PURLING, John (?1722-1800), of Bradford Peverell, Dorset
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Family and Education
b. ?1722. m., his w. d.s.p. 19 Apr. 1793.1
Director, E.I. Co. 1763-7, 1768-70, dep. chairman 1770-1, chairman 1771-2, director 1777-80.
Purling’s background and parentage are uncertain, but he may be the Mr. or Captain John Purling, native of St. Helena, who was permitted by the East India Company to travel thither in 1750 at his own expense, arriving on 12 Mar. 1751.2 He certainly went to sea and entered the Company’s shipping service, for he was commander of the Indiaman Sandwich 1753-9, and Neptune 1760-2, in the last on the highly profitable China voyage.3 He then resigned the service, evidently with a fortune, and in April 1763 was elected a director of the Company. At first connected with Laurence Sulivan, by 1764 he had supporters in both the Clive and Sulivan factions; and on 12 Feb. 1766 Sulivan wrote that he had ‘left him’ for the Clive party.4
In 1770 he purchased the Bradford Peverell estate in Dorset, and the same year became a candidate for the notoriously corrupt and expensive borough of New Shoreham in opposition to two other East Indians, Thomas Rumbold and William James. Though Purling came out second on the poll he was declared elected by the returning officer (alarmed at Rumbold’s wholesale bribery) but was unseated on petition. In 1772 Purling was returned unopposed for East Looe on the interest of John Buller senior. In the House he supported Administration. The name of the first ship he commanded suggests that he was early patronized by Sandwich, whose lead he followed in Parliament.5
When in 1772 the East India Company ran into financial difficulties, Purling as its chairman was much criticized for misleading the proprietors about their position, though his responsibility was largely nominal, since the control of the Company’s affairs really rested with Sulivan and Sir George Colebrooke. In 1773 he refused to stand for re-election, and in a speech in the House on 23 Mar. 1773, welcoming parliamentary investigation into the Company’s affairs,
[he] made his declaration of not being a candidate for the direction ... until his conduct has been inquired into. This drew from Lord North a compliment approving and applauding his resolution.6
His only other reported speech in this Parliament, also on East India matters, was on 18 June 1773.
In 1774 he took the lead in pressing for the compensation of East India commanders adversely affected by the shipping reforms accompanying the Regulating Act of 1773.7 He did not return to the direction until 1777, and then, though a follower of Administration, took a moderate line.
In 1774 and at his subsequent elections Purling was returned unopposed for Weymouth. He continued to support Administration till the fall of North, though ill-health prevented his attendance during the crucial divisions of February-March 1782.8 His three reported speeches 1774-March 1782 were on East India affairs. Purling voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. He does not appear in the division list of 27 Nov. 1783 on Fox’s East India bill, but Sir John Sinclair noted in a list of Members drawn up early in January 1784: ‘A good kind of man, not unattainable’. He voted however for the bill.9 Nevertheless, after the failure of attempts by the St. Alban’s Tavern group, of which he was a member, to bring about a union between Pitt and Fox, Purling went into Opposition and regularly voted against Pitt’s Administration. There is no record of his having spoken during the Parliament of 1784. He did not stand again in 1790.
Purling died 23 Aug. 1800, aged 78.10 His will mentions property near Weymouth and Ramsay in Huntingdonshire, and also at St. Vincent in the West Indies.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Authors: Mary M. Drummond / Lucy S. Sutherland
- 1. Gent. Mag. 1793, p. 479.
- 2. Court Bk. 64, p. 223, Company shipping records, ship’s log 164F. A ‘John Purling, soldier’ d. at St. Helena 23 Mar. 1753, India Office, St. Helena recs, vol. 16.
- 3. India Office E.I. shipping recs.
- 4. Add. 29132, f. 291.
- 5. Purling to Sandwich, 13 Mar. 1782, Abergavenny mss.
- 6. J. Caillaud to Warren Hastings, 31 Mar. 1773, Add. 29133, ff. 493-5.
- 7. Court Bk. 82, p. 929.
- 8. Purling to Sandwich, 13 Mar. 1782, Abergavenny mss.
- 9. Sinclair mss, Thurso East Mains.
- 10. Gent. Mag. 1800, p. 903.