BULLER, James Wentworth (1798-1865), of Downes House, Crediton, Devon; Shillingham, Cornw. and 19 King Street, St. James’s, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Oct. 1798, o.s. of James Buller† of Downes and Shillingham and Anne, da. of Rt. Rev. William Buller, bp. of Exeter. educ. Harrow; Oriel, Oxf. 1815, fellow, All Souls 1820; L. Inn 1819. m. 5 Oct. 1831, Charlotte Juliana Jane, da. of Lord Henry Thomas Howard Molyneux Howard*, 7s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1827. d. 13 Mar. 1865.
Lt.-col. commdt. 1 Devon yeoman cav. 1842; chairman, Bristol and Exeter Railway Co. 1847-d.
Buller came from an old parliamentary family, established in Cornwall since the sixteenth century, who had acquired the Downes estate through marriage in the early eighteenth century. His distinguished academic career included a first in classics and a fellowship of All Souls. He inherited his father’s real property and the residue of his personal estate, which was sworn under £25,000, in 1827.1 At the 1826 Devon election he nominated the Tory Member, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland.2 He unsuccessfully moved a pro-Catholic amendment at the county meeting, 16 Jan. 1829, when he argued that concession would be ‘conducive to the interest of the church and the constitution’. He later explained that he had been persuaded to act, ‘contrary to my inclinations ... by pro-Catholics of all parties’, and maintained that the amendment had carried greater weight ‘by being advocated by one totally unconnected with any party and whose political bias was known on all other points to incline towards my opponents on this particular question’. He welcomed the measure introduced by the duke of Wellington’s ministry and believed the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders ‘must be approved by every friend of rational and well regulated liberty’.3 At the general election of 1830 he accepted a requisition to stand for Exeter and promised to pursue a course of ‘strict independence’, expressing gratitude that he had not been required to give ‘any declaration of my sentiments upon particular measures’. He was returned unopposed with the Tory Lewis Buck, having declared that he was ‘attached almost mechanically to the institutions of the country’, particularly the established church, that he was a ‘strong advocate’ for economy and retrenchment, provided the ‘dignity of the crown and government’ was maintained, and that he would support repeal of the coal duty.4
The ministry listed him among the ‘good doubtfuls’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Later that month he replied to an Exeter requisition by promising to support repeal of the coal duty and the house and window duties, but he was undecided ‘whether I can with propriety support the repeal of the remaining portion of the assessed taxes’.5 He argued that no evidence had been produced to sustain the accusations of corruption made against the Evesham freemen, 17 Feb. 1831. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was returned for Exeter at the head of the poll, after explaining that he had originally viewed the bill with the ‘deepest anxiety’ but was now satisfied that it was a ‘decisive and effectual’ measure, ‘strictly in accordance with the principles of the constitution’, although he would have preferred a higher borough franchise qualification.6
He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and generally supported its details. However, he voted against the disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July, and to transfer Aldborough from schedule B to A, 14 Sept. He pointed out that East and West Looe were ‘but one town’, 22 July. He considered the Exeter freemen’s petition for the preservation of their voting rights to be compatible with the principles of the bill, 4 Aug., but he was ‘so convinced of the general benefits which [it] is calculated to bestow, that I am prepared to take it even as it stands’. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He attended the Exeter reform meeting, 15 Oct., when he ‘rejoiced that ... ministers had not resigned in disgust’ after the Lords’ rejection of the bill.7 He introduced a turnpike tolls exemption bill, 6 July, which gained royal assent, 22 Sept. (1 & 2 Gul. IV, c. 25); he obtained a return of the tolls collected at Honiton, 18 July. He voted to punish only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election and against the censure motion on the Irish administration, 23 Aug. He was granted a week’s leave on urgent business, 7 Oct. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and generally supported its details, although he voted against enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb. 1832. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but with them on this issue, 16, 20 July, and on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He presented petitions in favour of the Exeter improvement bill, 17 May, 13 June 1832, when he successfully moved the third reading and carried two amendments designed to allay local fears about the chamber’s power; he opposed Ebrington’s amendment to extend the franchise, arguing that the bill provided for ‘a most numerous, respectable and independent body of electors’, and was a teller for the majority.
Buller was again returned for Exeter at the head of the poll in 1832 and sat as an advocate of ‘Whig principles’ until his defeat in 1835.8 He continued to be a ‘diligent student of political questions, especially on their economic side’, and after making a ‘tour of the principal manufacturing towns ... in England and France’ he became a ‘confirmed supporter of free trade doctrines’.9 He unsuccessfully contested North Devon in 1839 but was returned in 1857 as ‘a Liberal, in favour of Lord Palmerston’s foreign policy and his decided support of Protestantism’;10 he belatedly joined Brooks’s Club, 20 Feb. 1858. He died in March 1865 and his estates passed in turn to his eldest son, James Howard Buller (1835-74), his second son, General Sir Redvers Buller (1839-1908), the Boer war commander, and his fifth son, Arthur Buller (1850-1917).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. PROB 11/1731/566; IR26/1116/1038.
- 2. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 15 June 1826.
- 3. Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 Jan. 1829; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/10/9, 29.
- 4. Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 3, 17, 31 July 1830.
- 5. Western Times, 4 Dec. 1830.
- 6. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 28 Apr., 5 May 1831.
- 7. Exeter Independent, 18 Oct. 1831.
- 8. Dod's Parl. Companion (1833), 96.
- 9. H. Melville, Life of Sir Redvers Buller, i. 8-11.
- 10. Dod's Parl. Companion (1857), 155.