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James Paull (1770-1808)

This article was written by William Prideaux Courtney and was published in 1895

James Paull, politician, born at Perth in 1770, was the son of a tailor and clothier, a parentage with which he was often twitted in after life. He was educated at the university of St. Andrews, and placed with a writer to the signet at Edinburgh, but soon tired of legal life. At the age of eighteen he went out as a writer to India, in the ship of Sir Home Popham, and about 1790 settled at Lucknow. Within two years from his arrival he earned sufficient money to repay the cost of his outfit and to provide an annuity for his mother, then a widow.

In 1801 he quitted Lucknow and came to England for a time, but returned again to India in the following year. He had now established an extensive business, and occupied such a prominent position in commercial life at Lucknow that he was sent to Lord Wellesley as a delegate of the traders in that city. For a time viceroy and merchant were on good terms, but they soon parted in anger. Paull was a little man, of a ‘fiery heart,’ and in a duel in India with some one who taunted him with the meanness of his birth, he was so wounded as at the close of his life to lose the use of his right arm. In the latter part of 1804 he returned to England with the reputation of having amassed a large fortune. On his previous visit he had been graciously received by the Prince of Wales, and he considered himself one of the prince's political adherents, expecting in turn to receive the support of the Carlton House party in his attack on Lord Wellesley.

He was elected for the borough of Newtown, Isle of Wight, on 5 June 1805, and before the month was out proceeded to move for papers relating to the dealings of Lord Wellesley with the nabob of Oudh. He had many friends, among whom was Windham, who introduced him to Cobbett in June 1805. It was understood at that time that he was supported by the whigs and the prince; but when the ministry of ‘All the Talents’ was formed, it was impossible for the new government, which included Lord Grenville, to support him in his opposition to Wellesley, although Fox, Windham, and many of its leading members were in agreement with his views. The Prince of Wales thereupon urged him to desist from any further proceedings.

Paull declined to adopt this suggestion, and spent the session of 1806 in moving for additional papers and in formulating his charges against the viceroy. The friends of Lord Wellesley tried in July 1806 to force his hand, but, through the interposition of Sir Samuel Romilly, were prevented from carrying out their purpose. A dissolution of parliament intervened, and Paull, having been disappointed in his expectation of obtaining a seat for one of the prince's boroughs, stood for Westminster against Sheridan and Sir Samuel Hood (November). The contest was animated. Sir Francis Burdett had met him at Cobbett's, and had introduced him to Horne Tooke. Burdett had himself been asked to stand for Westminster, but declined in favour of Paull, supporting him with all his influence and subscribing £1,000. towards the expenses of the contest. The poll lasted fifteen days, when Hood and Sheridan were elected. On one occasion, when the candidates were on the hustings, a stage was brought from Drury Lane, with four tailors seated at work, a live goose, and several cabbages. Gillray brought out several caricatures, including (1) a view of the hustings in Covent Garden; (2) ‘the high-flying candidate, little Paull goose, mounting from a blanket’ held by Hood and Sheridan; (3) ‘the triumphal procession of little Paull, the tailor, upon his new goose.’ The defeated candidate, who polled 4,481 votes, petitioned against the return, and the matter came before the House of Commons on 5 and 18 March 1807, when the allegations were voted ‘false and scandalous.’

Paull stood again for Westminster at the election in May 1807 with even less success. Horne Tooke, who had said to him one day, ‘You are a bold man, and I am certain you'll succeed, only, as Cobbett says, keep yourself cool,’ was now estranged. Cobbett was still his friend and highly praised him in his ‘Political Register,’ on 9 May 1807, for the temptations which he had withstood; but the time came when he remarked, ‘Paull is too fond of the Bond Street set — has too great a desire to live amongst the great.’ Burdett had been advertised by Paull as having agreed to take the chair at a dinner at the ‘Crown and Anchor’ at an early stage in these election proceedings, but he repudiated the alleged engagement, and a duel ensued at Coombe Wood, near Wimbledon, on 2 May 1807. On the second exchange of shots, insisted upon by Paull, as Burdett declined to apologise, both were badly wounded. Gillray produced a caricature of the duel, and some ridicule was expressed over the circumstance that, through the absence of a medical officer and the lack of proper arrangements for carriages, both combatants were brought back to London in the same vehicle. At the close of the election Burdett and Lord Cochrane were at the head of the poll with 5,134 and 3,708 votes respectively, while Paull obtained only 269.

Paull neglected his wounds, and passed, after his duel, ‘three months of dreadful suffering, without any hope, and almost without the possibility of recovery.’ His election expenses had exhausted his resources, and he was disappointed in his expectations of assistance from India. For some weeks he showed signs of mental derangement, but his ruin was hastened by the loss of over sixteen hundred guineas at a gaming-house in Pall Mall on the night of 14 April 1808. On the next day he deliberately committed suicide, by piercing his right arm, and, when that did not effect his purpose, by cutting his throat. He died at his house, Charles Street, Westminster, on 15 April 1808, and was buried at St. James's, Piccadilly, on 21 April.

In 1806 a ‘Lover of Consistency,’ no doubt Paull himself, published ‘A Letter to the Right Hon. C. J. Fox,’ on his conduct upon the charges against Lord Wellesley. The accusations brought against the Prince of Wales were repelled in 1806 in ‘A Letter to the Earl of Moira.’ After the duel with Burdett there appeared in the ‘Times’ a letter from Tooke, which was published separately; and he also issued a pamphlet, entitled ‘A Warning to the Electors of Westminster from Mr. Horne Tooke,’ alleging that Paull had thrust himself upon him; but the accusation was rashly made, and easily dispelled in ‘A Refutation of the Calumnies of John Horne Tooke, by James Paull,’ 1807. In 1808 there came out ‘A Letter from Mr. Paull to Samuel Whitbread,’ in which he attributed the loss of his election for Westminster to the influence of that politician. His letter to Lord Folkestone on the impeachment of the Marquis of Wellesley is in Cobbett's ‘Political Register,’ on 25 October 1806. The charges against that viceroy were renewed in the House of Commons by Lord Folkestone on 9 March 1808, but were negatived by 182 votes to 31.

Paull was possessed of wonderful perseverance and ardour, and was an adept at mob oratory. He had acquired great knowledge of Indian affairs, but possessed little acquaintance with general matters. His zeal involved him in perpetual strife. A duel between him and a Westminster politician, called Elliot, was stopped by the authorities at the close of 1806. He was described by Jerdan as ‘a dapper little fellow, touched with the smallpox, and dressed in blue coat and leather inexpressibles, the fashionable costume of the day’.

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