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Matthew Davenport Hill

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Published : 2 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : 6/8/1792
Death : 7/6/1872
Views : 2396

K.C. (Q.C.), reformer of criminal law. Attended a school conducted by his father. Admitted at Lincoln's Inn, 1814; called to the bar, 1819. Because of his ability and his known sympathies with radical party, was retained for the defence in many important political trials. Elected M.P. for Hull, 1832. K.C., 1834. Appointed recorder of Birmingham, 1839; held the office for twenty-six years; as Charles Knight said, made "'Recorder of Birmingham' a household word" (Hill and Hill, Recorder of Birmingham, p. 457); his charges delivered to grand jury greatly helped effect reform in criminal law. Commissioner in bankruptcy for Bristol district, 1851-1869. Was ardent advocate of liberal and humanitarian causes—political, civil, social, religious. Took part in founding of Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Early began writing for newspapers; contributed to Monthly Repository, Knight's Quarterly Magazine, and other periodicals; wrote also for professional journals. Author of Suggestions for the Repression of Crime, 1857; Papers on the Penal Servitude Acts, 1864; and other works.


Dickens was well acquainted with Hill and at various times consulted him conceming "cases" in which Miss Burdett-Coutts had an interest in connection with Urania Cottage (to Miss Burdett-Coutts, March 3 1848 [1849]; May 16 1849; April 25 1850, in Heart of Charles Dickens, ed. Johnson). In one letter Dickens stated that he knew Hill "to be a man of good experience and discernment, and much kind feeling, in all these matters"; he placed great reliance on Hill's investigations and judgment.

In a letter to Lord Brougham concerning the exaggerations and misrepresentations charged against Dickens and Reade in “The License of Modern Novelists”, Edinburgh Review, July 1857, Hill wrote: "Dickens is open to censure for rarely, if ever, introducing a member of the upper classes into his works except to hold him up to reproach or contempt; but to inveigh against him for his attack on what he calls the 'Circumlocution Office' is childish. He may have exaggerated; but exaggeration directed against an institution, and exaggeration against an individual, are very different things ... Indeed if Dickens had known the facts he might have made more of the Circumlocution Office" (Recorder of Birmingham, p. 333).

In H.W., a commendatory reference to Hill appeared in "In and Out of Jail", an article based on the book Crime: Its Amount, Causes, and Remedies by Hill's brother Frederic. The article referred to Frederic Hill as a man who had served the public well, "like others of his name and lineage". "Down among the Dutchmen" (March 6 1858) mentioned ''Mr. Recorder Hill" in connection with the contemporary interest in the reformation of criminals.

The memoir of Hill written by two of his daughters mentions both of Hill's H.W, articles by title and date of publication and quotes a paragraph from the second.

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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