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10 March 1806. British “invaders seeking to establish a dominion and to acquire an empire” in India

In 1805, James Paull arrived in the House of Commons determined to settle old scores. Paull had been a successful trader in Oudh, now part of Uttar Pradesh, in India. As he built his fortune, he became friends with the governor-general, the Marquess of Wellesley (Richard Wellesley; 1760–1842; brother of the future Duke of Wellington). That friendship abruptly ended when Wellesley threw the traders out of Oudh.

A fiery Scot and lousy gambler, Paull smouldered with anger against Wellesley and was set on revenge. In June 1805, Paull purchased a seat in parliament representing Newtown on the Isle of Wight. Almost at once, he set about trying to impeach Wellesley for ruining the trade of the nawabs of Oudh but he met ferocious resistance, not least from Richard, Lord Temple, the future Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Whatever the merits of the case against Wellesley, and the general view was that it was not strong enough to justify impeachment, the Wellesleys were close friends of the Buckinghams. Richard would not stand by and see him impeached. The matter dragged on through parliament for two years but the motion to impeach Wellesley was finally defeated by 182 votes to 31 in 1808.

gillray_a_plumper_for_paul© Trustees of the British Museum

The image above is taken from James Gillray’s print “A Plumper for Paul!” published on 13 March 1807. Paull had again made a nuisance of himself by petitioning against Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s election for the seat of Westminster. He failed to overturn the election result, just as he failed to impeach Wellesley. Sheridan is shown angrily blasting Paull who has collapsed onto the Wellesley impeachment document while holding the election petition.

One memorable debate took place on Monday, 10 March 1806. In the House of Commons, Richard Temple accused the Rajah of Bhurtpore of treachery (he was not the only MP to do so). Lord Folkestone rose and condemned Richard’s remark:

“This rajah is a native prince of India, having natural connections with the country; we have none such, but are really invaders, seeking to establish a dominion and to acquire an empire. In these circumstances, if these or other native chiefs should take measures for preventing us, or for expelling us, it seems to me that it might be attributed to other dispositions than those of perfidy, and such conduct be called by another name than treachery.”

An independent radical MP, William Pleydell-Bouverie the 3rd Earl of Radnor was styled Viscount Folkestone. Despite his aristocratic background, he was fiercely opposed to the old style of government that relied on patronage and sinecures—though ironically he was elected to a pocket borough controlled by his father. His retort to Richard Temple was well ahead its time. The attitudes of most British politicians to the colonisation of India were to change very slowly indeed. It would be more than 140 years before India was to break free from British rule.