BULLER, Charles I (1774-1848), of Polvellan, nr. Looe, Cornw.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Educationb. 31 May 1774, 4th s. of John Buller† (d. 1793) of Morval and Anne, da. of William Lemon of Carclew; bro. of Sir Anthony Buller* and John Buller*. educ. Westminster 1788; by Richard Jackson 1791. m. 26 Aug. 1805, Barbara Isabella, da. of Maj.-Gen. William Kirkpatrick, E.I. Co. service, 3s. ?1 da. illegit. d. 17 May 1848.
Writer, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1791; registrar to judge of Patna 1793; Persian and Bengal translator to bd. of revenue 1794, factor and sub. sec. to bd. 1797; jun. merchant and sec. to bd. of revenue 1801; 3rd member, bd. of revenue 1807; sen. merchant 1807; commr. at Cuttack 1808; at home 1811; in Bengal Sept. 1816; sen. member, bd. of revenue 1817; sen. member, bd. of commrs. in Behar and Benares 1819; at home 1821; res. 1826.
High Steward, West Looe 1814-16.1
Buller merited only a token bequest from his father’s estate in 1793, presumably because he had employment in the East India Company’s civil service.2 After returning from a second spell in Bengal he lived briefly in 1823 at Kinnaird House, Perthshire, from where his wife, a restless itinerant, contemplated a move to France, though they had settled at Woolwich, Kent, by December 1824.3 Thomas Carlyle, who was engaged as tutor to their sons, described Buller in 1822 as ‘a downright true, unaffected, honest Englishman’, and for a time at least, relished their exchanges ‘about politics and learned men and morals and letters and things in general’, noting that ‘we are very comfortable in spite of his deafness, which disturbs the pleasure of conversation somewhat, especially at first’. But Carlyle’s patience wore thin on closer acquaintance with his employers, whom he disdainfully observed ‘straining in strenuous idleness to compass their tinselly enjoyments, conversant alone with the most shallow feelings, aiming at little higher than dining or being dined’. More generously, the author John Sterling assessed Buller in 1829 as ‘rather a clever man of sense ... particularly good natured and gentlemanly’, and his wife, once ‘a renowned beauty and queen of Calcutta’, as a ‘brilliant and pleasant’ conversationalist.4
At the general election of 1826 Buller was returned for West Looe on the interest of his brother John. He divided with Canning’s ministry against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827. He was probably the ‘R. Buller’ who voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and the ‘Mr. Buller’ who deprecated an attack on opponents of the measure for seeking to delay it, 28 Feb. 1828. Yet he voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He divided with the duke of Wellington ministry’s against inquiry into delays in chancery, 24 Apr., and presented an anti-slavery petition from his constituents, 16 June 1828. That summer his son jocularly assured Carlyle that he had ‘not quite arrived at the degree of Toryism and baseness which would make a man support ... Wellington’s government’.5 In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation. He declared that the majority of the ‘educated and intelligent classes’ in Cornwall were now reconciled to it, 24 Feb., and indicated his support for a higher property qualification for Irish county voters; he voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. He presented a Looe petition for the continuance of the bounty on pilchard exports, 7 May 1829. At the opening of the 1830 session he retired in favour of his eldest son Charles.
In June 1832, while canvassing Liskeard with his son, Buller encountered William Makepeace Thackeray, with whose father he had served in India, and who thought him ‘a dear old fellow, the most amiable and good natured I ever saw’. His wife subsequently presided over the radical salon centred on their son, though an account of one party casts doubt over her efficiency as a hostess. Harriet Martineau, who was hard of hearing, found herself seated next to Buller:
He being so excessively deaf ... no trumpet was of much use to him. There we sat with our trumpets, an empty chair on the one hand, and on the other, Mr. J.S. Mill, whose singularly feeble voice cut us off from conversation in that direction.6
Buller died in May 1848 and left the bulk of his real and personal estate to his wife, to be divided on her death between their sons. He instructed that an annuity of £100 be given to one Theresa Reviss, who was granted further provision from the sale of land and houses in Calcutta.7 She was reputedly his illegitimate daughter, by ‘a girl in the Baker street bazaar’, who was subsequently adopted by his wife and spoiled so far beyond endurance as to provide Thackeray with the supposed model for Becky Sharp, the profligate heroine of Vanity Fair. She lived far beyond her slender means and, after acquiring a reputation as a femme fatale in India, sought security through marriages to two foreign counts.8
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. T. Bond, East and West Looe, 236.
- 2. PROB 11/1274/234.
- 3. Letters of Carlyle to his bro. Alexander ed. E.W. Marrs, 147, 164, 176, 184; D. A. Haury, Origins of the Liberal Party and Liberal Imperialism: The Career of Charles Buller, 1806-48, pp. 8-9, 248.
- 4. Early Letters of Carlyle ed. C.W. Norton, ii. 274; Letters to Alexander, 141; T. Carlyle, Life of Sterling, 64-65.
- 5. J.A. Froude, Carlyle: first 40 years, ii. 33-34.
- 6. Thackeray Letters ed. G.N. Ray, i. 219; Martineau Autobiog. (1877), ii. 129-30.
- 7. Gent. Mag. (1848), ii. 206; PROB 11/2079/606; 2089/170; IR26/1795/703.
- 8. W.G. Elliot, Anecdotage, 27-29; Thackeray Letters, vol. i, pp. clvii-clx.