PAULL, James (1770-1808), of 2 Charles Street, Westminster.

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



24 May 1805 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 1770, s. of ?Alexander Paul, tailor, of Perth by Elizabeth née Adam. educ. St. Andrews Univ. unm.

Offices Held


Paull was first placed with a writer to the signet at Edinburgh but rebelled and went to India about 1788, in the company of Sir Home Riggs Popham*. He prospered as a private trader at Lucknow, rapidly repaying the cost of his outfit and endowing his widowed mother with an annuity. He sailed for England with a fortune in February 1801, but ‘punting against the bank, lost £90,000 in one night and at once went eastwards to make another’. He returned to India in 1802. The nawab of Oudh objected to his resumption of residence in Lucknow and it was thanks to the Marquess Wellesley, the governor-general, that he was enabled to carry on trading. But Wellesley subsequently decided that private traders in Oudh were a source of mischief and ordered their gradual displacement. Paull, who had been their delegate to Wellesley, developed a grievance against him, which first reached public notice on the eve of his departure from Calcutta in 1804, when his abuse of Wellesley and threat to expose him in England nearly led to a duel with the latter’s friend Sydenham. (He had already been permanently wounded in the right arm in a duel, in 1795, with Michael George Prendergast*, who had at first refused him satisfaction on account of his lowly origins.)1

Paull arrived in England in February 1805 and purchased a seat in Parliament on the interest of (Sir) John Barrington* by arrangement with a former nabob Charles Chapman, who made way for him. Soon after taking his seat on 8 June, this ‘little man in blue and buff—slightly marked with the smallpox’ gave notice of his intention of charging Wellesley with misconduct towards the nawab of Oudh.2 Moving for documentation on this, 25 June, he admitted that he did not expect results that session and that it would be fitter to await the marquess’s return home, so that he could defend himself. He disclaimed any personal vendetta but wished for a public indictment of the aggressive policy of a viceroy ‘who was second to no other man in pomp and magnificence on this earth’. On 28 June he moved for more papers implicating the marquess’s brother Henry Wellesley*.

By his own account Paull had previously informed John McMahon* of his intention to devote himself to ‘the party of the Prince of Wales’ and, on the strength of a brief interview with the Prince in July 1805, claimed to have his support for his campaign against Wellesley. He had been listed ‘Opposition’ by the Treasury in July, having voted for the criminal prosecution of Melville on 12 June. In October, he later claimed, the Prince had promised to find him a seat in Parliament, if he could not come in for Newtown at the next election, for which he agreed with the Prince’s secretary to pay an annual sum. The situation was changed by the Marquess Wellesley’s friend Lord Grenville’s succeeding Pitt as premier. On 27 Jan. 1806 Paull was warned by McMahon at Carlton House that he must give up the campaign against Wellesley, which he had already given the House notice of resuming; but he refused, and informed the House that day that he would persevere. His model was the impeachment of Warren Hastings, as initiated in the House by Fox nearly 20 years before.3

Paull’s persistence caused embarrassment to the new ministry. Wellesley, who had returned home, lectured Grenville on his obligation to defend him and refused to take office until he was cleared. Fox, who wished to give priority to other measures, refused to contemplate official support for Paull’s campaign, for which he was attacked in a Letter to the Right Hon. C. J. Fox by a ‘Lover of Consistency’ (probably Paull), but as a private individual could not disclaim him. The same was true for William Windham (who commended him to Cobbett), for French Laurence, and for such East Indian stalwarts as Philip Francis and George Johnstone, both of whom tried to persuade Paull that, since the Warren Hastings affair, impeachments were of no use: Johnstone admitted that he had dissuaded Paull, his former protégé in India, from seeking to become an East India Company director. The directors themselves were willing to lend an ear to Paull, partly from resentment at Wellesley’s high-handed treatment of them and partly because of their objection to the ministry’s proposals for the government of Madras. The Board of Control itself was divided.4 Paull, whose chief ally was Lord Folkestone, improved his platform by a parallel motion, granted after procrastination on 25 Feb. 1806, for information on the East India Company debt, which had grown at an alarming rate. Having secured the printing of the papers he had moved for in the previous session on 3 Mar., he was able to present his aims to the House, 11 Mar., as a parliamentary scrutiny of East India Company affairs and the indictment of Wellesley. Though he was able to brush aside the allegation that he was indebted to Wellesley, he had in fact been disappointed by him. He went on to extend the charges against him to his treatment of other Indian princes and to his profuse expenditure. He spoke and voted in the minority on Indian affairs on 21 Apr., though he was in the majority for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act on 30 Apr.

Owing to the difficulty of producing the ‘voluminous’ papers he had moved for, Paull felt obliged to modify his plan of action, the charges against Wellesley preceding the proofs. Despite his angling for influential support, he was hard put to it to find a seconder at this point (22 Apr. 1806) and his relations with the Speaker deteriorated. Wellesley, two of whose brothers had since joined a third in the House in his defence, spent some £30,000 to counter Paull’s campaign and they goaded Paull into producing the Oudh charge hastily.5 When he did so, 28 May, he boasted that ‘a more important business than this had never come before the House’. The third charge (9 June) was set aside for the next session so that the Oudh charge could be considered, 18 June. Witnesses were than examined and it was admitted that the question could not be decided before the end of the session. It was in vain that Paull sought to stimulate the House by bringing in a fourth charge (7 July) and promising another next session: his campaign was losing momentum. He himself had begun to dabble in other debates, forming a trio with Richard Bateman Robson* and Thomas Jones*, parliamentary filibusters troublesome ‘only in thin Houses’,6 on such questions as malversation in the barracks department, 16, 23 May, 16 July, and supporting the Globe insurance bill, 24 June, and vaccine inoculation, 2 July. He opposed remuneration of the commissioners of military inquiry until they had completed their task, 9 July. Joining with Robson and Jones in assault on the Indian budget the same month, he protested at the lack of interest shown by the House in Indian affairs and denounced the East India Company as a drain on the country. He also inspired a pamphlet, Remarks on the Oude question, published after the dissolution.

Before the dissolution of 1806, Paull was on the look-out for a seat. Wellesley’s friends were anxious that he should not obtain one. On 23 Aug. he applied to the Prince of Wales through McMahon, claiming the Prince’s promise of the previous year. McMahon, prepared to shrug him off, procrastinated until on 20 Sept. Paull wrote to cancel his application. He was now involved in the Westminster constituency and had that very day championed Burdett’s candidature in the impending by-election. He went on to reproach the Crown and Anchor committee of independent electors for yielding to Lord Percy’s pretensions and at the ensuing general election stood on their interest, supported by Burdett, Cobbett and Cartwright, as the enemy of ‘oppression and corruption’. On 20 Oct. he wrote a letter to Lord Folkestone, published in the Political Register on the 25th, which the Prince of Wales, whom he accused of desertion, described as a ‘most abominable fabrication, devoid of truth, and framed only to answer, from disappointment, his desperate and contemptible views of the present moment’. A reply was issued. His Whig opponent Sheridan was aligned with Sir Samuel Hood and the coalition proved too strong for Paull, but it was a near thing. He petitioned against Sheridan and appeared in the House in March 1807, only to be reprimanded for interrupting the debate on his counsel’s allegations. The allegations in his petition were declared ‘false and scandalous’, 18 Mar.7

At the dissolution, Paull renewed his challenge, with Burdett as his sleeping partner. He had lost some ground by his appropriation of the subscription fund for his petition to pay election expenses, but stood to benefit by Burdett’s popularity. This led to a quarrel between them, settled by a duel in which both were wounded, 2 May, and which led to their separation. Paull’s remaining friends sponsored his candidature, but he was heavily defeated. The Wellesleyites were jubilant. Paull, venting his wrath on John Horne Tooke*, who had deserted him, in A refutation of the calumnies of John Horne Tooke (1807) claimed that he had endured ‘three months of dreadful suffering’. A Paullite, in a reproachful letter to Samuel Whitbread, 19 Nov. 1807, suggested that as he had thwarted Paull in the past, he might atone for it by inducing Lord Thanet to return him in the place of Viscount Howick. In January 1808, too, William Windham was prepared to recommend Paull to the electors of Stamford on a vacancy there, to emancipate the borough from its patron. Nothing came of these suggestions or of Paull’s notion of contesting Grampound. Meanwhile, in the House, Folkestone had failed to secure the renewal of Paull’s case against Wellesley, 9 Feb. 1808. The day before, Paull had appealed to Whitbread to take it up. He was reviled in an anonymous Letter to James Paull for his ‘unfounded accusations of Marquess Wellesley’, to which he published a spirited retort. In his view Melville’s irregularities were venial compared with Wellesley’s.8 The Oudh charge was dismissed by the House, 15 Mar. 1808. After a gambling loss Paull committed suicide, cutting his throat with a razor, 15 Apr. 1808. His affairs, if not his mind, were deranged and he was disappointed of remittances from India or an advantageous marriage to redeem his situation. He was ‘a zealous man, versed in the East Indian affairs, but seemed to know very little besides’. He failed in his object of halting the Marquess Wellesley’s career, but succeeded in souring his existence.9

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: J. W. Anderson / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Paull’s baptism is not in the old parochial registers of Perth, but a William Paul [sic] born 27 Jan. 1774 was of the parentage here suggested for James. DNB; Bengal Past and Present, xxviii. 2; Farington, iv. 49; L. Melville, Some Eccentrics and a Woman, 90; Add. 13532; 37283, f. 12; Hickey Mems. ed. Spencer, iv. 125, 284; Scott Corresp. (Camden Soc. ser. 3, lxxvi), 436.
  • 2. Add. 39871, f. 55; C. Redding, Yesterday and Today (1863), i. 249.
  • 3. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2206; vi. 2293.
  • 4. Wellesley Pprs. i. 201; HMC Fortescue, vii. 336, 337, 339; viii. 30, 48, 180, 204, 206, 222-3, 413; Add. 37284, ff. 88, 92; C. H. Philips, E.I. Co. 146, 150.
  • 5. Iris Butler, The Eldest Brother, 385.
  • 6. Farington Diary (Yale ed.), viii. 2830.
  • 7. Add. 34457, f. 153; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2206, 2208, 2212, 2233; vi. 2293-4, 2298; Morning Chron. 22 Sept. 1806; K. Theophratus jun., Letter to the Earl of Moira (1806); see WESTMINSTER; CJ, lxii. 256.
  • 8. See WESTMINSTER; Wellington mss, Montgomery to Wellesley, 2 June 1807; Whitbread mss W1/2433; Add. 37887, f. 229; Paull, Letter to Samuel Whitbread ; Butler, 385.
  • 9. Gent. Mag. (1808), i. 373; Wellington mss, Shawe to Wellesley, 16 Apr. 1808; Redding, Fifty Years’ Recollections, 2nd ed. (1858), i. 85; Butler, 375; Colchester, ii. 84.