MILNER, James (aft.1658-1721), of Weston Green, Thames Ditton, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1658, 2nd s. of Tempest Milner, alderman of London, by his w. Ann, da. of James Houblon, London merchant.1 unm.
James Milner was a Portugal merchant, who under Anne was concerned in the business of remitting money to H.M. ships at Lisbon and other Mediterranean ports, and for the payment of troops in Spain and Portugal.2 In September 1710 Harley was advised that
Mr. James Milner understands the Portuguese exchange best, and he has a cabal under him who are concerned in what he undertakes, and they are men of substance.3
On the controversy over the trade treaty with France in 1713 he published a paper on the importance of British trade with Portugal. The paper was republished in 1743 in The British Merchant, a collection of papers relating to the treaty by some of the most eminent merchants of the time.
Unsuccessful for Minehead in 1715 but returned on petition in 1717, Milner voted for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts and the peerage bill. Shortly after the collapse of the South Sea bubble he published Three Letters relating to the South Sea Company and the Bank, in which he strongly criticized the acceptance of the Company’s offer to take over the national debt:
I confess [he wrote] when the two proposals were before the House of Commons, I ... was most inclined to the bank, because they said plainly what they would give the annuitants in stock; and I thought that body of men not addicted to the scandalous tricks of stock-jobbing; neither, in my opinion, would their stock have advanced above 200, or 250 per cent. Had the South Sea been limited in such a manner, the nation had been safe.
As I early foresaw the ruin of my country from this project, so I have opposed it in all places, public and private. I was ridiculed by a great man for standing in my own light. I answered, I was discharging my duty to my country; among the directors, I had no intimacy, but with two. One of ’em I saw often and did all I could to persuade him to sell, and disqualify himself, that he might not have the destructive consequences of such wild schemes to answer for. The other avoided me, but yet I followed him with letters to the same purpose, as will appear by his answers which follow ...
My honest freedom in opposing their iniquity is called passion, and ungentleman-like language; and my telling him November would be the fatal month, is ridiculed; and my foresight of this evil has only met with the fate of that prophetess to whom, ’tis said, the gods granted the gift of prophecy, yet told her she should not be believed. Though this has been my fate, yet I thank God when the Parliament shall meet, I hope to come into the House with the peace of a good conscience, for having honestly endeavoured to save my dear country from this foreseen, but dreadful ruin.
When Parliament met on 8 Dec., Milner is reported to have
reflected in his speech on three or four of the directors, whom he said he could name, but named only Mr. Gibbon, who he said gave money for refusals of stock in order to raise the price, and sold his own.4
On 15 Dec., when the sub-governor and deputy-governor of the company presented their accounts to the House, Milner was among those who ‘made several exceptions to the conduct of the South Sea directors, and, in particular, to their lending out vast sums of money belonging to the company, without being duly authorized for that purpose’.5On 7 Feb. he opposed Walpole’s scheme for ingrafting part of the capital stock and fund of the South Sea Company into the stock and fund of the Bank of England. On 2 May he spoke second in a debate on public credit, urging that, as the principal cause of the crisis had been the fraudulent dealing of the South Sea directors, some relief should be given to subscribers, and carrying a motion that the seven millions due from the South Sea Company to the Government be remitted. In the debates on the allowances to be made to the directors from their confiscated estates, he opposed the more generous of those suggested for Sir John Blunt. He also opposed a proposal to allow the directors 15 per cent out of their estates for prompt payment.
On 23 Nov. 1721 Milner ‘shot himself in the head, and died the next day’.6 In his will drawn up in September 1721 he left his fortune to his nephew and his nieces, the children of his elder brother, John Milner, M.P., who had been consul-general at Lisbon.7