GRAHAM, Sir James, 1st Bt. (1761-1824), of Netherby, Cumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



27 Oct. 1798 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 22 Apr. 1761, 2nd s. of Rev. Robert Graham, DD, of Netherby by his cos. Frances, da. of Sir Reginald Graham, 4th Bt., of Norton Conyers, Yorks. educ. Dr Parr’s sch. Stanmore, Mdx.; Magdalen, Oxf. 1778. m. 9 June 1785, Lady Catherine Stewart, da. of John Stewart, 7th Earl of Galloway [S], 4s. 8da. suc. bro. Charles 1782; cr. Bt. 15 Jan. 1783.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Cumb. 1795-6.


Having received a baronetcy in token, it was said, of his squarson father’s attachment to the Whigs in Cumberland, Graham joined the other camp, supporting Pitt in office and Lord Lonsdale locally. His only motive for wishing to be in Parliament was to further his sole ambition for the revival of a peerage previously held by his family. This he hoped to achieve through his father-in-law’s co-operation with Henry Dundas* in Scotland. Dundas knew of his wishes in 1793 and promised to broach the subject with Pitt, it being understood that Graham would be satisfied if he obtained the peerage ‘before the end of the next Parliament’. On 22 Aug. 1795 Dundas was informed that Graham would prefer a seat for an English borough, at Dundas’s instigation, to one for Wigtown Burghs on his father-in-law’s interest, provided the terms were ‘equally favourable’, as it would promote ‘a more material connexion’ between Dundas and himself.1 At this stage the burghs seat was a quid pro quo, but on 26 Feb. 1796 Graham informed Dundas that he wished to put Wigtown out of the question and to owe his seat to Dundas. If assured of a peerage, he was prepared to pay ‘the usual price for any government seat’, but if not, would be ‘unwilling to lay out so large a sum at present with my numerous and increasing young family, as it is for the peerage solely I wish to be in Parliament’.2

The sequel was unsatisfactory. The only opening Graham found was at Carlisle where, with Lonsdale support, he made a late start and fought a severe contest in a bid to unseat the Whigs which failed, even after a petition.3 On 3 June 1797 he informed Dundas, ‘I hope I need not remind you that it is not my fault I am not now supporting you in the House of Commons’. He added that he still wished for a seat ‘upon moderate terms’, would rather owe it to Dundas than to any other person and was armed with grounds for a petition to the King for a peerage. In May 1798 a vacancy was found for him at Ripon on the Laurence interest. On 12 June 1799 he informed Dundas that although he did not have the materials for his petition for a peerage, he wished to state his case to Pitt.4

Graham transferred his hopes to Addington, Pitt’s successor in office. He apparently visited France in 1802. A silent Member, he was absent from the House on sick leave from March 1803 for three months. On 13 Apr. 1804 he presented a Chippenham electors’ petition. On Addington’s resignation he went into opposition with him, voting against Pitt’s additional force bill in June 1804. The Treasury list in September was doubtful of his support. That autumn his name was put forward as a plausible candidate for Cumberland on the next vacancy, but he would not hear of it.5 On 4 Dec. 1804 he wrote to Addington to say that he had been ill for two months, but being no weathercock, was still attached to him, ‘perfectly my own master and independent of any set of connexions whatever’. He wished for some preferment in the church for his only brother, Fergus. At the end of the month the news of Addington’s reconciliation with Pitt brought his congratulations to the former, with regrets that a relapse into illness would prevent his attendance until February. On 17 Jan. 1805, congratulating Addington (now Sidmouth) on his peerage, he reported that he was still unfit to travel. On 29 Apr. he wrote with evident relief on hearing of Sidmouth’s rift with Pitt; ‘I shall take no steps in politics or give a vote till I see you’. On 10 June, reporting an asthmatic attack and the arrival of his twelfth child, he informed Sidmouth that he had given up all thought of attendance, but ‘you and you alone are the political friend I wish to look to’. He added that he would rather have his wishes gratified by Sidmouth than by ‘any man living’. He was listed ‘Sidmouth’ by the Treasury in July. On 1 Sept. he informed Sidmouth that another reconciliation between him and Pitt was perhaps desirable, as Pitt was still in the saddle. He and his friend St. Vincent were eager to know Sidmouth’s line for the meeting of Parliament: ‘I am as free to vote as I please, as if my seat was my own’. He added that he still wished for a peerage and preferment for his brother and was recovering from asthma.6

Graham must have regarded Sidmouth’s junction with the Grenville ministry as the opportunity to realize his wishes. On 12 June 1806 he wrote to William Adam* asking him to press his claims on Fox; he would be happier to owe their satisfaction to Adam than to any man living. On Fox’s death he begged Adam to state his pretensions to ministers, as he did not wish to face the expense and trouble of re-election if assured of a peerage.7 The ruse failed. He had already assured Sidmouth (10 Oct. 1806) that, despite his asthma, he looked forward to attending after Christmas and to following his line: but he continued to leave no trace at Westminster. Listed among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade, he was a defaulter on 2 Mar. 1807 and took sick leave until the dissolution. A last bid to secure a peerage through Sidmouth had failed and to him he wrote on 27 Apr. 1807:

I feel a secret satisfaction that I acted a decided part at least and attached myself to your lordship and reflect with much pleasure that in my political life we never had the slightest difference of opinion.

I have only now to add that though I am no longer to be Member for Ripon and most probably shall retire into private life, I trust to retain your friendship and good opinion which to me are much more valuable than a seat for Ripon.

Graham made no attempt to re-enter Parliament but appeared on the Duke of Portland’s list of peerage applicants. His hope that his son James Robert George Graham* would ‘in his politics be one of us’, as he put it to a member of Lord Liverpool’s government in 1813, was disappointed. He asked his son’s advice about offering for the county on a vacancy in 1814, but the reply was a cautious dissuasion. Writing to Sidmouth, 6 Mar. 1818, he made no mention of his peerage hopes, only of his brother’s unquenched desire for church preferment. Writing to Lonsdale, 3 June 1818, he assured him of his willingness to nominate his brother for the county, but admitted that he could not control his son’s opposition tendencies. Mark Boyd recalled that

Sir James Graham of Netherby was not distinguished as a politician, like his eminent son and successor ... who, it was said, inherited his great and varied talents from his mother ... but he was an excellent man in all domestic relations—a kind and good landlord, and held in estimation by his tenantry and dependants. He was fond of a bon mot, and not unfrequently perpetrated one successfully. He was attending a county meeting at Carlisle, accompanied by his son ... An old friend ... came up to him ... when Sir James introduced him to his son, one of the handsomest young men of his day, upwards of six feet in height, athletic and strongly built, whereas papa was a slight little man, of about five feet six inches. The introduction over, his friend remarked, ‘Why Netherby, your son could put you in his pocket’. ‘That may be, but all I can tell you is, he is never out of mine.’8

He died 13 Apr. 1824.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Parker, Graham, i. 5; NLS mss 1053, f. 23; SRO GD 51/1/198/7/5, 6.
  • 2. SRO GD 51/1/36.
  • 3. SRO GD 51/1/200/16, 20, 21; Spencer mss, W. R. to Ld. Spencer, 22 May 1796.
  • 4. SRO GD 51/1/37; 51/6/1348.
  • 5. Lonsdale mss, bp. of Carlisle to Lowther, 5 Oct. [1804].
  • 6. Sidmouth mss.
  • 7. Blair Adam mss, Graham to Adam, 12 June, 19 Oct. 1806.
  • 8. Portland mss PwV114; Northumb. RO, Wallace (Belsay) mss S76/8/37; Parker, i. 43; Lonsdale mss; Boyd, Reminiscences, 360.