COULSON, Thomas (1645-1713), of Tower Royal, London
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Family and Education
bap. 1 Oct. 1645, o. s. of William Coulson of London and Greenwich, Kent, by Ann, da. of Thomas Rhode of London, citizen and draper. unm. ?1da. illegit. by Jane Radcliffe. suc. fa. 1664.1
Cttee. Old E.I. Co. 1697–8, 1702–9, manager, united trade 1702–4, 1705–8, dir. united co. 1709–13.2
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696; Greenwich Hosp. 1704.3
Coulson’s grandfather, a yeoman or possibly a minor gentleman, had been in possession of property at Ayton Magna, Yorkshire and South Mimms, Middlesex, while his father appears to have operated as a small-scale businessman in the capital. Coulson followed a more ambitious course and his involvement in the East India trade made him wealthy, though he did not rank among the richest of the City elite. By the early 1690s he was a prominent figure in the City and known for his Tory politics. Indeed, his standing was such as to warrant his nomination in July 1690 as a colonel in the remodelled City militia, but he declined to serve. Having aligned himself with the interloping faction in the East India trade, he became ‘treasurer’ in October 1691 of a standing committee, which included his close friend Thomas Pitt I*, whose concern was to re-establish the East India trade ‘upon a new national joint-stock clear of all encumbrances’. It is from this point that his particular friendship can be charted with one of the foremost parliamentary advocates for the establishment of a new company, Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., and their connexion was to prove a lasting one politically. As one commentator was to observe years later: ‘Tom Coulson never had any friendship with anybody but Sir Edward Seymour.’ His business activities at this time also extended to the advance of a number of short-term loans to the government, with the amounts outstanding totalling almost £30,000 in July 1692.4
In November 1692 Seymour arranged Coulson’s election for the vacant seat at Totnes, less than two miles from Seymour’s country seat at Berry Pomeroy. He informed the mayor on the 22nd that Coulson was ‘a considerable merchant of this city who is qualified with very good abilities and integrity’ whom he was certain would ‘not only prove a good patriot to his country, but a benefactor to your town’. Seymour’s brother Henry Portman, the other Member for Totnes, also commended him as being ‘very much for the Church of England’ and would ‘always own it as a great obligation . . . to be joined with one that is so deserving’. As parliamentary discussion on the future of the East India Company began to warm up, Seymour had good reason to desire Coulson’s election to Parliament. Coulson had been appointed by the interlopers on 18 Nov. to a three-man delegation to meet with the Company’s governor, Sir Thomas Cooke*, in order ‘to debate the matters in contest before Sir Edward Seymour’, though nothing productive was seen to emerge. Once elected, however, Coulson failed to answer any expectation that he might act as a spokesman for the interloping syndicate and there is no record of his ever having spoken in the House on this or any other subject. In March 1695 Coulson’s name featured in the parliamentary investigations into the underhand dealings of the East India Company. It emerged that soon after entering Parliament he had been offered £10,000 from Sir Basil Firebrace*, one of the principal East India directors, to ‘come over’ to the Company, but had turned it down. Of great potential damage, however, was the revelation that he was the probable beneficiary of a transaction involving the sale of a cargo of saltpetre, worth £2,000 to the Company, for the vastly inflated price of £12,000. It was widely thought that Seymour had received a large share in the profits of the deal, having, as the inquiry found, deserted his former friends the interlopers at about this time, and that the saltpetre transaction had been contrived to facilitate the Company’s payment to Seymour of a large cash inducement. Though Coulson obeyed the Commons’ instruction to provide copies of the relevant contract documents, nothing could be proved against him. During the course of the session the Treasury secretary Henry Guy* had included him on a list of ‘friends’, probably in connexion with the threatened attack on Guy himself, although if later assessments of Coulson’s behaviour are any indication, he could not necessarily be relied upon to support the Court.5
Seymour’s need for the Totnes seat in the 1695 election in the wake of his difficulties at Exeter gave Coulson little option but to stand down. He was allowed to resume the seat in 1698, however, when he was classed as a supporter of the Country party, and early in the opening session was forecast as likely to oppose the Court over the question of a standing army. By this time Coulson had thrown in his lot with the East India Company and was now a member of its directorial board with a shareholding which stood at £4,000 in 1703–4. His continuing close association with Seymour is clearly stated in a list analysing the House in terms of ‘interests’ and ‘connexions’, produced sometime between January and May 1700. He helped to pave the way for his and Francis Gwyn’s election at Totnes in January 1701 by promising financial assistance to the corporation for repairing the weir from which the town’s mills were powered and to provide an organ for the local church. Seymour involved him in his efforts to preconcert measures for the forthcoming session. During proceedings on the question of war or peace, Coulson’s opposition to renewing hostilities with France led to his being blacklisted along with Seymour and other Tory allies. In February, however, he was listed as likely to support the Court in agreeing with the committee of supply’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. A complaint against Coulson and Seymour for having used threats and bribes at the recent election at Totnes, originally referred to the elections committee, was dismissed by the House on 19 May, though not before Members had been apprised of the contents of letters to the corporation from both Seymour and Coulson, the production of which at this juncture was clearly intended to incriminate. Coulson’s letter, which he acknowledged as authentic, ‘talked of a dissolution of the Parliament and of persuading them to be reconciled to Sir Edward Seymour and persuading them to bring in Frank Gwyn and promising them to do the town a kindness in relation to the buing [sic] mills that did incommode them’. It was Seymour, however, the instigator of earlier inquiries into electoral corruption, rather than Coulson, who was the main object of the attack. Accordingly, the House ordered the recipient of this correspondence into custody for endeavouring to ‘promote reflections’. Despite this unpleasantness, Coulson fulfilled his word to his corporation regarding the weir and subscribed £300 towards its repair.6
In December 1701 Coulson was classified by Robert Harley* as a Tory. Succumbing to serious illness in January 1702, he was at one point thought to be close to death. On 26 Feb. he voted for the resolution vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the former Whig ministers, and on 13 Feb. 1703 against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration. In mid-March 1704 he featured in a list of Lord Nottingham’s (Daniel Finch†) supporters, probably in connexion with proceedings concerning the Scotch Plot. On 28 Nov. 1704 he fulfilled earlier expectations that he would vote for the Tack, was noted as ‘True Church’ in a list drawn up in the aftermath of the 1705 election, and voted against the Court candidate for the speakership on 25 Oct. During the years 1706–8 he played an active part in the lengthy negotiations overseen by Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) to secure the merger of the Old and New East India companies and in 1709 became a director of the united company.7
Coulson was classed as a Tory in a list of early 1708, but Seymour’s death in February weakened his position at Totnes and he failed to retain the seat at the May election. A very different situation obtained in the run-up to the 1710 election, however, when it was reported that he and Gwyn had placed Seymour’s son (Sir Edward, 5th Bt.*) in a difficult position, having since the previous contest ‘contrived an interest’ of their own. Strangely, Coulson’s strong Tory credentials eluded the compiler of the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament and he was marked ‘doubtful’. However, his inclusion in a list of ‘worthy patriots’ who took part during the 1710–11 session in exposing the mismanagements of the previous administration confirms there had been no change in his political colouring. Indeed, in the elections to the board of the East India Company in April 1711 his name was canvassed on a list ‘favoured by the Tories’. Coulson died ‘after one day’s sickness’ at his house at Tower Royal on 2 June 1713. His funeral was attended by several peers and he was buried at St. Michael Royal in the vault of the Fellowes family, the merchant clan into which his sister had married. In his will he left £500 and his two houses in Friday Street to his ‘entirely beloved friend’ Jane Radcliffe, perhaps a relation of his crony Dr John Radcliffe*, and £10,000 and a house in Kensington to her ‘reputed daughter’, presumably by himself. He was stated by an obituarist to have sired several illegitimate children to whom he had given ‘good portions’. The rest of his property devolved upon his nephew John Fellowes, a London merchant to whom he also left £10,000.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. IGI, London; info. from Dr P. L. Gauci; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 565; PCC 125 Leeds.
- 2. Add. 38871, ff. 9–17.
- 3. Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704; CJ, xii. 509.
- 4. Info. from Dr Gauci; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 70; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 77; Bodl. Rawl. C.449; Add. 22851, ff. 105, 107, 145; 22852, ff. 4, 6; Wentworth Pprs. 97; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1743.