JAMES, William (?1721-83), of Park Farm Place, Eltham, Kent

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



1774 - 16 Dec. 1783

Family and Education

b. ?1721, poss. s. of a miller at Bolton Hill, nr. Haverfordwest.1  m. by 1765, Anne, da. and coh. of Edmond Goddard of Hartham, Wilts., 1s. 1da.2  cr. Bt. 25 July 1778.

Offices Held

Director, E.I. Co. 1768-72, 1773-7 (dep. chairman 1776-7), 1778-83 (dep. chairman 1778-9, chairman 1779-80, dep. chairman 1781-2).


Wraxall, who ‘knew Sir William James with great intimacy’, writes:3

His origin was so obscure as almost to baffle inquiry, and he had derived no advantage from education, but he possessed strong natural abilities, aided by a knowledge of mankind.

James entered the East India Company’s navy in about 1747; by 1751 he was commodore, and in 1755 and 1756 commanded expeditions which destroyed the immensely rich pirate strongholds, Severndroog and Gheriah. In 1759 he returned to England with a fortune; became closely associated with Lord Sandwich, and from 1769 was one of his leading supporters in the East India Company directorate.

In 1770 James was a candidate at the notorious New Shoreham by-election, but was defeated by an overwhelming majority. He was returned in 1774 at West Looe on the Buller interest, and as a follower of Sandwich he naturally supported North’s Administration till its fall. In 1780 James was again returned at West Looe by John Buller junior who, hoping to gain control at Saltash, nominated there James and himself in opposition to the Administration candidates; they were defeated, and their petition was dismissed. James opposed Shelburne’s Administration and voted against the peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. On 1 Apr. 1783 a report from the select committee on Bengal affairs was put before the House alleging that James had been associated with Laurence Sulivan in altering the East India Company’s records and attempting to deceive the committee about communications to India. James opposed a motion to print the report, which ‘unaccompanied by a defence’ would create a bias against Sulivan and himself, and begged that Members would

not condemn them unheard; for the other gentleman and he would be able to bring the most satisfactory evidence to prove that if there had been made an alteration or an erasure in the records of the company, it was wholly without his knowledge or that of Mr. Sulivan.

On 19 May he again maintained that the charge was ‘absolutely false and groundless’, and on 28 May, in his last reported speech, told the House that ‘he was that moment prepared to meet any charge that could be brought against him’.4 James was absent from the division of 27 Nov. 1783 on Fox’s East India bill. On 30 Nov. Fox commented to Sandwich, with whom James remained on very close terms: ‘It is as much as could be expected from him, all circumstances considered.’5 James died on 16 Dec. 1783, aged 62, of a stroke which was generally believed (erroneously, according to Wraxall) to have been brought on by indignation at the bill.6

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. N. Q. (ser 2), xii. 244-5.
  • 2. For the story of a previous marriage see Naval Chron. xiii. 89.
  • 3. Mems. iii. 168.
  • 4. Debrett, ix. 583, 590; x. 12, 13, 97.
  • 5. Sandwich mss.
  • 6. Mems. iii. 168.