Mathew, Sir James Charles (1830–1908), barrister and judge, was born 10 July 1830 in Bordeaux, France, eldest son of Charles Mathew, gentleman, of Lehanagh House, Co. Cork, and Castlelake, Co. Tipperary, and his wife Mary, daughter of James Hackett of Cork. He was of a Roman catholic family and his uncle was Fr Theobald Mathew (qv), the temperance campaigner. His initial education was at a private school in Cork; he entered TCD in July 1845, graduating BA (1850) as a gold medallist and senior moderator. In Hilary term 1850 he was admitted to the King's Inns in Dublin. He moved to London, entering Lincoln's Inn (June 1851) and was called to the English bar in Hilary term 1854.
He was a founding member of the Hardwicke Society, a legal debating society, and built up a substantial practice as a junior barrister, being much in demand as counsel for jury cases in the Guildhall sittings. Despite being highly regarded by his peers, a certain lack of confidence held him back and even when vacancies arose he did not apply to be made a QC. In 1873, however, he represented the treasury as a junior counsel in the prosecution of the Tichborne claimant, Arthur Orton, in one of the most celebrated legal cases of the day. He was the only counsel for the treasury who did not get into heated arguments in court with Orton's leading council, Dr Edward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy (qv).
Mathew possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of legal procedure and in 1881 was made a bencher at Lincoln's Inn and awarded an honorary doctorate by TCD. Although still only a junior counsel he was appointed a judge in the queen's bench division (March 1881) and knighted. After the return of a new liberal administration (1892) he became chairman of the commission established to investigate the state of evicted tenants in Ireland. His appointment was perhaps unfortunate, as he was a home ruler in politics: the home rule MP John Dillon (qv) was his son-in-law. When the commission began its hearings on 7 November 1892, Mathew announced that he would not allow witnesses to be cross-examined. This provoked protests from Edward Carson (qv), who had recently been replaced as solicitor-general for Ireland. Counsel was ordered to withdraw and eventually two members of the commission resigned, while the landlords refused to cooperate with the proceedings. Despite severe criticism, many of the commission's recommendations were incorporated in the Wyndham land purchase act of 1903.
Throughout his legal career, Mathew argued for the establishment of a separate commercial court, and eventually succeeded in convincing the other members of the bench and also Lord Russell of Killowen (qv), who was appointed chief justice in 1895, that such a court be established. As a result of this, he was appointed as the first judge of the commercial court when it was set up in 1895. In 1901 he was made a privy councillor and appointed judge in the appeal court. He suffered a stroke on 6 December 1905, and was forced to resign. On 9 November 1908 he died at his London home, 46 Queen's Gate Gardens. His remains were returned to Ireland, where they were interred in St Joseph's cemetery, Cork.
He married (December 1861) Elizabeth Blackmore (d. September 1933), eldest daughter of the Rev. Edwin Biron, JP and vicar of Lympne and West Hythe, Kent. They had two sons and three daughters. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth Mathew (d. 1907), married John Dillon. A portrait of Sir James Charles Mathew, by Frank Holl, is in the possession of the family. In 1896 a cartoon portrait of him by ‘Spy’ appeared in Vanity Fair.