BULLER, John (1721-86), of East Looe and Bake, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1747 - 26 July 1786

Family and Education

b. 24 Jan. 1721, 2nd s. of John Francis Buller, M.P., and bro. of Francis and James Buller. educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1738; M. Temple 1740; I. Temple 1743, called Feb. 1747. m. (1) 3 Mar. 1760, Mary (d. 14 Aug. 1767), da. of Sir John St. Aubyn, 3rd Bt., M.P., sis. of Sir John St. Aubyn, 4th Bt., 2s.; (2) 4 Nov. 1768, Elizabeth Caroline, da. of John Hunter, 1s. 1da.

Offices Held

Comptroller of the mint 1754- d.; auditor of the duchy of Cornw. ?1772-?84; sec. to chancellor of the Exchequer 1759-61; ld. of Admiralty July 1765-Sept. 1780; ld. of Treasury Sept. 1780-Mar. 1782, Dec. 1783- d.

Recorder, East Looe 1754- d.; mayor 1746, 1754, 1772; mayor, West Looe by mandamus 1763, and 1764.


Buller wrote in a memorandum for Newcastle on the eve of the general election of 1761:1

Upon the death of Governor Trelawny, Mr. Pelham thought Mr. John Buller a proper person to manage the interest at Looe, and promised he should be comptroller of the mint, and that the salary should be made up £500 a year, and ordered Gashry to assure him of some farther mark of the King’s favour.
My Lord Duke of Newcastle, succeeding to the Treasury, made good Mr. Pelham’s engagement, by giving Lord Aylmer a pension of £500 a year;2 and Mr. Buller, Mr. Noel, Mr. Frederick, and Mr. Gashry were chosen at the last general election, agreeable to his Grace’s recommendation.
The salary of the mint has never been worth more than £240 in any one year; the deficiency never paid but for one or two years.3
What Mr. John Buller now desires is to receive some mark of the Duke of Newcastle’s favour and confidence, in being made a commissioner of the excise or customs, by which his Grace may put in another Member at Looe, and Mr. Buller will have the satisfaction of knowing that his Grace has some regard for him. Mr. Buller promises the most zealous attachment to his Grace’s interest, in this election, and in every future one.
My Lord Duke will please to consider that six votes in the House depend on gratifying Mr. Buller in this request. Captain Trelawny, Mr. Gashry and the person to be chosen in the room of Buller, will undoubtedly be his Grace’s friends. Whereas should Mr. Buller continue a Member and choose a friend of his own, these two and Captain Trelawny, who will be awed and influenced by Buller, will most certainly not be his Grace’s friends.

Buller’s request was not gratified; he returned at the Looes himself, his brother Francis (ousting Frederick), his cousin William Trelawny, and his friend Gashry; and adhered to Legge, whose secretary he had been at the Exchequer—he did not follow his brothers James and Francis in paying homage to the new court. Early in 1762 Gashry’s health was rapidly declining, and on 20 Feb. Legge wrote to Newcastle that ‘Buller is ready to receive any friend of your nomination into the borough upon very easy terms’:4 £1,000 from the Member to be elected, and the succession to Gashry as treasurer of the Ordnance (£500 p.a.) for John Buller.5 Newcastle spoke to Bute, and received an ambiguous reply.6 When Gashry died, 19 May, a week before Newcastle was forced from office, Buller could have secured his succession by applying to Bute, but would not do so; and when ‘examined about the borough’ declared himself engaged to Newcastle’s candidate, went with all haste to East Looe, and carried the election.7 Henceforth Buller steadily adhered to the Opposition; voted against the peace preliminaries; appears on the Opposition side in every extant division list on Wilkes and general warrants; repeatedly spoke and voted against the cider tax; belonged to Wildman’s Club and was reckoned a ‘sure friend’ by Newcastle. But even so, in January 1765 Buller managed at West Looe the election of the Government candidate accepted by his brother James.8

In February 1764 Legge named John Buller among the few friends whom he asked Newcastle to take care of should the Opposition return to power; and in his will—he died 23 Aug. 1764—named Buller a guardian to his son. When the Rockingham Administration was being formed, Legge’s widow, Lady Stawell, wrote to Newcastle pressing Buller’s claims to a seat at the Treasury or the Admiralty Board.9 ‘She lays it very strong upon the Duke of Newcastle, as due to the memory of poor Mr. Legge’, he wrote in a memorandum for the Duke of Cumberland;10 and added:

There are other political reasons which make the Duke of Newcastle wish that Mr. Buller may be provided for, which the Duke of Newcastle was ignorant of ’till yesterday morning.
Mr. Buller, upon the death of his two brothers, both friends of the last, or present ministers, has settled his affairs of the two Looes, that Mr. Buller can bring in three Members, without the least opposition.
As to his merit, he is a very honest man; has a family, with a small fortune; and has been a most firm friend; and refused the treasurer of Ordnance, offered to him, when it was given to Mr. Mackye.

And to Rockingham on 12 July:11

I hope, in regard to Mr. Legge’s memory, in consideration of Mr. Buller’s own merit, and the three Members of Parliament that he can choose, that no one will be preferred to him; if I find there was, I must take the liberty to speak to the King upon it. I hope therefore, your Lordship, and the other ministers, will make it unnecessary to trouble his Majesty upon these occasions.

Buller was made a lord of the Admiralty, and remained there 15 years, described by the Public Ledger in 1779 as ‘a perfect office drudge, the routine of which he is well acquainted with, together with the profits’. Between July 1765 and March 1782 he is not known ever to have voted against any Government. His seat at East Looe he retained without a single contest till his death, accepting Government candidates for the other seat, as also for West Looe which he managed till, shortly before the general election of 1774, he ceded it under a family arrangement to his nephew, John Buller jun. From January 1771 till September 1780, as senior lord of the Admiralty in the House, he moved the naval estimates, and generally acted as spokesman for his department. But he was an undistinguished speaker; when in September 1780 his wish for a change of office12 was gratified by a transfer to the Treasury Board, ‘Lord North is much concerned’, wrote his new chief to the King, ‘that he can not have a more useful speaker than Mr. Buller.’13 Buller adhered to North also after his resignation; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; but did not vote on Fox’s East India bill; and in December 1783 was placed once more at the Treasury Board by Pitt, whose Administration he henceforth supported.

He died 26 July 1786.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 33055, f. 336.
  • 2. For vacating the post of comptroller of the mint.
  • 3. For payments to him from secret service funds see Namier, Structure, 437, 441.
  • 4. Add. 32934, f. 490.
  • 5. Add. 32936, f. 412.
  • 6. Newcastle to Legge, 21 Apr., Add. 32937, f. 284.
  • 7. For a more detailed account of these transactions see Namier, Structure, 329-31.
  • 8. See BULLER, James.
  • 9. 5 July 1765, Add. 32967, f. 225.
  • 10. 7 July, ibid. f. 282.
  • 11. Ibid. ff. 347-8.
  • 12. See North to the King, [15] June 1779, Fortescue, iv. 352.
  • 13. Fortescue, v. 115.