Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Buckingham, James Silk

BUCKINGHAM, JAMES SILK (1786–1855), author and traveller, was the youngest child of Christopher and Thomazine Buckingham. He was born at Flushing, near Falmouth, on 25 Aug. 1786, and when only in his tenth year commenced a seafaring life. While on his third voyage he was taken prisoner by the French and for several months confined at Corunna as a prisoner of war. After passing much of his early life at sea, he turned his attention to literature. In October 1818 he established at Calcutta a newspaper called the ‘Calcutta Journal.’ The boldness with which he censured the abuses of the Indian government led to his expulsion from India and the suppression of the paper by the temporary governor-general, Mr. John Adam, in April 1823. The first number of this paper appeared on 2 Oct. 1818, the last on 26 April 1823. Its suppression entailed great pecuniary loss. Redress was recommended by a select committee of the House of Commons in August 1834; it was not until long afterwards that the East India Company acknowledged the injustice of the proceedings by granting him a pension of 200l. a year. He published accounts of the lands which he visited on his way to and from India. In January 1824 he established the ‘Oriental Herald and Colonial Review,’ which he conducted until it ceased to exist in December 1829. Its object was to spread information relating to our eastern possession. The ‘Oriental Quarterly Review,’ the first number of which appeared on 20 Jan. 1830, was intended by Buckingham to take the place of the ‘Oriental Herald,’ but only two numbers were published. In July 1827 he started a weekly journal of politics, literature, and news, entitled ‘The Sphynx,’ which had an existence of less than two years. In January 1828 he established the ‘Athenæum,’ the first number of which came out on 2 Jan. Buckingham was editor of this paper only for a very short time, and in the same year parted with his interest in it to John Sterling. In this year also he proposed the establishment of a London evening paper to be called ‘The Argus’ and to commence on 30 June 1828. Though a prospectus and a specimen copy were issued, nothing further was done with the scheme. In December 1832 he was elected M.P. for the new borough of Sheffield in the first reformed parliament, and for that constituency he continued to sit until the dissolution in July 1837. In the House of Commons he took especial interest in social reforms, advocating the abolition of flogging in the army and navy, and of the impressment of seamen, and the adoption of means to prevent destruction of life and property at sea. He also took an active part in promoting the temperance movement, and presided over the select committee at whose instance the valuable medical evidence respecting intoxicating liquors was collected (ibid.)

Having retired from parliament, in October 1837 he commenced an extensive tour through America, which occupied him nearly four years. In 1843 the British and Foreign Institute in Hanover Square was founded, mainly owing to his exertions. This literary and social club, of which he was appointed resident director, excited the ridicule of ‘Punch,’ which persisted in calling it the ‘Literary and Foreign Destitute.’ It did not last much longer than four years. In 1847 and 1848 he travelled through various parts of Europe. In 1851 he became the president of the London Temperance League, which was first formed in that year, and on 1 Sept. was granted a pension of 200l. a year from the civil list, ‘in consideration of his literary works and useful travels in various countries.’ For some few years before his death he took but little active part in public life. Buckingham was a most voluminous writer; his books which relate his journeys in foreign countries contain much valuable matter, both descriptive and statistical.

As a lecturer he was, however, better known, and for many years he was in the habit of travelling through the country and delivering lectures upon the places which he had visited, and on a variety of other subjects. He was a man of great kindness of heart and liberality of opinion, a fluent speaker, and possessed of a lively imagination. Though by no means deficient in industry, and always careful to keep himself well before the public, he was capricious in his work and had too many schemes in hand at the same time. To this cause may probably be attributed his want of success in life. He died after a long illness at Stanhope Lodge, Upper Avenue Road, St. John's Wood, on 30 June 1855, in his sixty-ninth year.

His death having occurred so soon after the publication of the first two volumes of his ‘Autobiography,’ the third and fourth volumes, though ready for the press, were never published. In February 1806 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Jennings, a farmer near Penryn, who survived her husband. They had several children, Leicester Silk [q. v.] being their youngest son. An engraved portrait of Buckingham will be found in the first volume of the ‘Autobiography.’ The following is a list of the chief of Buckingham's published works. He also wrote some thirty-seven pamphlets on social and political subjects.

  1. ‘Travels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Gilead,’ &c., 1822, 4to.
  2. ‘Travels among the Arab Tribes inhabiting the East of Syria and Palestine,’ &c., 1825, 4to.
  3. ‘Travels in Mesopotamia,’ &c., 1827, 4to.
  4. ‘Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia,’ &c., 1830, 4to.
  5. ‘Parliamentary Report on the Extent, Causes, and Consequences of the Prevailing Vice of Intoxication,’ &c., 1834, fol.
  6. ‘Parliamentary Report on the Causes of the Increased Number of Shipwrecks,’ &c., 1836, fol.
  7. ‘Evils and Remedies of the Present System of Popular Elections,’ &c., 1841, 12mo.
  8. ‘America: Historical, Descriptive, and Statistic, including a Journey through the Northern or Free States,’ 3 vols., 1841, 8vo.
  9. ‘The Slave States of America,’ &c., 2 vols., 1842, 8vo.
  10. ‘The Eastern and Western States of America,’ 3 vols., 1842, 8vo.
  11. ‘Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and other British Provinces of North America,’ &c., 1843, 8vo.
  12. ‘Transactions of the British and Foreign Institute, including Reports of all the Papers read, Lectures delivered, and Discussions held at the Meetings of that Society in 1843–4–5,’ 1845 (?), 4to.
  13. ‘Tour through Belgium, the Rhine, and Holland,’ 2 vols., 1845, 8vo.
  14. ‘Tour through France and Italy,’ &c., 2 vols., 1847, 8vo.
  15. ‘Outline Sketch of the Voyages, Travels, Writings, and Public Labours of James Silk Buckingham. Compiled from authentic sources,’ 1848, 8vo.
  16. ‘National Evils and Practical Remedies,’ 1849, 8vo.
  17. ‘An Earnest Plea for the Reign of Temperance and Peace,’ &c., 1851, 12mo.
  18. ‘The Coming Era of Practical Reform,’ &c., 1854, 8vo.
  19. ‘Autobiography of James Silk Buckingham,’ vols. i. and ii., 1855, 8vo.

[Autobiogr. of James Silk Buckingham, 2 vols., 1855; Biographical Sketch of James Silk Buckingham from Lives of the Illustrious for August 1853 (1853); Gent. Mag. 1855, new ser. xliv. 322–3; Ann. Reg. 1855, p. 289; advertisement of Buckingham's works in The Coming Era for May 1854; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.