FULLARTON, William (1754-1808), of Fullarton, Ayr.

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



8 Apr. 1779 - 1780
22 June 1787 - 1790
24 Oct. 1793 - 1796
30 Nov. 1796 - Mar. 1803

Family and Education

b. 12 Jan. 1754, o.s. of William Fullarton of Fullarton by Barbara, da. of William (Scot) Blair of Blair. educ. Edinburgh Univ. 1768; Grand Tour 1769-71; L. Inn 1774. m. 18 June 1792, Hon. Marianne Mackay. da, of George, 5th Lord Reay [S], 1da. suc. fa. 1758.

Offices Held

Sec. of embassy, Paris 1775-8.

Lt.-col. commdt. (temp. rank) 98 Ft. 1780-5; col. (local rank, E.I.) 1782; raised 23 Drag. (Fullarton’s lt. horse) 1794 and 101 Ft. 1800; maj. 1 batt. 2 Ayr vol. inf. 1807-d.

First commr. Trinidad 1802-3.


Fullarton, who inherited great estates as a child, had a varied career. He gave up the law for diplomacy and during his first brief interlude in Parliament supported North’s ministry. He next served with distinction in India in a military capacity and on his return re-entered Parliament for Haddington Burghs as an opposition supporter. He had great difficulty in recouping his expenditure in India and thought in 1788 that he would be obliged to enter foreign service. He joined the Whig Club, 4 Nov. 1788, and Brooks’s, 8 Mar. 1790. He proved an able debater, especially on Indian affairs, in which he aligned himself against Warren Hastings. Had his friends taken office, he was earmarked for a seat at the Board of Control or even the government of Madras. He lost his seat at the general election of 1790. Had he succeeded, according to Sir John Hippisley, the opposition would have found him ‘a present and efficient man, against an absentee of less calibre; in truth Fullarton should not be out of Parliament’.1

Fullarton joined the Friends of the People and in July 1792 was the Ayrshire delegate at the meeting to promote reform of the Scottish county franchise. Alarmed at the excesses of the French revolution, he became ‘heartily ashamed’ of the Friends and on 6 Feb. 1793 offered Pitt his military services. He informed the Prince of Wales of this step and on 20 Feb. wrote to William Windham in the inimitable style of his speeches in the Commons:

I have remained a silent but not inattentive admirer of your proceedings, and should continue in my Hyperborean position to content myself with a perspective à la distance ... But in these disjointed times when that which was a party seems to be typified by the three legs of an Isle of Man halfpenny all standing different ways, and the opinions of men are distorted into forms more fretful than the quills on a porcupine, I am anxious that my sentiments and modes of action should be known to those whom I love and value ... Immediately on hearing of the war, I felt it to be my duty to offer any military exertions in my power against all foreign and domestic enemies, being perfectly convinced that when the house is threatened to be set on fire by incendiaries within and attacked by banditti from another quarter, he must have a hollow heart and an inverted understanding who would wrangle about plastering an old wall or curing a smoky chimney.

You are well acquainted with the sentiments and impressions under which I entered into the association for obtaining a reform of Parliament. I certainly was one of those who did believe it possible to give additional force and stability to our already admirable constitution by removing some of those incidental imperfections from which no human institution is exempted. I did conceive that by discussions on these points, properly conducted in quiet times, much of that discontented spirit which has pervaded the lower classes of the community might have been allayed and thereby that a check might have been given to that desperate, levelling and subversive system of democracy which has been so wickedly disseminated.2

That summer he accompanied Windham to Flanders to inspect the army. It was doubtless Windham who proposed that Fullarton should fill a vacant seat for Horsham, where the patron had a Scottish bias. Fullarton wrote to him again on 24 Nov. 1793:

After withdrawing from globes of compression, sharp shooters and whiskered Hungarians and reposing myself in the domestic dormitory ... little did I conjecture that the wise and worthy Horshamites would have disturbed my lullaby and sent me among the noisy corps who act under General Addington.

Wishing however in every situation to look to the right and to dress as the rules of war direct by a proper fugleman, I cannot do better than turn my eyes towards you—and shall rejoice to hear from you in what quarter the war is to be carried on ...

You will therefore be pleased to prime and load me in the manner of a culverin or paterero, ready to explode by flint, or match or other application of combustion against the sans culottides at home and abroad.3

Fullarton’s politics from 1793 were those of a Portland Whig and he supported Pitt’s administration. He wrote to Pitt on 24 Feb. 1794 offering to raise a Highland regiment from his wife’s clan and recalling his three offers during the last year to raise, at his own expense, a regiment of 1,000 infantry or 600 cavalry. Lord Loughborough complained to Pitt in November 1793 that Fullarton’s offers were spurned because of ‘some secret prejudice’ against him, though he was ‘a very zealous and active supporter of government’. There was such a prejudice: Henry Dundas informed Sir Gilbert Elliot that a speech of Fullarton’s ‘concerning the Queen’ (presumably in 1789 in the Regency debates) would ‘never be forgiven’. Nevertheless he raised a dragoon regiment which served in Ireland; he did not remain with it, though on 2 Mar. 1795 he wrote to Dundas offering to serve as secretary to the next Irish viceroy, an office for which he claimed Dundas had previously acknowledged his fitness. He elaborated various military schemes, some in advance of his day; not to speak of his ‘general view’ of Ayrshire agriculture and his discovery of a mode of making bar iron and steel.4

Fullarton surfaced in debate, 8 June 1795, in a laboured attack on Sheridan in the debate on the Prince of Wales’s debts bill. This was personal animosity, as Sheridan and other members of opposition had questioned his entitlement to £15,750 compensation awarded (out of over £20,000 claimed) for his expenses in India.5 In November, a defaulter from the House, he declared his candidature for Ayrshire. He claimed to have been advised by William Mcdowall* not to look for another seat, as he would be supported by Dundas, but he was defeated at the general election—and pursued a vendetta against Mcdowall. He had declined Dundas’s compensatory offer of the command at St. Domingo but, to the prejudice of his election prospects in Ayrshire, so he claimed, accepted command of the troops in an expedition to South America. This was deferred and meanwhile, with Dundas’s blessing, he stepped into the Ayrshire seat unopposed on a vacancy. He was still dissatisfied at the lack of recognition shown him and on 20 Mar. 1797 complained to Pitt, claiming that he had been promised promotion in India in 1795, if no other mode occurred.6 On 23 Mar. he called on the House to ‘prepare for perpetual war’, at the same time castigating ‘an idle and pernicious war of words’ in party strife. On 28 Mar. he advocated better defence preparations, hinting that the country was not exploiting its talents. Opposing a bid for peace, 10 Apr., he called for a restoration of public credit before negotiations began: ‘It is Bankocracy that threatens the destruction of social order ... that turns and overturns all questions respecting war, negotiations, and peace’. (He sympathized with Sir William Pulteney’s attack on the Bank monopoly.) He concluded by suggesting, in two resolutions, a general congress of Europe to outlaw war in future and, if this proved impracticable, a manifesto of the reasons for continuing the war. He deprecated Fox’s political line, 23 May, claiming to have differed from him ‘on all political questions ... since the commencement of the present war’. He voted for Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 4 Jan. 1798.

Fullarton offered to raise at his own expense a corps of light dragoons, with artillery, for service against the French in May 1798. On 12 June 1799 he complained to Dundas:

The flattering appointments, for which on various occasions I have been suggested and approved, induce me to conclude that the objections to me, can hardly be of a personal nature. Still less, can any objections of a political description apply to me. For I have not in any one instance, voted or acted against the measures of government, since the commencement of the present war. My voting for two national banks instead of one, is no exception. I have not only written, spoken, and acted in direct hostility to the proceedings of opposition, but I have, on all occasions, been most forward in supporting every measure tending to increase internal security and external operations. Neither have I omitted any opportunity of promoting the views of government for negotiation as well as war—and have by my public conduct, so decidedly offended opposition, that almost all their friends, on the roll of this county, voted against me, although my opponent, as well as myself, was friendly to administration.

He went on to emphasize the anti-Foxite tendency of the ‘armed neutrality’ of 1797 with which he had flirted, and added:

I travelled 400 miles, when very ill, to vote against Mr Whitbread’s censure on the Admiralty, but notwithstanding my respect, and declared admiration for members of that board, it was represented as improper in me to state, that all the abilities of the Admiralty, and all the skill and valour of our triumphant navy, were not sufficient without great internal military preparation, to secure Ireland from invasion. In like manner, my declaring ... that more than 50,000 United Irishmen were actually prepared to assist France, was imputed to me as disrespectful to administration. I feel however, that in attempting to rouse the capitalists of London and the friends of government in Ireland from the strange lethargy which endangered these kingdoms, till the volunteer associations were called forth, I offered the best proof of zeal for the safety of his Majesty’s government. At the present moment I conceive, that by supporting the union of Great Britain with Ireland, I shall pursue the same line of public conduct.7

Fullarton was enabled to raise an infantry regiment and next surfaced in the House on 16 Feb. 1801, when he moved the vote of thanks to Addington for his services as Speaker. In June Lord Hobart, to whom he had applied for employment, recommended him to the King for the command of an expedition to Madeira, but the King objected. On 14 May 1802 Fullarton said a few words in favour of the peace of Amiens in debate. In June appeared a pamphlet of his, critical of ‘the antipacific doctrines lately urged’. He also got leave for a bill to improve Scottish parish schools, 12 June, but it was postponed for another session. Re-elected for Ayrshire, he offered to advise the Home secretary on Scottish elections. He also urged upon him a scheme for reducing London bread prices by building mills to grind corn by contract.8

Fullarton was among those summoned by Addington for the opening of the new Parliament, and applied to him for the government of Madras. This, he claimed, was his friends’ idea ‘as pecuniary advantage never was, and never shall be my object ... I should prefer a diplomatic appointment at Madrid or Paris, to any other situation incompatible with parliamentary attendance.’9 If he had to go further afield, he would prefer Trinidad to Madras, as it had long been his ambition to open South America to British trade. Addington offered him the first commissionership of Trinidad which, though ‘inadequate to his just pretensions’, he accepted. He afterwards claimed that he did so on the understanding that it was compatible with his seat in Parliament, but during his absence his seat was vacated.

The situation in Trinidad was impossible from the outset, Sir Thomas Picton*, the former governor, having been demoted to third commissioner. Picton’s supporters alleged that there was a plot between Fullarton and John Sullivan*, under-secretary in the Colonial Office, to force Picton to resign. If he did not, Fullarton was to attack his administration and obtain his recall though, as the King pointed out, he could not ‘with propriety’ succeed Picton. Certainly he glossed over the difficulties of administering a conquered island and viewed Picton’s actions by English light. Only one of his allegations was brought against Picton in the English courts, but Fullarton, who returned to England in 1803, believed him guilty of worse crimes and pursued his case before the Privy Council until the close of 1805; the decision to revoke the Trinidad commission prevented his further appearing before the Council.

Although I have never been considered as a personal adherent of your administration, even when concurring in some of its leading measures [wrote Fullarton to Pitt] yet I am the last individual on earth to suppose that a system of deception and enmity can obtain your sanction.10

When the Council decided to take no further action, he brought a suit against Picton for inflicting torture on a suspect; the case dragged on in the law courts and outlasted Fullarton himself. Meanwhile he had drawn attention to the case of Sir Samuel Hood*, the second commissioner, and a protracted inquiry by the Privy Council continued under the Grenville ministry.

No doubt his desire to ‘support the national honour’ made Fullarton the keener to return to Parliament. On 23 Oct. 1806 he appealed to William Adam for an opening, suggesting Dysart Burghs or Portarlington. On 28 Oct. he wrote to William Wickham explaining how he had lost his seat for Ayrshire, which he saw no prospect of regaining; being ‘extremely anxious to obtain a seat’, he sought his help. Wickham merely referred him to Fremantle at the Treasury, who was evidently able to do nothing for him. At the same time, he appeared on the hustings at Westminster to reprove Sir Samuel Hood for daring to stand. His friend Wraxall remarked of his contest with Picton that ‘the excess of his zeal ... formed subject of regret’, in view of ‘his numerous virtues, his disinterestedness, and elevation of character’. Countess Spencer, on the other hand, ‘never could bear that black-headed Scot’.11 Fullarton died of inflammation of the lungs, 13 Feb. 1808.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: M. H. Port


  • 1. Debrett (ser. ii), xli. 696-719; PRO 30/8/137, ff. 140-8; 195, f. 99; Add. 38410, ff. 93-114; SRO GD267/1/4, G. to P. Home, 12 Dec. 1788; NLS mss 11143, f. 167.
  • 2. Wyvill, Pol. Pprs. iii. 36; Minto, ii. 21; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 727; PRO 30/8/137, f. 148; Add. 37873, f. 203.
  • 3. Windham Diary, 279-80; Add. 37873, f. 237.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/137, ff. 150-2; 153, f. 102; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 791, 813; NLS mss 2257, f. 42; 11159, f. 6; Procs. in the King v. Draper, 155, 158, 189-90; Add. 37877, f. 315.
  • 5. Oracle, 1 July 1795; Debrett (ser. ii), xl. 469, 474; xli. 696-719.
  • 6. SRO GD51/1/198/3/7, 10-12; PRO 30/8/137, ff. 152-5.
  • 7. Add. 37877, f. 315; 47564, f. 13; NLS mss 1053, f. 89; Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1255.
  • 8. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2452, 2454; Bucks. RO, Hobart mss J313; Edinburgh Advertiser, 4-8 June 1802; Add. 33107, ff. 111, 210.
  • 9. Sidmouth mss, Fularton to Sidmouth, 7 Nov. 1802.
  • 10. Procs. in the King v. Draper, pp. v-vii; H. B. Robinson, Mems. Sir T. Picton, i. 98-105; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2728; PRO 30/8/137, ff. 156-9.
  • 11. Blair Adam mss; Fortescue mss, Fullarton to Wickham, 28 Oct., reply 2 Nov.; Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 5 Nov. 1806; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, v. 73.