John Taylor Coleridge [qv.], judge, and great-grand-nephew of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet and philosopher. His mother was Jane Fortescue, daughter of the Rev. George Turner Seymour, of Farringford, Isle of Wight. Bernard Coleridge was educated at Eton, where he was in F. W. Warre-Cornish's house, and at Trinity College, Oxford. He obtained a second class in modern history in 1875, and, amongst other athletic achievements, became captain of his college boat club. He was made an honorary fellow of the college in 1909.
After reading in chambers with the well-known special pleader, Baugh Allen, Coleridge was called to the bar in 1877 by the Middle Temple, of which he was later a bencher (1894) and treasurer (1919). He joined the Western circuit and there acquired a large local practice, chiefly in criminal cases. He was counsel for the defence in the Winford (1883) and Newton St. Cyres (1888) murder cases. In politics he inherited his father's liberalism, and was elected member of parliament for the Attercliffe division of Sheffield in 1885, as a follower of Mr. Gladstone, holding the seat for nine years. In 1892 he applied for silk and was granted it by Lord Halsbury.
On the death of his father in 1894 Coleridge succeeded to the peerage. He continued, however, to practise at the bar, being the first peer of the realm to pursue a regular forensic career. He not infrequently took part in debates in the House of Lords: thus he vehemently attacked Lord Milner's colonial policy and the system of Chinese indentured labour in the Transvaal, and he attempted to justify, from a legal standpoint, the Trades Disputes Bill of 1906. Not unnaturally, therefore, when the conservative land-slide occurred at the general election of 1906, he was marked out for early promotion, and in 1907 Lord Loreburn appointed him to a judgeship in the King's Bench division. As Lord Coleridge, J., his name figures in the law reports from that date until his resignation in 1923. It was the first time in the annals of English law that father, son, and grandson successively became judges—a record which up to the present no other family can show.
As a judge, Coleridge neither sought nor attained brilliance or deep erudition, but he possessed the qualities of dignity, carefulness, and absolute fair-mindedness, and it is remarkable how seldom his decisions were reversed on appeal. He was at his best in jury cases, both civil and criminal. One of the most noted of these was the prosecution of the murderer, J. A. Dickman, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne assizes in 1910: a full report of the proceedings, edited by S. O. Rowan-Hamilton, was published in 1914 and may be regarded as a true picture of English criminal justice at its best. Coleridge also presided at the trials of the suffragettes, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst [qv.] in 1912 and Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence in 1913. In 1917 he sat with the archbishop of Canterbury in the first appeal under the Benefices Act of 1898 (Rice v. Bishop of Oxford).
Apart from his political and judicial career, Coleridge lived a busy and cultured life. He was chairman of Devon quarter-sessions and served regularly in that capacity even while he was a judge. From 1912 to 1918 he was chairman of the Coal Conciliation Board of the Federated Districts. He was a zealous humanitarian, a strong anti-vivisectionist, and an opponent of the punishment of flogging, although he favoured the retention of the capital sentence for the most heinous crimes. Loyalty to his birthplace led him to found and to become the first president of the Old Ottregian Society, and, being himself a talented musician, he composed The Ottery Song which is sung at its gatherings. He published: Ottery St. Mary and its Memories (1904), The Story of a Devonshire House (1905), and This for Remembrance (1925).
Coleridge retired from the bench owing to ill-health in 1923 and, after living in retirement at his Devonshire home, The Chanter's House, Ottery St. Mary, for four years, died there 4 September 1927 at the age of seventy-six. He married in 1876 Mary Alethea, eldest daughter of John Fielder Mackarness, bishop of Oxford [qv.], and had one son, Geoffrey Duke (born 1877), who succeeded him as third baron, and two daughters, the elder of whom predeceased her father.
There is a portrait of Coleridge by Giuseppe Anzino at The Chanter's House, Ottery St. Mary, and another by Dampier May in the hall of Trinity College, Oxford. A cartoon by Spy appeared in Vanity Fair 13 January 1909.
Contributor: P. A. Landon.