PULTENEY, Daniel (1749-1811).

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



1784 - Dec. 1788

Family and Education

bap. 19 Sept. 1749, 1st s. of Rev. Charles Pulteney, rector of Curry Mallet, Som., by his w. Betty Speke.1 No family connexion traceable with William Pulteney, Earl of Bath.  educ. Eton 1762-9; King’s, Camb. 1769, fellow 1772-d., vice-provost 1798-1801, 1803-10, dean 1801-3; M. Temple 1772, called 1788.  unm.

Offices Held

Collector of customs in Dominica, Dec. 1788.


In the 1770s, residing at Cambridge, Pulteney

cultivated the acquaintance of the young nobility, and contrived to keep a handsome establishment, and live in a very expensive style, without any other apparent resources than [his] fellowship.2

Among his friends was his Eton contemporary Charles Manners, subsequently 4th Duke of Rutland. About the end of December 1782 Pulteney addressed to him a letter of reproach and despair:3

I really believe no person living is so entangled in all sorts of difficulties, and sunk into such certain ruin as myself without being immediately brought into Parliament ... this has arose without any kind of doubt from my expectation of being now in the House of Commons. That this step may be attended with difficulties and inconvenience to your Grace I have no kind of scruple to believe ... But if your Grace will fairly consider that £1,500 or £2,000 is what you would stake at play or give for a picture, and that to me it makes the difference of rank in life or immediate ruin ... I am now at extremity and the only solution to all this undoubted despair and ruin to me ... is—that your Grace should apply to Lord Shelburne or Orde for a seat from any one who has offered such to them without doubt at a price, that your Grace should give that price by a draft at six months or by any manner your Grace pleases ... I solemnly believe if such a sum was now advanced at six months by means of my liberty I could raise it, if not I am left to this sort of fate that delay of a fortnight will be certain ruin.

Rutland apparently replied that he would bring Pulteney into Parliament at ‘the first opportunity that occurs’, and from Pulteney’s next letter, again undated, it appears that the Duke had already lent him at least £3,000.

On 7 Nov. 1783 Pulteney wrote to Rutland that creditors were about to execute writs against him.

On the idea that Lord Shelburne intended from your Grace’s recommendation to put me out of their reach, I kept myself almost without a guinea last year by paying the demands that came in and this has encouraged others ... As nothing was done by Lord Shelburne ... I must leave England immediately; and as I cannot without danger appear in town nor can I raise money without appearing there I beg the favour of your Grace to lend me £200 ...
... A bare existence in England out of a jail by means of Parliament is, I assure your Grace, no object with me in my present circumstances. I should endeavour to make myself as useful as I could there to Pitt for half a year, and in the meantime settle as well as I could all my affairs, and I then think the being thus patronized by your Grace, together with Lord Chatham’s and perhaps Pitt’s own good wishes, might get me some appointment to the East Indies. I should by this means leave your Grace’s borough open for any of your Grace’s friends, and perhaps stand some chance of repaying your Grace a sum which I am sensible is a considerable object with the greatest estate.

He received from the Duke ‘effectual assistance’, and on 29 Dec. was setting out for France, with hopes for an early dissolution of Parliament. But if there is no prospect of it, he wrote, ‘and Pitt will bring me in for some Looe or Newton, I will engage to speak as much nonsense for him as his opponents for the most part do against him’.

On 23 Mar. 1784 Pitt, writing to Rutland, by then lord lieutenant of Ireland, about the forthcoming dissolution, remarked:4

Forgive my telling you how anxious all your friends are that Pulteney should, if possible, be disposed of some other way than by a seat in Parliament; and yet I hardly know how it can be done.

Nor did the Duke. Pulteney entered the House for Rutland’s borough of Bramber, hoping to leave soon for distant lands in quest of rich prizes, as he might well have done under North or Fox, or the combination of the two; and he remained to observe and to fret, eye-witness to a change of scene and methods detrimental to his plans and purpose. The reports of parliamentary debates and political transactions which during the next four years he regularly sent to Rutland were greatly appreciated, and are of considerable historical value: for Pulteney, highly intelligent, versatile, and flexible, and without any strong views of his own or moral principles, was a first-rate observer and an amusing narrator. He was a constant attender—‘the most meritorious duty any Member with less than £10,000 a year can perform’—voting with the Government as directed by his ‘constituent’, though freely criticizing them in letters to him. He himself spoke rarely in the House; while ‘perfectly ready to execute all the minor business your Grace will direct me to do’, ‘in the absence of express instructions’ from Rutland he preferred to remain silent; ‘thoroughly convinced that an unauthorized member for Bramber would not add much weight in the scale’, he was loath to meddle ‘in the higher departments’ of policy. And within a month of taking his seat he had started to beg Rutland to solve his difficulties by making him ‘a Nabob’.

For after all, the world is not such a dupe at present as to think there is any sort of difference in the object for which all people go to India. Everyone I know expects I should get there.

The session closed in August without Pulteney having obtained a Government post; and on 17 Oct., during the recess, he again appealed to Rutland:

I really think if, on returning to town, I can’t get any prospect of going to Calcutta, or some sort of employment at home, G. Sutton and myself shall be starved before the end of the winter, or sell ourselves to Fox for the sweepings of his faro table.

Again nothing happened, and Pulteney continued an unwilling Member of ‘the present virtuous House’, that ‘incorrupt body’, ‘the most independent that has sat since the Revolution’, hankering back to the times of North or of the Coalition when the profits of a ministry were divided ‘in their several proportions down to the lowest of their adherents’.

But if Mr. Pitt can long persuade a House of Commons that they are to spend their time and fortunes independently to support an independent minister in great power and an income of £8,000 a year, it will certainly be better for the country and more honourable to themselves.

For his own part he did not relish being kept ‘as pure and independent as Lord Chatham, Bankes, Wilberforce, etc.’ Rutland, continually badgered by Pulteney, wrote to Pitt, 31 Aug. 1785:

I very much wish to obtain an office of about £400 per annum, not preclusive of a seat in Parliament, for Pulteney. He has nothing to live upon. I must either support him out of my own pocket, or he will be forced into the arms of Opposition upon future expectations. He has in truth been very useful to me during the progress of the adjustment, by transmitting to me clear, distinct, and regular accounts of all that was passing. He would have no objection to considerable duty and attendance. I think you might employ him to effect. If no office of that description should offer itself, might I point out some situation in the East Indies. It would vacate a seat for me, and he would be provided for.

Another year passed; Rutland was paying Pulteney £400 a year; and in July 1786 wrote to his secretary, Thomas Orde: ‘Pray press Pitt to give him something to relieve me from importunity and from expense.’ Even now nothing happened, nor after another appeal to Pitt in September.

Pulteney was losing hope, and in May 1787 approached Rutland with a new request: for a loan of £1,000 to enable him to establish a faro bank in partnership with Lord Foley, Lady Duncannon, Lady Harrington, and others. The bank was to begin with £6,000. ‘I mean to subscribe £1,500, and shall have the additional advantage of occasional pay for dealing.’ Rutland seems to have acceded to this new request; but by the beginning of July, ‘owing to the absence of some of the gang from town’, the bank had not yet started.

Rutland died suddenly on 24 Oct. 1787; and henceforth only the bare facts of Pulteney’s career can be ascertained. On 6 June 1788 he was called to the bar, sixteen years after having been admitted—was he preparing to take up legal work? On 9 May he spoke in the House at some length in defence of Sir Elijah Impey, chief justice of Bengal, and in the ensuing division voted on the Government side. But this was his last recorded vote: for early in December 1788 he was appointed collector of customs at Roseau in the island of Dominica—did Pitt honour the request of a dead friend? or did he perhaps fear lest Pulteney now, at a critical juncture, should sell himself to Fox? It seems doubtful if Pulteney ever went out to Dominica—more probably his duties were performed through a deputy. So much, however, appears from the records of King’s College: that between 1782 and 1793 Pulteney did not attend a single congregation or college meeting; but during the remaining 18 years of his life did so regularly, holding besides college office. He had obviously retired to a comfortable bachelor life in college, on a minimum of work: there is no evidence of his having ever done any teaching.

He died 24 July 1811 of apoplexy at the Rainbow coffee-house in King’s Street, London.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. W. J. Gadsden, Gen. Mag. v. 273-4.
  • 2. H. Gunning, Reminiscences of Cambridge, i. 22-23.
  • 3. The letters from Pulteney to Rutland preserved at Belvoir Castle are noted in HMC Rutland, iii, and have been checked and completed from the originals. For references, see Namier, ‘Daniel Pulteney, M.P.’, Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, 1955.
  • 4. Pitt-Rutland Corresp. 10.