Encyclopedia Titanica

John Charles Bigham

John Charles Bigham was born on 3 August 1840 the son of John Bigham (a Liverpool merchant, 1815-1880) and his wife Helen (nee East 1914-1904). He had three siblings Henry Bigham (born 1836), Catherine Bigham (1837 – 1838) and Agnes Maria Bigham (1843 – 1919).

Following a period at the Liverpool Institute Bigham went on to London University and then on to Berlin and Paris where his studies continued. In 1870 he was called to the bar by the Middle Temple and joined the Northern circuit where he worked lucrative commercial legal business in Liverpool and the surrounding area.

Daily Sketch, 24 April 1912
(Photo: Elliott and Fry)

He was married to Georgina Sarah Rogers [1] the daughter of John Rogers from Liverpool. They had three sons. One of whom, The Hon. Clive Bigham worked as secretary to the wreck commissioner's court investigating the loss of the Titanic.

Bigham took silk in 1883 becoming Queens Council, a promotion which added prestige to his practice as well as greatly increasing his earning capacity as a barrister.

"He had no physical advantages to assist him; handicapped by small stature and a weak voice, he yet developed great powers of advocacy. Slow and concise of speech, he was lucid in statement and a skilful cross examiner."

In 1885 he stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a liberal candidate for Toxteth (a district of Liverpool). He was defeated for a second time in 1892 when he stood for the Exchange division of Liverpool. He was more fortunate in 1895 when he successfully contested the latter seat as a Liberal Unionist. But he found that his political interest was limited and his contributions to the house of commons proved to be infrequent and of little impact.

The same year he was made a judge in the Queens Bench division of the judiciary. His work continued in the commercial sphere. His work included included presiding over the 1904 railway and canal commission, work in the bankruptcy courts and the revision of martial law sentences following the Boer war.

Bigham came under fire himself in 1902 when he was criticised for a sentence in a criminal trial which was seen by some to be unduly lenient.

1909 he was appointed to the Probate, divorce and admiralty division but he did not find the work as fulfilling and the following year he decided to retire, ostensibly on grounds of health. Upon his retirement he was a raised to the Peerage as Baron Mersey of Toxteth. As a peer he continued to hear appeals in the House of Lords and was a regular attendant at the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He was created a viscount in 1916.

Lord Mersey achieved his greatest fame in 1912 when he was appointed commissioner to inquire into the loss of the Titanic. However his leadership of that court drew criticism that he was biased toward protecting the interests of the board of trade and the major shipping lines than of revealing the underlying causes of the disaster. The following year he presided over the international conference on safety of life at sea.

The issue of maritime safety would continue to be a focus for Lord Mersey's skills. As well as presiding over the inquiry into the 1914 loss of the Empress of Ireland held in Canada, he also led the inquiries in the loss of the steamships Falaba and the Lusitania in 1915.

Lord Mersey worked throughout World War One encroaching deafness made it more difficult for him. He finished his career in the divorce courts in the early 1920s. He died at Littlehampton, Sussex on 3 September 1929.


1. Lady Mersey died in 1925.

References and Sources

The Times, 4 Sept 1929, Obituary
Weaver, J. R. H. ed. (1937) The Dictionary of National Biography 1922-1930. London, OUP
Dave Bryceson (1997) The Titanic Disaster: As Reported in the British National Press April-July 1912. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN-1-85260-579-0

Research Articles

Senan Molony Titanica! (2002) Titanic's Rockets
Senan Molony Titanica! (2005) Lord Mersey — Obiter Dicta
Lee Kendall Titanica! (2006) A Pen to Sink a Thousand Ships
The British Titanic Inquiry and the Art of Fortunino Matania

Newspaper Articles

Unidentified Newspaper Titanic Model Before Commission
The Times (11 June 1870) Calls To The Bar
The Times (31 October 1883) John Charles Bigham Made Queen's Counsel
The Times (23 July 1895) New Members Of Parliament
The Times (4 February 1909) Judicial Changes
The Times (12 March 1910) Sir John Bigham
(1 August 1912) white Star Whitewashed
The Times (1 January 1916) Lord Mersey - New Viscount
New York Times (4 September 1929) Lord Mersey Dies In His 90th Year
The Times (4 September 1929) Obituary---lord Mersey
The Times (4 October 1929) Announcement: Death Of Lord Mersey
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Name: Lord John Charles Bigham QC (Lord Mersey)
Age: 71 years 8 months and 12 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Georgina Sarah Rogers
Occupation: Judge
Died: Tuesday 3rd September 1929 aged 89 years

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