LOWTHER, James (?1673-1755), of Whitehaven, Cumb.
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Family and Education
b. ?1673, 2nd s. of Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt., M.P., of Whitehaven by Jane, da. of Woolley Leigh of Addington, Surr. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 17 Dec. 1688, aged 15; M. Temple 1682, called 1712, bencher 1714. unm. suc. fa. to family estates 1706; e. bro. as 4th Bt. 2 Oct. 1731.
Principal storekeeper of the Ordnance 1696-1712; director, South Sea Co. 1733-6; v.-adm. of Cumb. and Westmld., alderman, Carlisle 1739-d.; vice-pres. Foundling Hospital 1753.
Though a younger son, Lowther succeeded on his father’s death to the family property in and around Whitehaven, his elder brother having been disinherited. At the next general election he was returned for Cumberland, which he represented in every Parliament but one till his death. An independent Whig, he voted in the first Hanoverian Parliament against the septennial bill, for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, and against the peerage bill.
Lowther lost his Cumberland seat in 1722, but was brought in by the head of his family, Lord Lonsdale, for Appleby. Recovering his county seat in 1727, he either abstained or voted against the Government, except on the motion of 21 Jan. 1742 to set up a secret committee of the Commons to inquire into the conduct of the war, on which he was persuaded by Lord Hartington to vote for Walpole.1 After Walpole’s fall he voted against the Hanoverians in December 1742, was absent from the division on them in January 1744, but voted for them in April 1746, when he was classed as Old Whig. When Frederick, Prince of Wales, launched his new Opposition in June 1747 Lowther promised him to support it,2 and in the next Parliament he was classed as Opposition.
Apart from seconding the Address in 1724, Lowther’s only reported speeches were made in 1732, one supporting a petition from the South Sea Company for permission to fund three-quarters of their capital at 4%; the other supporting a bill for relieving the sufferers from the Charitable Corporation frauds, in which he made it clear that he was concerned not for the sufferers but for the interests of the subscribers to a new loan designed to put the Corporation on its feet.3 Next year he was elected a director of the South Sea Company on the list put up by the shareholders against that sponsored by the outgoing directors.4
Lowther, who did much to develop his collieries and the harbour at Whitehaven, seems to have had scientific interests. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, before whom he performed an experiment showing that mine damp, brought from Whitehaven in a bladder, could be ignited by a candle.5 He had the reputation of being excessively parsimonious. According to Shelburne, Sunderland, on becoming first Lord of the Treasury, made an appointment for Lowther to call on him, with a view to offering him a seat on the Treasury board on account of his great property.
The morning was bad; nobody came in to Lord Sunderland, who at last rang his bell to know whether Sir James Lowther had been there. The servants answered that nobody had called; upon his repeating the enquiry the servants said that there was an old man, somewhat wet, sitting by the fireside in the hall, whom they supposed had some petition to deliver to his Lordship. When he went out it proved to be Sir James Lowther. Lord Sunderland desired him to be sent about his business, saying that no such mean fellow should sit at his Treasury.6
According to another story Lowther,
after changing a piece of silver in George’s coffee house, and paying 2d. for his dish of coffee, was helped into his chariot (for he was then very lame and infirm), and went home; some little time after he returned to the same coffee house on purpose to acquaint the woman who kept it that she had given him a bad halfpenny, and demanded another in exchange for it.7
He died 2 Jan. 1755, one of the richest commoners in the kingdom, reputed to be ‘worth above a million’.