Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sir Samuel Romilly

Barry pub name commemorates successful legal reformer 

The Sir Samuel Romilly, Barry, South Glamorgan

Sir Samuel Romilly (1757 – 1818) was a successful legal reformer who did much to end both the slave trade and capital punishment for minor crimes.

The Londoner used a legacy of £2,000 to train as a lawyer and in 1786 he published his book Observations in which he opposed an increase of capital punishments. When Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Romilly supported the organisation and his activities brought him into contact with William Wilberforce and Jeremy Bentham.

When the London Corresponding Society campaigned for a widening of the electoral franchise and suffered prosecution, Romilly successfully defended John Binns against a charge of seditious words in 1797.

On entering the House of Commons in 1806 as MP for Queenborough in Kent, Romilly became Solicitor General under the Whig administration led by Lord Grenville, a staunch slave trade opponent. When the Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox, presented a series of bills to ban the slave trade in British colonies they were passed overwhelming in the House of  Commons and the Lords.

Romilly believed this was “the most glorious event, and the happiest for mankind, that has ever taken place since human affairs have been recorded.” The 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act did not however mark the end of slavery as by ruling that British captains found trading would simply be fined - £100 for each slave found on board - then captains captured by the British Navy often preferred to throw slaves overboard rather than pay up.

Slavery was to be finally abolished in the British Empire on 1 January 1834, by which time Romilly had been dead for over fifteen years after he killed himself only weeks after his wife, Margaret Garnault, died. 

In the decade before Romilly, rather than face it without his wife, took his life he led the campaign to restrict the death penalty. His liberal views were not matched by his Parliamentary colleagues and he found it difficult to persuade them to pass legislation. He did though manage to repeal statute’s, which made it a capital offence to steal from a person, and also for soldiers caught begging without a pass from a magistrate or his commanding officer. In 1814 he succeeded in abolishing hanging, drawing and quartering.

Romilly’s son, John followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an MP and served as Solicitor General and Attorney General between 1846 and 1851. He became Baron Romilly of Barry in 1866 and owned a considerable estate in the Vale of Glamorgan. The Sir Samuel Romilly pub was opened by J.D Weatherspoon’s four years ago and serves a large selection of drinks, refreshments and food to people of all ages

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