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Sir George Jessel

(1824 – 1883)

Sir George Jessel was an English jurist, one of the country’s great lawmaking judges. Born in London, the son of a diamond merchant, Jessel was called to the bar in 1847, and became a Queen’s Counsel in 1865. He entered Parliament as Liberal member for Dover in 1868 and was appointed solicitor general in 1871, being the first Jew to hold ministerial office in England.

In 1873, he became master of the rolls. Jessel’s tenure of the office was marked by a succession of judgments which became notable precedents, and his contribution to the evolution of law and the development of the principles of equity was considerable. His judgments were short and clear and were hardly ever reversed on appeal.

Jessel was the organizer of the Court of Chancery in its modern form. A member of the council of Jews’ College from its inception in 1855 until 1863, Jessel helped to draft its original constitution. He was also vice president of the Anglo-Jewish Association. After Jessel’s death, a baronetcy was conferred on his son Sir Charles James Jessel (1860–1928) in recognition of his father’s services. The second son, Herbert Merton Jessel (1866–1950), was active in Conservative politics and was raised to the peerage as Lord Jessel in 1924. Frederick Henry Jessel (1859–1934), nephew of Sir George Jessel, compiled the standard English bibliography on playing cards (1905) and left his comprehensive collection on the subject to the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Richard Frederick Jessel (1902–1988), a great-nephew of Sir George Jessel, was among the British naval heroes of World War II. Richard’s son Toby Jessel (1934–) was a Conservative member of Parliament from 1970 to 1997. The connection of the family with the Jewish community became very slight.


I. Finestein, in: JHSET, 18 (1958), 243–83; C. Roth, Mag Bibl, 132; Lehmann, Nova Bibl, 101, 109; P.H. Emden, Jews of Britain (1943), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: ODNB online; Jolles, Distinguished British Jews, index.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.