Piggott, Sir Francis Taylor (1852-1925), jurist and writer, was born on 25 April 1852 at 31 Lower Belgrave Street, London, the son of the Revd Francis Allen Piggott (d. 1871) of Worthing; his mother, Mary Frances Errebess, daughter of Dr John Hollamby Taylor, died at the time of his birth. He was educated in Paris, at Worthing College, and at Trinity College, Cambridge (MA, LLM), and was called to the bar (Middle Temple) in 1874. In 1881 he married Mabel Waldron (b. 1854×7, d. 1949), eldest daughter of Jasper Wilson Johns MP, and founder of the Colonial Nursing Association; they had two sons, Francis Stewart Gilderoy and Julian Ito. Piggott practised for a while at the bar and wrote legal texts, but he aspired to an official position and, after ad hoc involvement in Foreign Office initiatives concerning the recognition and enforcement of foreign and colonial judgments, he was appointed in 1887 to a three-year term as constitutional adviser to the Japanese prime minister Hirobumi Ito. In 1893 he was secretary to the attorney-general, Sir Charles Russell, for the Bering Sea arbitration, and later that year he accepted the post of procureur- and advocate-general of Mauritius. It is for his turbulent career as chief justice of Hong Kong (1905–12), however, that Piggott is best known. In 1905 Piggott received a knighthood.


Piggott had a natural capacity, it seems, to provoke the administrative branch of government almost beyond endurance. The first Hong Kong governor with whom he worked, Sir Matthew Nathan, liked him well enough at first, but by the time Nathan left the colony the two were not on speaking terms. Nathan’s successor, Sir Frederick Lugard, stated in 1907 that Piggott was a bugbear ‘at war with Govt’.


The C.J. is like all C.J.s, I [hadn’t] been here a week before I got letters about ‘ignoring the position and dignity of the Bench’, and so on, and since then he has shot me in a series of letters raking up every conceivable grievance. He is socially very affable (not to say garrulous) with a constant cackle laugh which gets on your nerves. He considers himself No. 1, A1, especially at Bridge, which he does not play too well. I think I can deal with him. (Lugard MSS)


But Lugard, whose wife Lady Flora described Piggott as ‘a most cantankerous and universally detested person’ (ibid.), had frequent disputes with his chief justice and did not always gain the upper hand.


Piggott was genial but tactless, pompous but lacking in dignity, learned but inaccurate, industrious yet impecunious, and admired by a few while reviled by many. His record as a judge is sound, though he failed as a judicial administrator and there were many allegations of his partiality on the bench. Eventually he was required to retire soon after reaching the age of sixty. This was a rude shock to him, even though an amendment, known colloquially as ‘the Piggott Relief Ordinance’, had been made to the local pensions legislation precisely to facilitate his removal. He was chronically short of money; indeed in 1922 he was adjudged bankrupt, with creditors in Hong Kong alone owed £15,000. On losing his Hong Kong post he sought employment in Peking (Beijing), but the Foreign Office advised the Chinese government not to appoint him. His return to Hong Kong to practise at the private bar was considered almost scandalous, and when he left for England in 1914 his passage was paid for out of the vote for the relief of destitutes.


Piggott was a cultured man who published two novels (under the name Hope Dawlish) and a ‘musical playlet’, wrote books and articles on Japanese arts, and exhibited his paintings in London. His legal writings included more than a dozen major books and several articles. His intention in retirement was to produce a series of historical and legal works on the law of the sea. The Times obituary, on his death on 12 March 1925 at his home, 33 Thurloe Square, London, referred to ‘his energy, enthusiasm, and cultured mind’ which:


did much to stimulate the study of international law in days when it needs to be studied more severely than ever, and it may well be that, in the perspective that finally tests the authority of jurists, his labours will secure a permanent place. (The Times, 13 March 1925)


Piggott’s legal tomes, however, are now largely forgotten. He was a capable lawyer, though often accused of carelessness, and his books on international law were marred by an inappropriate patriotism; his disputes with officialdom were based on principled positions strongly argued. His faults of temperament were his great weakness, so far as the Colonial Office was concerned, and they largely subverted his judicial career. Yet the Law Society of Hong Kong presented him with an address in farewell which expressed warm appreciation of ‘the patience and forbearance, courtesy and consideration, consistently displayed by you during your tenure of the office of Chief Justice’ (private information). It may be that he was too aggressively independent to win the admiration of colonial officials, and that is not a bad recommendation for a colonial judge.


Peter Wesley-Smith



Sources  P. Wesley-Smith, ‘Sir Francis Piggott: chief justice in his own cause’, Hong Kong Law Journal, 12 (1982), 260–92 [PDF, 2.29 mb] · F. S. G. Piggott, Broken thread: an autobiography (1950) · H. R. A., ‘The Piggott papers’, British Museum Quarterly, 6 (1931–2), 75–6 · PRO, despatches from the governor of Hong Kong, CO129 · ‘Papers respecting the codification of private international law, 1882–1884’, PRO, FO323/7 [confidential print 5092, April 1885] · Bodl. RH, Lugard MSS, MS Brit. Emp.s.67 · Bodl. Oxf., MSS Nathan · b. cert. · private information (2004) · WWW · S. Hoe, The private life of old Hong Kong (1991), 202, 209


Archives  BL, legal papers, Add. MSS 42525–42554  |  Bodl. RH, letters to Sir Matthew Nathan


Likenesses  photograph, repro. in The Times (13 March 1925), 16 · photograph, repro. in Piggott, Broken thread, facing p. 5


Wealth at death  £120 18s. 4d.: administration, 10 July 1925, CGPLA Eng. & Wales