William Roper, 1765-1832

David Craine's contemptuous description takes some beating:

Roper was an Irish attorney who had come to the Island in dubious circumstances. He was said to have fled there to escape a debtor's prison, and in the course of his eventful career had kept a milkhouse in Liverpool, and had been twice bankrupt. In 1822 he was admitted by the Duke to a hostile Manx Bar, whose attitude to him is sufficiently indicated by the opinions of two wrathful brethren of the law, expressed in the full-blooded diction of the period. Thomas [sic John Courtney ?] Bluett said of him "He is the greatest sycophant that ever disgraced mankind." Deemster Christian wrote, " He is the most perjured villain almost in existence."

Roper had his point of view, too, and boasted in a moment of self-revelation,

" If in combatting the exertions made by a combination of the entire profession, Bar and Bench, against me I have used strong expressions, the fearfulness of my heart never has protected the insolence of my tongue ...

He had ability and proved a very useful servant to Duke and Bishop at a time when no native lawyer was prepared to offend the Anti-Atholl party, with its powerful family connections in the Keys and on the Bench. His advocacy of the Murray causes made him therefore an unwelcome pleader in the Courts, which, although they had fallen to a low level in dignity, found his truculent and abusive approach more than even they could stomach. In 1825 he was disbarred by Governor Smelt at the instance of Deemster Christian, who accused him of contemptuous and threatening behaviour.

His two patrons were highly indignant at the loss of one they considered indispensable to the transaction of their business in the Courts, and brought backstairs pressure to bear in Whitehall for Roper's reinstatement. This having been obtained a year later, the astute and unscrupulous lawyer lost no time in seeking revenge. Seizing upon a foolish indiscretion of the Deemster, he sued him for libel and subjected him to the humiliation of being a defendant in his own Court - a result not altogether displeasing to the Duke and his adherents.

Bishop Murray gave him the job of Vicar General in 1824 as a compliant counterweight to Rev Thomas Cubbon ((VG 1808-1827). The appointment of a lay person to a job that historically had been given to the clergy provoked disquiet. His disbarment was as a result of Roper posting a scathingly critical paper criticising J. C Bluett in a public reading room, Lieut. Governor Smelt requested the Clerk of the Rolls to remove his name in July 1825 though he was reinstated in July 1826 by the influence of his Patron

He was removed as Vicar General by Bishop Ward in 1828 and died in reduced circumstances on 18 June 1832.

His pupil from 1823 to 1826 was G.W Dumbell !

Wrote a very partial account of the case for Duke of Athol

References:

D. Craine The Potato Riots, 1825 Proc IoMNH&AS IV #4 pp565/577 1945

Connery Chappell The Dumbell Affair Prescot: Stephenson 1981 0-901314-21-8

Canon J. Gelling A History of the Manx Church Douglas:Manx National Heritage 1998 (ISBN 0 9524019 4 0)


 

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