HUDLESTON, John (1749-1835), of Bathwick, Som.
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Family and Education
b. 2 Sept. 1749, 1st s. of Rev. William Hudleston, vicar of St. Cuthbert’s and preb. of Wells, by Mary, da. of John Burland of Wells. educ. by J. Sharpe, Bromley by Bow 1765. m. 23 Nov. 1788, Honoria, da. of Rev. John Marshall, 5s. 2da. suc. fa. 1766.
Writer, E.I. Co. (Madras) 1766, factor 1771, jun. merchant 1774, sen. merchant 1778; member of council, Ganjam 1776-7; resident, Tanjore 1778, Nagaur 1780-1, Tanjore 1784; military sec. 1781; home 1787; out of service 1790.
Dir. E.I. Co. 1803-26.
Hudleston served at Madras over 20 years in the Company service. Reciting his vicissitudes in a letter of 7 Sept. 1783, he protested that having been pressed to be military secretary to Lord Macartney, on the understanding that he would replace John Sullivan* as resident at Tanjore (which he had sacrificed), he now learnt that John Hippisley* was to succeed Sullivan. His fears were allayed and he was further honoured with the appointment of commissioner to treat with Tipu Sultan in 1784. After his return home (July 1787), he presented a memorial of his services and the directors awarded him 10,000 star pagodas (28 Mar. 1788). He had thoughts of returning to India in 1789 but settled first at Down Place, Bray, then at Windsor and finally at Bathwick. His ambition was to become a director of the East India Company, as he informed Henry Dundas in 1796, when he was a stockholder entitled to four votes. He had ideas about reforming the Company, which Edmund Burke* advised him to keep to himself until he was elected. He offered in March 1797, was unsuccessful in March 1798, offered again in January 1803, pointing out that the court lacked a director who had served at Madras, and was just successful in the April election.1
Hudleston, who aspired to a seat in Parliament, withdrew his challenge to the patron’s interest at Ilchester in 1802, but obtained his wish on a vacancy at Bridgwater in 1804. He approached the leader of the party hostile to Earl Poulett’s interest there to avert opposition and, although a Foxite appeared against him, he secured his return. He was listed a supporter of Pitt, with a query, in September 1804; but after voting with the majorities against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805, became ‘doubtful Pitt’ in July. Fox described him as ‘the less determined ministerialist’ of the two Members for Bridgwater two months later.2 On 30 Apr. 1806, after speaking in that sense on 3 Apr., he voted with the ministerial majority for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act.
He ably supported Wilberforce’s bill to abolish the slave trade, 28 Feb. 1805, when he denounced ‘a traffic, the enormity of which was palliated by pitiful calculations of interest’ by the slave owner, who ‘would not endure for an hour the misery to which he condemns his fellow-man for life’. Claiming that the East Indies could supply sugar ‘without employing a single slave’, he ridiculed the notion that the Hindu peasant was worse off than the slave: it was a matter of ‘mental feeling’. To maintain the slave trade would be ‘the consummation of human guilt’. Wilberforce lobbied him for the next campaign, 5 June 1806, and writing to him, 26 Nov., expressed his dismay at Hudleston’s defeat at the polls
not because you were a zealous as well as conscientious and hearty friend to the abolition of the slave trade, but because you were, like myself, unconnected both with ministers and opposition, and disposed to promote the cause of religion, and morals, and the best interests of our own country, and mankind. I repeat, I greatly regret your defeat, and it would give me sincere pleasure to see you once more in the House of Commons.3
Hudleston’s speeches in the House were largely confined to East Indian affairs. He was a critic of ministerial policy who supported Francis’s and Johnstone’s motions against Wellesley’s expansionist policy in India, 5 Apr. 1805 and 10 Mar. 1806, but entirely approved Cornwallis’s record, 3 Feb. 1806, on which day he also approved public payment of Pitt’s debts. He was a spokesman for the directors in their hostility to the tendencies of Wellesley’s policy, 17 Mar., and four days later moved for papers on Oudh, but was overruled by the Speaker because he gave no notice; he then postponed it. Lord Grenville observed to Fox, whose wish to appoint Lord Lauderdale governor of Madras had alienated the court of directors:
Hudleston’s motion clearly proves the directors consider all the parliamentary proceedings now going on, as the triumph of the court of directors over the Board of Control and of the system of governing India by the Company and its servants over that of naming political and public characters to that station.4
A crisis was averted by the ministry’s abandonment of Lauderdale’s pretensions. On 15 Apr. Hudleston abandoned his motion, but supported Lord Archibald Hamilton’s substitute motion on 21 Apr., wishing to make it clear that the directors did not approve or even know of Wellesley’s transactions in Oudh. He was a critic of the property duty bill, 15, 19, 28 May 1806, because it hit the lower income groups and small investors; he called for relief for those with large families, and less direct taxation. He would prefer higher taxation ‘upon the class to which he belonged’. On 18 July he was spokesman for the directors on the India budget and justified the Company’s trade monopoly.
Hudleston’s position at Bridgwater was compromised in 1806 by the division of the Poulett interest. His opponents secured ministerial endorsement and, in partnership with a fellow director William Thornton*, he was defeated. He was never again in Parliament, but was mentioned for a vacancy at Wells in 1815. He remained prominent in East Indian circles, though in 1809 Stephen Rumbold Lushington* complained of him as ‘that disgusting blockhead’. In 1824 he and William Taylor Money* urged the Company to encourage the campaign against the practice of suttee, in a memorial on the subject. He died 6 Mar. 1835, bequeathing over £100,000 in funded stock to his children. All his sons entered the Company service.5
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: J. W. Anderson / R. G. Thorne
- 1. India Office Lib. J/1/6, ff. 7-13; PRO 30/8/361, f. 237; Morning Chron. 17 Mar. 1797; Burke Corresp. ix. 307; The Times, 12, 27 Jan., 16 Mar., 14 Apr. 1803.
- 2. See ILCHESTER; Chubb mss, Hudleston to Chubb, 16 June 1804; T. B. Dilks, C. J. Fox and the borough of Bridgwater, letter dated 17 Sept. 1803, recte 1805.
- 3. Wilberforce Corresp. ii. 87, 107.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, viii. 83.
- 5. Kent AO, Harris mss C67/49; PCC 177 Gloucester; Genealog. Mag. vi. 162.