TRAIL, James (1745-1808), of Hadleigh,, Suff.

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



1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 19 Dec. 1745, 3rd s. of Rev. William Trail, minister of Abercrombie, Fife, and bro. of Henry Trail*. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1763, LLB 1771; M. Temple 1772, called [I] 1780 English bar 1782. m. 15 Jan. 1798, Clarissa Catherine, da. of Sir James Porter, ambassador to the Porte, sis. of George Porter*, s.p.

Offices Held

Clerk of pleas at Charleston, S. Carolina 1771; dep. inspector of plays and groom of privy chamber 1781; private sec. to chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] 1794-5; gent. in attendance on Prince Augustus Frederick Sept. 1800-June 1802; commr. for inquiry into management of public affairs in Ireland May 1804-Aug. 1806; under-sec. civil dept. [I] Aug. 1806-d.; ranger of Phoenix Park Oct. 1806-d.


Trail owed his connexion with Ireland and with the Hertford family to his uncle, Dr James Trail, who accompanied the 1st Marquess to Ireland in 1765 and was bishop of Down and Connor until his death in 1783. He was bred to the bar, but after going three circuits without obtaining a brief, he gave it up ‘as he afterwards relinquished the Chancery bar’. His friend Romilly, recalling this, added:

He was a very remarkable instance of a man most eminently qualified to have attained the highest honours of the profession but who, having no other recommendation than his great talents, was indeed respected, admired, and consulted constantly, but it was only by those who were of the same rank in the profession with himself. No attorney ever discovered his merit; he never got any business, and the profession was to him only a source of expense and disappointment.

Between 1789 and 1791 he was in Paris in company with Lord Lansdowne’s protégé Dumont, and thence he sent reports to Romilly of the progress of the revolution.1

Despite his professional failure, employment was thrust upon Trail. When Sylvester Douglas went to Ireland as chief secretary in January 1794, he reported:

Trail is to go with me, and to have the salary of £400 a year paid by the public to the private secretary. His company and his counsels will be invaluable ... His weak sight will render it necessary for me to take another person ... to write.

It was Douglas’s wife, Lord North’s daughter, who instigated this and persuaded him to go. He retained Douglas’s confidence thereafter, though he soon found no need to look to him for patronage. In the autumn of 1800, at the Prince of Wales’s recommendation, he replaced Charles Arbuthnot as gentleman in attendance on Prince Augustus Frederick, whom he accompanied to Lisbon. Before going, he enlisted William Adam’s assistance to obtain a place (at Curaçao), but it came to nothing. In Lisbon his alarmed efforts to prevent the Prince from consorting with Lady Augusta Murray and becoming a Roman Catholic alienated him and made for a wretched existence for Trail. The Prince, who called him ‘Mr Thrale’, was determined to be rid of him. After their return home in June 1802, Trail appealed to Addington for compensation, knowing that the matter must be concealed from the King. Addington did nothing for him and the claim was renewed to Pitt in 1804.2

Trail was returned by the 2nd Marquess of Hertford for his borough of Orford in 1802. He followed his patron’s line in supporting administration, but without drawing attention to himself in the House. On Pitt’s return to power he was recommended by his friend the attorney-general Spencer Perceval (as well as by Lord Hertford) as one of the commissioners of inquiry into the management of public affairs in Ireland. On 18 July he consulted the Speaker, who advised him to seek to ‘model the Irish in conformity to the British offices of executive government’. From Dublin he reported to the Speaker in October that the commission was hamstrung by the insistence of the Irish chancellor of the exchequer, John Foster*, on his own plan for reform. He returned to England for the session of 1805, though the chief secretary was anxious for him to resume his duties in Ireland with the advantage of Pitt’s directives.3 He was in the House on 8 Apr. 1805, when he voted against the censure of Melville; and still in England in March 1806, when, on the change of ministry, he informed his patron that he could not bring himself to vote against Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, being under an obligation to him. Hertford advised him to stay away, ‘which he did’. His friend George Wilson informed Ellenborough, 9 Mar:

He professes to leave Trail at liberty and has certainly a great regard for him, at the same time such professions as to parliamentary liberty are not always to be understood literally, and I think it very likely that the result will be Trail’s vacating his seat, if he can do it without offending a family to whom he owes a great deal, or at least his going immediately to Ireland to work at his commission.4

Primed with further advice from the Speaker, Trail proceeded to Ireland. In June there was a vacancy at the revenue board and William Adam recommended him to the Duke of Bedford for it; but by the arrangement made, that post was awarded to Alexander Marsden, whose place of under-secretary in the civil department fell to Trail. William Elliot, the chief secretary, informed Earl Spencer, after he had talked Trail into accepting:

Trail has a great deal of information, has no connection whatever with the parties and factions of the country, and yet has the benefit of considerable local experience, to which last qualification, I own, I attribute very great weight.

To this Spencer, who had a candidate of his own lined up, deferred. Trail assured Adam, 3 July, ‘I am quite satisfied I owe this almost entirely to your kind and zealous friendship’; and he lamented the likely demise of Fox, who must be followed by ‘a pygmy race of ministers’. The Duke of Bedford wished Fox ‘to know that Trail has no sort of connection with the old Castle politics, and Lord Henry Petty and Romilly, I am told, both think highly of him’. Once again, Trail turned to the Speaker for advice as to his official duties. He remained in Ireland to help superintend the general election of 1806, at which he was not himself returned to Parliament.5

On the change of ministry in March 1807, Trail was stranded in Dublin. He agreed with Adam that he had better seek provision in England, but on the spot he was advised to stay and wait for the Portland ministry’s proposals: though he did not wish to be compensated in Ireland if displaced by them. On 11 Apr. William Elliot assured him that his successor, Sir Arthur Wellesley, would not remove him; nor did he, although there was a scheme afoot to alter the nature of his office, which might, he thought, cause him to retire. He soon found Wellesley a congenial colleague who thought highly of his services, and he died in office 16 Aug. 1808. Lord Hawkesbury thought it ‘a serious public calamity’. Trail’s brother Henry informed Spencer Perceval that his widow would remain in Ireland until her pension arrangements were completed.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Romilly, Mems. i. 362, 428, 434, 439.
  • 2. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 35, 298; PRO 30/8/184, ff. 89, 91; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1639, 1642, 1644; Blair Adam mss, Trail to Adam, 24 Jan., 14 May 1801, 12 Mar., 15 Sept., Wilson to Adam, Fri. [12 Nov. 1802]; Perceval (Holland) mss 11, f. 9.
  • 3. Add. 35715, f. 112; PRO 30/8/144, f. 178; 30/9/15, Trail to Abbot, 8 Oct. 1804; 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 18 July 1804; Glos. RO, Redesdale mss C9, Long to Redesdale, 28 Feb. [1805].
  • 4. PRO 30/12/17/8.
  • 5. Colchester, ii. 46; NLS mss 12910 f. 248; 12915, Adam to Bedford, n.d. [June]; Blair Adam mss, Trail to Adam, 3 July, Bedford to same, 8 July; PRO 30/9/15, Trail to Abbot, 5 Aug. 1806.
  • 6. Blair Adam mss, J. Trail to Adam, 1 Apr., 9 May 1807, H. Trail to same, 3 Oct. 1808; NLS mss 12911, Elliot to Trail, 11 Apr. 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 86-472; NLI, Richmond mss 73/1634.