FRASER, James (b. ?1740), of Golden Sq., London
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Family and Education
Poss. s. of James Fraser, merchant and apothecary of ‘Mariebone St., nr. Golden Sq.’1 and a kinsman of Simon Fraser, London merchant and E.I. Co. director.
Fraser ‘received a regular education as a merchant’2 and by 1767 was established in business in Bengal where he became a close friend of George Graham. From his headquarters at Patna he conducted ‘extensive dealings’, and in 1772, ‘having for some time made the navigation of the Ganges his study’, applied to Warren Hastings for a three years’ contract for supplying boats for the transport of troops and military stores.3 In 1773-4 he was associated with Col. Gabriel Harper and Col. Alexander Hannay (brother of Sir Samuel) in a contract for supplying elephants to the Nabob of Oude, the accounts for which were still unsettled at Hannay’s death in 1782. In 1783, Fraser, having amassed a considerable fortune, prepared to return home, called in his debts, and thereby became involved in a bitter dispute with Hannay’s brothers and executors, Ramsay and Johnstone, over a note of hand for 10,000 rupees and the elephant contract accounts. Accused by them of fraud, Fraser admitted he had ‘by mistake’ charged the cancelled note against the estate. The ‘elephant’ dispute was referred to arbitrators one of whom, Capt. Robert Stewart, became Fraser’s bitter enemy, and on their return to England publicly denounced him in 1785 as unfit for membership of the Bengal Club. Six arbitrators appointed to investigate the charges signed an ‘award’ acquitting Fraser of intent to defraud, but ‘his inaccuracies in his accounts were sufficient to have misled Capt. Stewart’. Stewart thereafter went abroad, but on his return in 1786 threatened to publish a ‘Narrative’ of Fraser’s misdeeds. Fraser, who had embarked upon his canvass for election to the East India directorate, suspecting that Stewart ‘had come over from India on purpose to be an evidence against Mr. Hastings’, had allegedly threatened Stewart’s life, and had had Stewart watched by a spy, who, when arrested in June 1786, revealed the full plot.
While Stewart was in Scotland, Fraser was brought in for Gatton on the interest of his friends the Graham family and their uncle William Mayne, Lord Newhaven, presumably intending to support Hastings. Fraser had secured nomination on the East India Company house list of directors, but a few days before the election Stewart published his Narrative. Fraser records:
On the close of a laborious canvass for the India direction when by the most flattering exertions of private friendship and the public recommendation of the court of directors ... nothing seemed wanting to my success but the mere form of election ... I found myself on a sudden publicly accused of a gross and intentional fraud ...
Fraser failed of election by 5 votes.4 He then published his Answer to the charges, together with testimonials to his good character from old Indian friends and supporters in the general court including George Vansittart, Dalhousie Watherston, and George Graham. Stewart thereupon printed his Reply with further damaging evidence.
Thus discredited, Fraser made little mark in Parliament. He is not known to have spoken but voted with Administration on Impey’s impeachment, 9 May 1788, and in the Regency debates.
The date of his death has not been ascertained.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Add. 28234, ff. 277, 395; 28235, f. 404.
- 2. The information contained here has been compiled from two pamphlets published in 1787, The Answer of James Fraser M.P. to the charges made against him by Robert Stewart Esq., and A Reply to the Answer of James Fraser Esq. by Robert Stewart Esq.
- 3. Add. 29133, f. 180.
- 4. Gent. Mag. 1787, p. 361.