Fitzpatrick, James Coleman (1816–80), chief justice in the Gold Coast and the Cape Colony, was born 6 January 1816 in Co. Tipperary, son of James Fitzpatrick, a catholic tradesman of Nenagh, and his wife, Bridget (née Cormack). He graduated BA from TCD in 1839 and proceeded the following year to Lincoln's Inn. He was called to the Irish bar in 1844 and fast made a name for himself as a clever, witty, and politically minded barrister who aligned himself with the repeal association. In a speech to the association in May 1846 he remonstrated with the Young Irelanders and pleaded for confidence in MPs who, in order to support a great principle (free trade) and to resist a great wrong (coercion), had abandoned their resolution not to attend parliament. The speech was reported in the Freeman's Journal and was termed by O'Connell's (qv) phlegmatic secretary, T. M. Ray (qv), one of the best and most opportune he had ever heard. In 1857 Fitzpatrick was called speciale gratia to the English bar by Lincoln's Inn, and that year accepted the position of chief justice of the Gold Coast. He sailed on HMS Polyphemus together with twelve other officials, who were expected to replace and relieve those colonists who had already died or were expected to die. Within the year Fitzpatrick was the only official left alive, and he joked that he was ‘governor, chief justice, colonial secretary, commander of the forces, marriage officer and postmaster, with only coloured staff and a few white traders to help him’ (Spiller, 1).
In 1861 he was appointed judge of the supreme court of British Kaffraria, and he opened the court on 12 February 1862. When British Kaffraria was incorporated into the Cape Colony in April 1866, he was appointed to the supreme court bench and assigned to the eastern districts court at Grahamstown. Three years later he was transferred to Cape Town, where he remained until his retirement in 1879. In 1878 a select committee of the house of assembly was appointed to inquire into his conduct. He was charged with neglect and absence from duty, insobriety, physical disability, and mental incapacity. The committee acquitted him of everything except his absences from duty, which were not satisfactorily explained; and noted that illness had incapacitated him for a time. The judge was popular in the bar and on the bench for his brilliance, wit, and generosity. He had no pretensions to being a profound lawyer but common sense and deep knowledge of human nature stood him in good stead. He was a prominent catholic: his only published work was The pope, his rights and duties: a letter to his eminence Cardinal Wiseman (1860). He died in Cape Town on 6 February 1880. He married (1861) Jenny, daughter of Peter Fitzgerald of Co. Westmeath; they had three sons – one of whom, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (1862–1931), was a politician and novelist in South Africa – and four daughters.