CULLIFORD, William (d. 1724), of Encombe, Dorset

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1690 - 6 Apr. 1699

Family and Education

4th s. of Robert Culliford† of Encombe by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Edward Lawrence of Creech Grange, Dorset.  educ. Shaftesbury g.s. 1656.  m. (1) Honor Ayliffe, s.p.; (2) bef. 26 Aug. 1671, Eleanor, da. of Robert Brandling of Leathley, Yorks., 2s. 4da.  suc. bro. ?aft. 1698.1

Offices Held

Surveyor of excise, London 1666; registrar of seizures and forfeitures 1668–85; commr. revenue [I] 1684–8, 1690–2; commr. customs ?1687–9, 1701–12; inspector gen. imports and exports 1696–1703; commr. customs [S] Dec. 1714–15.2

Commr. setting out the wharves, Poole 1679; setting out port of Chichester 1680; freeman, Southampton 1708.3


Culliford’s father had represented Wareham in the reign of Charles II, but as a younger son he himself made a career in the government revenue services. His first appointment, in June 1666, was of short duration and by January 1668 he was re-employed, this time as registrar of seizures, at the request of Sir Edmund Pooley†. After some initial difficulties with the customs farmers, he settled into the office, which he held without a break for 17 years. In 1684 his years of toil were rewarded when he was added to the Irish revenue commission, at a salary of £1,000 p.a. As he was setting out to take up the appointment he was shot by a discharged customs officer, whom he had refused to take with him into Ireland, but he recovered and eventually reached his destination. Culliford retained his Irish post until early 1688, when he was removed, ostensibly in order to join the English customs commission, though Culliford believed it was only done to make way for a Catholic. A newsletter of January 1688 supports this view, stating that ‘Mr Trinder, a romanist, is ordered to go for Ireland to be one of the commissioners’, while Culliford was to replace the deceased English commissioner, Sir John Buckworth. Culliford does not appear to have been included in this commission, and by May 1689 he was unemployed and petitioning for the post of surveyor-general of the customs, claiming to be a staunch Protestant with 25 years’ experience in the customs service, who in Ireland had

discharged his duties with unwearied diligence; and notwithstanding the Lord Tyrconnel’s private directions to some of the commissioners in favour of papists, he openly opposed the removal of the Protestant officers; that about 15 months before, whether by the means of Lord Tyrconnel or to make way for a papist, he was removed from Ireland into the commission in England, but was then left out of that commission.

Although Culliford was promised the first vacancy in the customs service, the Treasury commissioners employed him on a temporary basis during the summer of 1689 for visiting the western ports of England, but by August he was being called upon to assist them in their deliberations on the Irish revenue. In February 1690 Culliford was appointed along with Edward May as ‘supervisors’ of the Irish revenue, which was only a temporary appointment to an unofficial office. However, in May Culliford was appointed to the official Irish revenue commission, with a salary of £600 p.a.4

Although Culliford had been defeated in the 1689 election for Corfe Castle, he was returned unopposed for that borough in 1690, on which occasion he was listed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as ‘doubtful’ in relation to his party affiliation, though as a probable Court supporter. In December he was noted as a probable supporter of Carmarthen in the event of an attack upon the minister in the Commons, while in April 1691 he was listed as a Court supporter by Robert Harley*. Culliford’s first two parliamentary sessions were relatively quiet. However, in the 1691–2 session he achieved an unwelcome notoriety. The session started peacefully enough. On 1 Jan. 1692 he intervened several times in a debate on supply, in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the House to reduce its over-optimistic estimate of the likely yield of the Irish revenue. Culliford demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the Irish revenue and his adherence to the Court as he protested against each estimate for individual branches of the revenue. He argued for lower estimates on each branch, which, if they had been accepted, would have spoilt the opposition’s policy of using the high Irish estimates as one way of reducing the overall supply to be granted to the government. On 13 Feb. he acted as a teller against a motion for applying certain duties to the payment of debts to the London orphans. However, trouble began on the 17th with the presentation of a report from the committee on Irish forfeitures, which contained a stinging indictment of the Irish revenue commission in general and of Culliford in particular. His three principal accusers were Sir Charles Meredith, the Irish chancellor of the exchequer and a fellow member of the revenue board, Colonel Fitzgerald, one of the commissioners for forfeitures and seizures, and Francis Annesley*. The main charges were that Culliford had been the architect of the scheme whereby forfeited estates were disposed of through the Irish revenue commission rather than the Irish exchequer, thereby greatly increasing the opportunities for malpractice; that he had himself taken, either directly or through nominees, the leases of a number of forfeited estates at particularly low rents, which had then been re-let for substantially larger sums; that he had accepted an estate from one Sweetman in return for protecting him from a charge of murder; that after the battle of the Boyne he had connived at the confiscation of the estates of protected persons; and finally that he had had the customs surveyor at Dublin removed to make way for his own brother. Culliford delivered his answer on 23 Feb., denying all the charges, although he did admit he had taken up leases of some of the forfeited estates at what he considered a fair rent and had re-let at higher charges to cover the cost of repairs. He refuted the complaint that he had made £10,000 from corrupt practices, claiming that he was in fact some £300 out of pocket from his dealings in forfeited estates. The House resolved to consider his reply the next day, but was prevented, first by an adjournment and then prorogation. In March the Irish lord lieutenant, Viscount Sydney (Henry Sidney†), informed the Irish vice-treasurer, Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), that ‘the [Irish revenue] commission . . . is quite altered, and Mr Culliford left out for the present till he can justify himself’. The following month Culliford was called to be heard at the Treasury. The hearing did not go well, and it was noted on 9 Apr. that he was to be replaced as a commissioner, ‘as is generally believed’, by ‘Mr [Samuel] Travers a member of the . . . Commons’. Culliford’s dismissal was reported in a newsletter on the 14th. The outcome of the Treasury meeting was clarified by Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), when he wrote to the King on the 15th: ‘Culliford was heard at the Treasury as to the charge against him, and though there was nothing that could amount to a legal proof, yet the board was of opinion it was not advisable at this time to continue him in that service.’5

Culliford’s troubles did not end with his dismissal from office, as in October 1692 the issue was taken up by the Irish house of commons. In Ireland the attack was motivated by general grievances over the Treaty of Limerick, the disposal of forfeited estates, and the mismanagement of the country by the government during the previous two years, although in addition Culliford did have personal enemies among the Dublin merchant community. It was reported in October that the Commons’ committee of grievances ‘had fallen upon Mr Culliford and had summoned him to attend them’, as part of their inquiries into government corruption. Culliford worsened the situation by claiming that his privilege as an English MP freed him from any obligation to participate in the committee’s investigations, and thereby ‘joined personal to political insult’. He was saved from the complete censure of the commons by a timely prorogation on 3 Nov., the day before charges against him were to be discussed in the house. Although Sydney claimed the prorogation was due to an earlier vote by the commons relating to money bills, his real reason was his desire to protect himself, Culliford and other government officials, such as Coningsby and the Irish lord chancellor, Sir Charles Porter*, from possible impeachment over the investigations by the commons’ grievances committee.6

However, having avoided the attempts of the Irish commons to charge him with embezzlement, Culliford faced another crisis during the investigations into the state of Ireland undertaken by the English Commons in February 1693. The investigation was resumed in the House on the 22nd and 24th, with an attack mounted by the Whigs, Court as well as Country, who used Culliford as a means of discrediting their chief targets, Sydney and Coningsby. Witnesses claimed that evidence laid before the Irish parliament proved that Culliford was guilty of great breaches of trust, which had significantly reduced the value of the forfeited estates. After hearing the report the Commons resolved ‘that there have been great abuses and mismanagements in the affairs of Ireland’ and ordered an address. Culliford had been absent during these debates and a move to expel him forthwith was rejected on the grounds that he should first be heard in his own defence. When he had still not appeared by 8 Mar. a motion was passed withdrawing his privilege. He finally took his seat on the 13th, when he ‘stood up and justified himself and protested his innocency, and assured the House his accusation came only from such persons whom he had hindered from cheating his Majesty’. After ‘a silence some time’ it was successfully proposed, with his own agreement, that the suspension of his privilege be continued. This mild sentence reflects the relative lack of importance attached to him at this stage by his accusers, who clearly aimed at grander targets. During March a similar investigation took place in the Lords, who also produced a resolution that there had been grave abuses in the administration of Ireland and an address to the same effect.7

In the 1693–4 session Culliford’s involvement with the alleged murderer, Sweetman, was cited in the articles of impeachment against Coningsby and Porter in December. However, Culliford ceased thereafter to be in the limelight, and was able to participate in parliamentary affairs that did not revolve around himself. During January–March 1694 he played a leading role in endeavouring to get a bill through the House for preventing the sale and export of English bullion. He also acted as a teller on four occasions in relation to supply in March and April. In the 1694–5 session he acted as a teller on 7 Feb. 1695 in relation to supply, on 30 Apr. against the reading of the bill for reversing the attainder of Jacob Leisler, and on 1 May in favour of accepting a clause for bailing the Tory Sir Thomas Cooke*. Despite having left the Irish revenue service under a cloud, Culliford still enjoyed favour at the Treasury and in October 1694 was considered for appointment as surveyor-general of customs, only for the customs commissioners to insist that no such officer was needed. Again in August 1695 Lord Sunderland reported to Lord Portland that the Treasury commissioners were considering Culliford for the post of solicitor of the customs, but that he was a man ‘against whom there are many exceptions’, which may explain why he was not appointed to the post.8

Returned unopposed for Corfe Castle in 1695, Culliford acted as a teller on 23 Dec. against a motion for delaying the report from the committee on regulating coinage, and was listed as ‘doubtful’ in the forecast for a division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696. He signed the Association promptly, though he was absent from the division in March on the price of guineas. In March–April he played a leading part in managing the bill for prevention of stock-jobbing. His ambiguous voting record suggests the kind of tact born of ambition, and indeed in June 1696 the Treasury lords were still considering employing Culliford as surveyor-general of the customs. Godolphin and Sir Robert Southwell† were in favour of employing him, while William Young pointed out that the previous survey undertaken by Culliford, in 1689, had resulted in the removal of good officers and their replacement by less deserving individuals. James Chadwick*, a customs commissioner, felt the power of the office was too great. However, the Treasury lords had a ‘good opinion’ of Culliford. On 15 July the customs commissioners recommended that Culliford be employed in a new office, inspector-general of imports and exports, for detecting frauds and debts. The Treasury lords agreed, and in September Culliford was established in the new post at a salary of £500 p.a. Although this signified that Culliford was acceptable in government once again, the Treasury lords’ recommendation of him to the King for a vacancy in the customs commission in July 1696 was not successful. In the 1696–7 session he did not vote on the Fenwick (Sir John†) attainder bill. He acted as a teller on 15 Jan. 1697 against a motion to refer the petition of the London wine merchants to a committee. In the 1697–8 session he was granted leave of absence on 29 Jan. 1698 for two weeks in order to bury his father, while on 15 Apr. he acted as a teller against a motion for adjourning the report on the prevention of counterfeiting and clipping of coin. In May it was reported that Culliford’s proposal for raising £100,000 p.a. ‘by a new impost upon sugar was much liked at first’, but it was eventually dropped. On 8 June he reported on the petition of Colonel Michelburne relating to regimental pay arrears for service at Derry in 1689, while on the 22nd and 23rd he reported on and carried up a bill for granting the freedom to trade as English ships to two prize ships. By now he had also set himself up in business selling sailcloth to the navy.9

Culliford successfully contested the Corfe Castle election in 1698. In a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments he was listed as a Court placeman, and, not surprisingly, he voted with the Court against the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699. However, following a petition against Culliford’s election from Richard Fownes*, the election was declared void. At the ensuing by-election Fownes defeated Culliford, who petitioned unsuccessfully. He seems to have considered standing in the first general election of 1701, but was not returned, and did not sit in Parliament again. In November 1701 he was made a commissioner of customs, where he survived for some years despite twice being accused of malpractice. First, in January 1705 John Strangways, a kinsman of Thomas Strangways I*, charged Culliford with attempting to ruin his family because of opposition at an election, but the customs commissioners adjudged the letter to be ‘false, scandalous and malicious’. Then, in 1710, he was charged with involvement in customs frauds. Since his accuser admitted the falsehood of the charges, this accusation was dismissed. He eventually lost his job in January 1712, but returned to office for a short spell after the Hanoverian succession, as a commissioner of the Scottish customs, presumably on account of his long experience. Culliford was buried at Corfe Castle on 19 Mar. 1724.10

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 516; C7/309/17; Hist. Northumb. vii. 286; St. Olave (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlvi), 79–85.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1667–8, p. 244; 1673–5, p. 406; 1684–5, p. 118; 1686–7, pp. 54–55, 368, 405; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 726; ii. 244; viii. 333, 1689; ix. 607; xi. 264; xvi. 112; xviii. 292; xxvi. 118; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 38.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1207; vi. 637; Southampton RO, Southampton bor. recs. SC3/2, f. 42.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 222, 244, 297, 333, 336, 395, 523; vii. 620, 667, 670, 1277–8, 1312; viii. 109, 177, 313, 333; ix. 49–51, 484, 607; T64/139–40 (ex inf. Dr G. E. Aylmer); McGrath thesis, 14, 128–9, 359; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, pp. 38–39, 63, 65; HMC Downshire, i. 285.
  • 5. Luttrell Diary, 101–2, 166–7, 185, 191; HMC Portland, iii. 476–7; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/14/34, Sydney to Coningsby, 8 Mar., D638/13/132, John Pulteney* to same, 9 Apr. 1692; Bodl. Carte 76, f. 193; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 238; McGrath thesis, 129–30.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 485–6; Penal Era and Golden Age ed. Bartlett and Hayton, pp. 21–22; Add. 28876, ff. 245–8; 28877, f. 376; Analecta Hibernica, xxxii. 102; Dalrymple, Mems. iii(3), p. 29; McGrath thesis, 130–1, 258–62.
  • 7. Luttrell Diary, 438, 442, 446–8, 462, 471–3, 478–9; LJ, xv. 253–5, 256–71, 274, 283; CJ Ire. ii. 589–90, 627–9; Harl. 4892, ff. 127–31, 153–9; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 111.
  • 8. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 800; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss, PwA 1227, [Sunderland] to Portland, 2 Aug. [1695]; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 51, Sir William Trumbull* to William Blathwayt*, 2–12 Aug. 1695.
  • 9. Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 30, 33, 37, 44, 54, 65, 264, 358; xiii. 93, 304; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, pp. 395–6, 527–8; Trumbull Add. mss 98, John Bridges to Trumbull, 22 May 1698; McGrath thesis, 131–2.
  • 10. PRO 30/24/20/35; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 317; 1708–14, pp. 200, 213, 216.