FULLARTON, William (1754-1808), of Fullarton, Ayr.

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



8 Apr. 1779 - 1780
22 June 1787 - 1790
24 Oct. 1793 - 1796
30 Nov. 1796 - Mar. 1803

Family and Education

b. 12 Jan. 1754, o.s. of William Fullarton of Fullarton, by Barbara, da. of William (Scot) Blair of Blair, Ayr. educ. Edinburgh Univ. 1768; Grand Tour 1769-71; L. Inn 1774. m. 18 June 1792, Hon. Marianne Mackay 2nd da. of George, 5th Lord Reay [S], 1da. suc. fa. 7 Sept. 1758.

Offices Held

Sec. at British embassy in Paris 1775-8.

Lt.-col. commandant (temp. rank) 98 Ft. May 1780-85; col. (local rank, East Indies) June 1782; raised 23 Drag. (Fullarton’s Light Horse) 1794, and 101 Ft. 1800. First commr. for govt. of Trinidad 1802-3.


As a child Fullarton succeeded to great estates and the headship of a family with extensive East Indian connexions. He was brought up in Edinburgh with William Adam, and after the Grand Tour he began to read for the bar. But at the age of 21 he was appointed principal secretary to Lord Stormont, then ambassador in Paris, by whose interest with North he was brought in for Plympton.

Described by the Public Ledger in 1779 as ‘a hungry Scotchman ... willing to do anything he is—[paid] to do’, Fullarton consistently supported Administration. When William Adam fought his duel with Fox in November 1779 he borrowed Fullarton’s pistols,1 and chose for his second Major Thomas Mackenzie Humberston, elder brother of Francis Humberston Mackenzie. Humberston and Fullarton had already launched a plan, backed by friends, to fit out four privateers manned by troops raised by themselves to cruise in the Pacific and attack the coast of Mexico. ‘Willing to hazard under Government direction £70,000-£80,000’, they asked ministerial support and a ship of 64 guns. On 20 Jan. 1780 Fullarton submitted the scheme for Cabinet approval through Lord George Germain, who warmly recommended it and suggested a complementary expedition to the Spanish Main.2 When both men obtained lieutenant-colonels’ commissions to raise regiments for the expedition, Shelburne and Richmond violently attacked Fullarton’s appointment, ridiculing this ‘embassy clerk, this commis’ with no military experience, now ‘by ministerial caprice’ raised to a command in a buccaneering expedition.3 Fullarton, having pressed Jenkinson to afford him an opportunity to reply,4 on 20 Mar. in an angry speech defended himself and his corps, abused Shelburne by name for his ‘aristocratic insolence’, and was called to order for breach of parliamentary usage.5 When Fullarton published further provocative comments, a duel resulted on 22 Mar. in which Shelburne was wounded.6 Sir James Lowther immediately pressed for an inquiry; Adam and Sir Adam Fergusson stoutly defended their friend, and, after a heated debate on the possible effect of this and the Adam-Fox duel on the freedom of debate, the question was deferred until Fullarton should be present.7 The affair aroused considerable anti-Scottish feeling;8 and when the new regiments were discussed in the army estimates debate of 5 Apr. the full force of the objections of the Opposition and the regular army officers was concentrated upon Fullarton, whose disinterested zeal was warmly praised by Jenkinson and Lord George Germain. On a division the separate estimate for Fullarton’s corps was passed in committee by 102 to 66, but the attack was renewed on 11 Apr., particularly on the question of Fullarton’s rank.

Fullarton did not seek re-election in 1780. The Cabinet having finally approved the South Sea expedition in August, Fullarton and Humberston were authorized to double the size of their regiments; but on the outbreak of the Dutch war the force was diverted, first to the Cape of Good Hope and eventually to India.9 Here Fullarton confounded his critics by brilliant military leadership which earned for him in May 1783 the command of the army south of the Coleroon. After further successful campaigns (during which he advanced considerable sums from his own funds to native princes) Fullarton left India in December 1784 and on his return home published in 1787 an account of his campaigns and a pamphlet, A View of the English Interests in India.10

Having maintained his attachment to North, Stormont, Adam, and other Opposition leaders, Fullarton became connected with the Prince of Wales; and when in 1787 his friend Francis Charteris was obliged to vacate Haddington Burghs, Fullarton succeeded him as an Opposition candidate.

An able debater, he spoke with authority on Indian affairs, and opposed the declaratory bill on 5 Mar. 1788 as unfair to East India Company officers. On 9 May he ‘inveighed against Impey as a criminal of the most atrocious description whose ermine was steeped in human blood’. He was an equally effective Opposition speaker in the Regency debate of 16 Jan. 1789. An uncompromising critic of Hastings, in the debate of 15 Mar. 1790 on the execution of Mustapha Khan he maintained that no British officer was obliged to obey a cruel, illegal order.11

He lost his seat in 1790.  He died 13 Feb. 1808.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Walpole to Mann, 8 Apr. 1780.
  • 2. HMC Stopford-Sackville, ii. 282; James Paterson, Hist. Ayr, ii. 19-20.
  • 3. Stockdale, xiv. 198-207.
  • 4. Add. 38213, ff. 206, 218.
  • 5. Almon, xvii. 372-4.
  • 6. Walpole, Last Jnls. ii. 288-92; Walpole to Mason, 22 Mar. 1780.
  • 7. Almon, xvii. 407-14.
  • 8. E. H. Coleridge, Life of T. Coutts, i. 127-8.
  • 9. Fortescue, v. 106-8; H. D. Love, Vestiges of Old Madras, iii. 259-60.
  • 10. Stockdale, xix. 176; Fortescue, Hist. British Army, iii. 484, 493; Add. 38410, f. 93.
  • 11. Stockdale, xii. 289-94; xiv. 342-69; xvi. 253-60; xix. 187-91.