BULLER ELPHINSTONE, James Drummond (1788-1857), of Trenant Park, nr. Looe, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 29 Apr. 1829

Family and Education

b. 4 May 1788, 4th s. of Hon. William Fullerton Elphinstone (d. 1834) of Carberry, Edinburgh and Elizabeth, da. of William Fullerton of Carstairs, Lanark. educ. Harrow 1799-1804; mil. coll. Marlow, Bucks.1 m. (1) 30 Sept. 1820, Diana Maria (d. 24 Dec. 1821), da. of Charles John Clavering of Riddlehamhope, Northumb.,2 s.p.; (2) 25 Feb. 1824, Anna Maria, da. and h. of Sir Edward Buller†, 1st bt., of Trenant, 4s. 4da. suc. fa.-in-law to Trenant 1824, having taken additional name of Buller by royal lic. 24 Feb. 1824; bro. John Fullerton Elphinstone to Carberry 1854. d. 8 Mar. 1857.

Offices Held

Writer, E.I. Co. (Canton) 1804, home 1809, res. 1810.

Cornet 7 Drag. 1810, lt. 1811, capt. 1814; maj. (half-pay) Watteville’s Regt. 1816; lt.-col. (half-pay) 4 W.I. Regt. 1818; lt.-col. 3 Ft. Gds. 1823; half-pay 1828; ret. 1832.

Recorder, East Looe 1824-35.


Buller Elphinstone’s father, the third son of the 10th Lord Elphinstone, entered the service of the East India Company and rose to join the court of directors in 1786, serving as its chairman in 1804, 1806 and 1814. He took the additional name of Fullerton on his marriage to the niece and heiress of John Fullerton of Carberry, whose inheritance in 1802 included the fortified house of Carberry Tower. Through his business acumen he rescued the family fortunes and in 1813 made the symbolic purchase of Elphinstone Tower, Haddingtonshire, the ancestral home.3 Buller Elphinstone obtained an East India Company writership at Canton, where his eldest brother John was already on the establishment, but this proved to be an unhappy choice of career and he suffered from poor health during his posting. His xenophobia was illustrated by his account to his mother of an affray between the locals and a group of British soldiers: ‘Nobody could have enjoyed seeing my friends the Chinese get a thrashing more than I did, and [I] had ... a very great inclination to join the sailors to punish them for former offences’. He returned to Britain in 1809 and took a commission in the cavalry, joining his regiment in Ireland the following year. He served in Spain from August 1813 until June 1814, when his ambitions for promotion were disappointed. His moment of glory came on the day before Waterloo, when, having suffered wounds to the left breast and arm in an abortive charge, he was temporarily taken prisoner. While under guard he was brought before Buonaparte, who reportedly ‘asked him a few questions, chiefly of what country he was. He said Scotland’. The emperor set his personal surgeon to work on Buller Elphinstone’s injuries and gave him sustenance from his own canteen. In the belief that these gestures had saved his brother’s life, John Elphinstone later arranged for a set of Chinese chessmen to be delivered to Buonaparte in St. Helena.4 Peace and the prospect of the half-pay list filled Buller Elphinstone with alarm, and he eventually revived his active army career in 1823 by means of a transfer to the Guards. On the death the following year of his second wife’s father he succeeded to the Trenant Park estate in Cornwall, where he took up residence.5 Having thereby acquired the parliamentary patronage of nearby East Looe, he returned himself at the general election of 1826, resisting an attempt to open the borough; he survived a subsequent petition.6

He was an occasional attender who is not known to have contributed to debate. No trace of activity has been found for the 1827 session. He returned to the half-pay list at his own request in January 1828.7 He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May. He voted with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against inquiry into delays in chancery, 24 Apr., and reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He presented a constituency petition for repeal of the Small Notes Act, 3 June 1828. That summer the home secretary Peel learned that ‘if he was certain that no place at the board of excise or customs would be offered to him in the course of (say) 12 months he should make arrangements for the sale of his two seats’, but that if his wish could be gratified ‘he should consider himself bound to retain the borough and return government candidates’; alternatively, ‘he would not refuse a place at the stamp office’. Informed that while ‘the duke was well disposed towards him’, suitable openings were scarce, he had apparently decided by January 1829 to sell up.8 The following month Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation. He went further and ‘in the kindest manner’ offered his seat as a fallback for Peel in the event of defeat at Oxford University.9 He divided for emancipation, 6 Mar., but gave no further votes on this issue and was in the minority for a £20 freeholder qualification in Ireland, 26 Mar. The following month he vacated his seat in favour of Henry Thomas Hope, to whose father he had conveyed Trenant Park and his borough interest.10

Buller Elphinstone apparently made no attempt to return to the Commons, although he has been identified as a contributor to Conservative funds in Scotland in 1837, 1844 and 1849.11 On his father’s death in 1834 he inherited £2,493 in East India Dock Company shares and an unspecified moiety of his investments in the Globe Insurance Company.12 In 1854 he succeeded his brother John to Carberry, Elphinstone and an estate at Monkland, Lanarkshire.13 He died in March 1857 and left his Scottish estates to his eldest son William (1828-93), who succeeded his cousin as 15th Lord Elphinstone in 1861.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. Sir W. Fraser, Elphinstone Fam. Bk. ii. 73.
  • 2. BL OIOC Mss. Eur. F.89, box 4A, bdle. 1.
  • 3. Fraser, ii. 2-14; C.H. Philips, E. I. Co. 336.
  • 4. Fraser, ii. 73-89; Farington Diary, viii. 22.
  • 5. Fraser, 44, 83; PROB 11/1688/403.
  • 6. West Briton, 16 June 1826.
  • 7. OIOC Mss. Eur. F.89, box 4A, bdle. 2.
  • 8. Add. 40397, f. 162; Arbuthnot Corresp. 116.
  • 9. Add. 40398, f. 138.
  • 10. West Briton, 11 Sept. 1829; The Times, 8 Aug. 1831.
  • 11. Scottish Electoral Politics, 126, 167, 181.
  • 12. The personalty was sworn under £25,000 (PROB 11/1831/272; IR26/1352/257).
  • 13. PROB 11/2192/448; IR26/1995/431.