BURGES, James Bland (1752-1824), of Nantcribba, Mont.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



27 Jan. 1787 - 1790

Family and Education

b. 8 June 1752, o.s. of George Burges, sec. of the Excise in Scotland, by the Hon. Anne Whichnor, da. of James, 12th Lord Somerville [S]. educ. Edinburgh Univ. 1765-7; Westminster 1767-9; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1770-3; Grand Tour (Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy); L. Inn 1769, called 1777. m. (1) 19 June 1777, Hon. Elizabeth Noel (d. 21 Jan. 1779), da. of Edward, 1st Visct. Wentworth, s.p.; (2) 16 Dec. 1780, Anne (d. 17 Oct. 1810), da. of Lewis Charles Montolieu, Baron de St. Hypolite, 5s. 2da.; (3) 8 Sept. 1812, Lady Margaret Fordyce, da. of James Lindsay, 5th Earl of Balcarres [S], wid. of Alexander Fordyce, s.p. suc. fa. 1786; and John Lamb 1821, and took name of Lamb; cr. Bt. 21 Oct. 1795.

Offices Held

Bankruptcy commr. 1777-83; under-sec. of state for foreign affairs 1789-95; knight marshal of the Household 1795- d.


The Gentleman’s Magazine (1825, i. 81), in its obituary notice of Burges wrote:

In very early life he had formed a close intimacy with Mr. Pitt and the late Duke of Leeds, who, being anxious to attach to their party one so highly talented, prevailed upon him to embark in political affairs.

About 1778 Burges formed ‘a very intimate and unreserved friendship’ with Lord Carmarthen, later 5th Duke of Leeds;1 and in 1780 became acquainted with Pitt. At the general election of 1784 he claims to have received from Pitt ‘an absolute promise of a seat in Parliament’.

I was requested to go down to Totnes [Burges writes] where I should meet with no difficulties, and for which my return would be certain. I repaired thither, underwent all the horrors and fatigues of a twenty-one days’ canvass, and lost my election. I was exhorted, however, not to be discouraged, as an opening would immediately occur, and everything be set right.2

This was written in 1818 and cannot be accepted as accurate. To begin with, Pitt could not provide Burges with a safe seat at Totnes: one seat was already earmarked for another Government candidate, and the other was under the patronage of the Duke of Bolton, who supported Fox. Next, Burges is unlikely to have undergone a 21 days’ canvass, since only 11 days elapsed between the dissolution and the general election at Totnes; nor would he have required all that time to canvass a borough of only 100 voters. Lastly, there is no other evidence to support the story of a contest at Totnes in 1784. Robinson, in a memorandum he drew up shortly before the general election,3 after noting that one seat was to go to Lord Mulgrave, wrote: ‘Mr. Rose to follow up a plan he has about the other seat.’ What seems probable is that Rose suggested that Burges should stand, and Burges, after canvassing the borough, decided that he had no chance.

Pitt promised Carmarthen that at the first opportunity Burges should be brought into Parliament;4 and, again according to his own account, Burges refused the offer of a seat at Seaford because £5000 was demanded for it—a figure, if correct, much above the normal price. He was finally brought in for Helston.

He had conceived a high opinion of Warren Hastings (although they had never met), and was convinced of ‘the iniquity of the attack made upon him, and the propriety of opposing it’.5 His first speech, in answer to Sheridan’s oratory on the Begums of Oude charge, 7 Feb. 1787, was described by Daniel Pulteney as ‘a long, insignificant speech of an hour for which he was coughed down’,6 while Burges himself wrote: ‘I soon ... found that the effervescence of the House was too great to admit of any calm attention to my arguments.’ But he persisted, and next day rose again in defence of Hastings. So much so, that he quarrelled with Pitt about it. Before he took office the only subjects on which he spoke (and he spoke frequently) were the impeachment of Hastings and the relief of insolvent debtors. Three times he introduced a bill into the House providing for their relief. Unquestionably his biographer is right in saying that Burges ‘seldom did things by halves’, and when his opinions were formed ‘he adhered to them tenaciously’.7 He was undaunted alike by the oratory of his opponents and the indifference of the House, and consequently became a bore.

In 1789 Burges took office as Carmarthen’s undersecretary of state, and at the general election of 1790 unsuccessfully contested Helston on his interest.

He died 11 Oct. 1824.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. James Hutton, Sel. Letters Corresp. Sir J. B. Burges, 63.
  • 2. Ibid. 74.
  • 3. Laprade, 115.
  • 4. Pitt to Carmarthen, 18 Apr. 1784, Egerton 3498, unfoliated.
  • 5. Hutton, 81.
  • 6. HMC Rutland, iii. 370.
  • 7. Hutton, 84-85.