Sir George Wood
Baron of the Exchequer
At a young age, Wood was articled to an attorney, Jonathan West, who encouraged him to study for the bar at the close of his apprenticeship. Wood entered the Middle Temple on November 16, 1765, but deferred his call to the bar to practice as a special pleader. He was highly skilled in this role and taught numerous legal scholars including Thomas Erskine and Charles Abbott, the future Lord Tenterden. Wood was called to the bar in June 1775 and went to the northern circuit. Through the 1790s, he was retained by the crown in numerous trials for treason and sedition.
On November 5, 1796, Wood was elected a Member of Parliament for Haslemere and served for ten years. In May 1802, Wood became a bencher, or senior member, of the Middle Temple. In 1807, he became a reader, appointed to give one or more lectures on a particular legal topic. In 1807, Lord Eldon, the Lord Chancellor, recommended Wood for a vacant position as the Baron of the Exchequer to King George III, citing Wood’s years of service and his knowledge of revenue law. Wood accepted the position and was made a serjeant at the same time. He was knighted soon afterwards.
Many of the cases before the exchequer during Wood's tenure were tithe disputes, conflicts about payment over church dues, and Wood frequently dissented from the majority opinion in its decisions. Encouraging reform on tithe laws, he privately circulated a pamphlet, later published in 1832 as Observations on Tithes and Tithe Laws. In it, Wood argued that it should be easier to show that an agreement existed between the Church and one or more parishioners to pay a lesser amount in lieu of tithes through long usage. For example, a parishioner may have allowed the use of pasture in lieu of tithes. As the law stood, regardless of how long the practice had been in place, the rector or vicar retained the land and received tithes as well unless the parishioner had a deed to show the agreement. In 1817, Wood persuaded J. H. Curwen to introduce into Parliament a bill, drafted by Wood, for this purpose. Considered hostile to the interests of the Church of England, the bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1818.
Wood retired from the bench on January 27, 1823 and lived in London until his death in July 1824.
The painting is attributed to James Lonsdale (1777-1839). A pupil of George Romney, Lonsdale became a fashionable portrait painter and portrayed many members of aristocracy and royalty. Lonsdale was one of the founders of the Society of British Arts.