ALEXANDER, James (1769-1848), of Somerhill, Kent and 12 Devonshire Street, Portland Place, Mdx

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



30 May 1812 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 1769, 4th s. of Robert Alexander (d. 1790) of Boom Hall, co. Londonderry and Anne, da. and coh. of Henry McCulloch of Ballyarton, co. Londonderry; bro. of Henry Alexander† and Josias Du Pré Alexander*. m. (1) 31 May 1804, Eliza Emma (d. 25 Feb. 1806), da. of Capt. Ralph Dundas of Manour, Stirling and Calcutta, 1da.;1 (2) 18 Feb. 1813, Charlotte Sophia, da. of Thomas Dashwood, E.I. Co. service, wid. of Hon. Charles Andrew Bruce, 3rd s. of Charles, 5th earl of Elgin, 2s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). d. 12 Sept. 1848.

Offices Held

Cadet, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1784, lt. 1785, res. 1792; private merchant until 1812.

Dir. St. Katharine’s Dock Co. 1829.


Under the patronage of his uncle, the 1st earl of Caledon, Alexander developed extensive interests as an East India merchant and proprietor.2 Soon after his return to England, he became a partner in the leading agency house of Porcher and Company of 9 Devonshire Square, Bishopsgate Street, London, which in 1816 became known as Fletcher, Alexander and Company, and, about ten years later, moved to 10 King’s Arms Yard, Coleman Street. By 1830 the firm had the reputation of ‘having put the majority of the directors in their seats’; these included his brother Josias, and their second cousin Henry Alexander*.3 Since 1812 James had been returned for the archetypal rotten borough of Old Sarum by its proprietor, the 2nd earl of Caledon, and in the late 1810s he negotiated to exchange Great Bounds, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, for Caledon’s land in the parish of Stratford under the Castle, in which the constituency lay. With Josias, he also purchased the borough itself, for a little over £40,000.4 The deal was not finalized until after the general election of 1820, but he immediately brought in Josias for the second seat in place of their kinsman Arthur Johnston Crawford.

In the Commons, Alexander was a silent member of the ‘ministerial legion’.5 He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and divided fairly steadily against opposition motions for retrenchment and lower taxation during the following three sessions. He voted against condemning the conduct of ministers towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and (unless it was Josias) parliamentary reform, 9 May. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, and the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. 1822. Either he or his brother voted against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb. (as they both did on the 21st), and inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June; and for the Canada bill, 18 July, and the aliens bill, 19 July 1822. Like his brother, he voted in the minority against referring the Calcutta bankers’ petition to a committee, 4 July 1822. He divided against inquiry into the right of voting in parliamentary elections, 20 Feb., repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and criticisms of chancery administration, 5 June 1823. He voted in the minorities for inquiry into the East Indian sugar duties, 22 May, and against the Scottish juries bill, 20 June; and he may have been the ‘J. Alexander’ who voted against reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823. One of the Alexanders voted against alteration of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb., and for repeal of the usury laws, 27 Feb. (as they both did on 8 Apr.), and the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. It is unclear which one presented a petition for leave to bring in a bill (which passed that session) to incorporate the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company, 3 May,6 and acted as a teller for the majority in favour of receiving the report on the marine insurance bill, 11 June 1824, when a ‘J. Alexander’ was listed in the majority against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara. Alexander again voted for the usury bill, 8, 17 Feb., and may have divided for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 2, 10 June 1825. He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and it was probably he who divided against Catholic relief, 1 Mar. 1825. He sided with ministers for receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., and against the bill to amend the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., and resolutions to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.

Alexander returned himself and Josias for Old Sarum at the general election the following month. He voted for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Mar., and possibly the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. 1827. He may have been the ‘Mr. Alexander’ who was among those reported as expressing their regret at the state of the Goderich administration in early 1828.7 At the beginning of April he replaced his brother at Old Sarum with the diplomat Stratford Canning, who in 1825 had married his only child with his first wife. He voted against opposition motions on chancery administration, 24 Apr., and the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. Unless it was he, and not Henry Alexander, now Member for Barnstaple, who made an intervention on the timing of the East Retford bill, 12 May, he made no known speech in the House during this period. He was listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as one who would vote for Catholic emancipation (as he possibly might have voted, 21 Apr. 1825, 6 Mar. 1827), and he duly divided with ministers, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He divided against reducing the grant for South American missions and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.

He and Josias were again returned for Old Sarum at the general election of 1830. It was probably about him that an Irish reformer complained that the shopkeepers and traders of Londonderry, a borough in which Caledon had an interest, ‘stood with their mouths open unable to vote, while the Member for Old Sarum and Sir Abraham Bradley King ... were both lending their "sweet voices" to appoint the Member for Derry’.8 He was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, and duly voted with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He left the representation of Old Sarum unchanged at the subsequent general election. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least once to adjourn proceedings on it, 12 July, for using the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He divided against the third reading of the bill, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He either voted or paired against the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and may have voted against going into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832. He was listed in the majority against limiting polling in boroughs of under 1,200 electors to one day, 15 Feb. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He may have been the ‘J. Alexander’ who voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and, like his brother, he divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, his last known vote. As Old Sarum was disfranchised by the Reform Act, he lost his electoral influence and his seat, and therefore left the House at the dissolution in December 1832. He never sat again, but he remained loyal to the Tory leader Sir Robert Peel, whom he assured, 24 Mar. 1842, that ‘I shall cheerfully pay the income tax, which affects me both as a man of business and a landed proprietor’.9 He died at Somerhill in September 1848, ‘a liberal supporter of every benevolent institution that came under his notice’. He divided his estate between the surviving children of his second marriage: Charlotte Sophia (1813-97), Robert (1815-63) of Upavon, Wiltshire, Anne (1817-86) and James (1822-99) of Oakbank, Sevenoaks, Kent.10

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. BL OIOC N/1/7, ff. 29, 161; Bengal Obit. (1848), 180.
  • 2. PRO NI, Caledon mss D2432/5/4/4.
  • 3. C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 243.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 58; Caledon mss B/4/1/48-89, 95-105 (NRA 13276); VCH Wilts. vi. 63, 201, 203, 207.
  • 5. Black Bk. (1823), 135.
  • 6. The Times, 4 May 1824.
  • 7. Wellington mss WP1/913/8.
  • 8. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1746.
  • 9. Add. 40408, f. 26; 40505, f. 66.
  • 10. Devizes Gazette, 28 Sept. 1848.