BRADSHAW, James (1786-1833), of Runcorn, Cheshire

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



28 Feb. 1825 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 15 Apr. 1786, 2nd s. of Robert Haldane Bradshaw* (d. 1835) and Cornelia Thornhill Rowe. m. 2 July 1816, Eliza, da. of John Blagrove of Abshot House, Hants and Jamaica, 2s. 2 da. d.v.p. 18 Sept. 1833.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1805, cdr. 1806, capt. 1808.


Bradshaw, who has often been confused with his namesake, the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1835-7, and Canterbury, 1837-47, initially pursued a naval career.1 His father, Member for Brackley, 1802-32, and a supporter of the Grenville ministry, asked the prime minister for promotion for him, 21 Mar. 1807.2 He went on to command the Eurydice at the reduction of Martinique in 1809.3 However, during this time ‘his health suffered very severely’ and thereafter he was ‘subject to violent fits of indigestion’.4 Although he remained on the navy list there is no further evidence of active service. After his marriage he took up residence at the Runcorn estate provided for his father as superintendent of the 3rd duke of Bridgwater’s trust, and went on to become his father’s deputy in overseeing the business affairs of the Bridgwater canals, though probably in an unofficial capacity. In February 1825 he was returned on a vacancy for the pocket borough of Brackley, where his father controlled the nomination. Owing to his business activities he was an infrequent attender, but when present he supported the Liverpool ministry, like his father. The two are often difficult to distinguish, but he paired against Catholic relief, 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He made his first known intervention in debate, 16 Mar. 1826, when he insisted that the East India Company made regular checks on the competence of its cadets in Hindi. On 6 Apr. he criticized the proposed Liverpool and Manchester railway, against which his father had unsuccessfully campaigned, and warned that it ‘would become a monopoly in the hands of the proprietors’. His father’s opposition had ended when the 2nd marquess of Stafford, the duke of Bridgwater’s nephew and the main beneficiary of the profits from the canals, decided to buy shares in the new railway. Stafford was entitled to nominate three members of the railway board, and he named Bradshaw as one of them, which put him in a position to influence decisions so that they were not detrimental to the canal’s interest. Initially he was a regular attender at board meetings and, in order to protect Stafford’s liability, he persuaded his fellow directors in June 1826 of the folly of trying to secure an exchequer loan to finance the railway and suggested a call on the shareholders instead. His attendance soon fell away, however, and James Loch*, Stafford’s man of business, later told William Currie, 30 Sept. 1831, that Bradshaw had ‘felt hampered in his exertions in favour of the canal, from having some knowledge of what were the views and objects of the railway directors’. He was probably the ‘T. Bradshaw’ who voted to receive the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. He divided against reforming the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr. 1826.

At the 1826 general election he was again returned unopposed by his father. He was granted a week’s leave on account of family illness, 1 May 1827. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic claims, 12 May 1828. In late February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, predicted that he would divide ‘with government’ for their concession of Catholic emancipation, but he voted against them, 6 Mar. (although he was listed as absent in some sources), and 30 Mar.5 Either he or his father divided for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and they were both in the minority for the transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. Commenting that he ‘did not acquiesce in its prayer’, he presented a petition from the publicans of Runcorn against the sale of beer bill, 29 Apr. 1830. Following his unopposed return at the 1830 general election, he was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, but he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. It was probably his father who was the ‘Mr. Bradshaw’ granted a month’s leave because of ill health, 10 Feb. 1831. Both were listed as absent from the vote on the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831, although The Times later claimed that one of them had voted for it.6 He divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. Returned again for Brackley at the ensuing general election, he voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July. When Brackley’s proposed disfranchisement came before the House, 20 July, he protested that the borough’s population had grown since the 1821 census by 256 (thereby taking it over the threshold for retaining one Member), noted that there had never been any charge of bribery against it, and claimed that his return was by ‘the influence of property situate in that borough’, but he did not press the matter to a vote. He divided to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, for the swearing in of the original committee on the Dublin election, 29 July, and against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. 1831. He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832. His only other known votes were against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading of the revised reform bill, 22 Mar. 1832. He lost his seat when Brackley was disfranchised by the Reform Act and apparently made no attempt to find a berth elsewhere.

When Bradshaw was approached about a joint venture for a rail link between Birmingham and Liverpool, which involved building over some of the existing canal, he rejected the idea, telling Loch, 17 Mar. 1833, that a junction of rail and canal ‘would be far worse than the cholera’. His father’s increasing irrationality after his stroke in November 1831 and unwillingness to delegate any responsibility for the canal’s affairs exasperated Bradshaw, who on 21 Aug. 1833 reported to Loch that ‘matters press both officially and privately, and both are now arrived at a crisis’. The following month he committed suicide at his father’s Worsley residence, where he was was ‘found lying on the floor with a razor beside him, and his throat cut in the most determined manner, nearly from ear to ear’.7 The coroner’s inquest was told of his long standing illness, which

always had a visible effect upon his spirits. To relieve himself from those attacks he was in the habit of taking large doses of medicine without medical advice. For more than a month previous to his death he had exhibited the most unequivocal symptoms of derangement, and at one of the inns where he called on the road from Runcorn to Worsley, he asked for a Bible and Prayer Book, and insisted upon a servant in the house kneeling down with him to pray. His conversation on the last few days had been very incoherent, and, without a moment’s hesitation the jury ... returned a verdict of ‘insanity’.8

Loch had no hesitation in attributing Bradshaw’s suicide to ‘the old gentleman’s conduct’. Bradshaw died intestate, and administration of his estate, which was sworn under £3,000, was granted to his widow, 21 Feb. 1834.9

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon


See F.C. Mather, After the Canal Duke, 42-85, from which the details of Bradshaw’s business career are taken.

  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 548 seems to be the source of this confusion, by marrying the early career of this Member to the life of the other.
  • 2. BL, Fortescue mss.
  • 3. J. Marshall, R. Naval Biog. ix. 308.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1833), ii. 539.
  • 5. The Times, 10 Mar. 1829 omitted him from their list and the Mirror of Parliament noted that he did not vote.
  • 6. The Times, 25 Mar. 1831.
  • 7. Ibid. 30 Sept. 1833.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1833), ii. 539.
  • 9. PROB 6/210/167.