Sir Francis Buller, 1st Baronet
|The Right Honourable
6 May 1778 – 19 June 1794
17 March 1746|
|Died||5 June 1800
Sir Francis Buller, 1st Baronet (17 March 1746 – 5 June 1800) was an English judge.
Buller was born at Downes House in Devon, the son of James Buller, Member of Parliament for Cornwall, and his wife Lady Jane, daughter of Allen Bathurst, 1st Earl Bathurst. He was educated at the King's (Grammar) School, Ottery St Mary, and Christ's Hospital, London. In 1763, at the age of 17, he married Susanna, daughter and heiress of Francis Yarde of Churston Court, Devonshire. In February 1763, he was entered at the Inner Temple as a pupil of special pleader William Henry Ashurst, taking out his own certificate as special pleader in 1765. In Easter term 1772, he was called to the bar and rose rapidly through it, becoming King's Counsel on 24 November 1777. On 6 May 1778, at only 32, he was made a puisne judge of the King's Bench.
His conduct on the bench, however, was often the subject of severe criticism, accused of being hasty and prejudiced. He was caricatured as "Judge Thumb" by James Gillray in 1782, because of an alleged statement made by Buller that a husband could thrash his wife with impunity provided that he used a stick no bigger than his thumb. This claim was widely circulated, although if Buller ever made the comment it never became an accepted part of English common law. He was one of the judges on the Zong massacre case.
He presided over an important trial involving the validity of a patent held by Richard Arkwright, the cotton manufacturer in 1785. The patent was held by a jury to be invalid because the specification was unclear. Expert evidence showed that Arkwright had claimed inventions made by others. Arkwright had by that time established several cotton spinning mills, and continued to prosper despite losing the patent battle.
Buller was always the second judge in his court, though when Lord Mansfield was absent through illness (e.g., the last two years of Mansfield's life) he took the lead and in effect acted as Lord Chief Justice. However, on Mansfield's death, William Pitt delayed and then in the end appointed Kenyon not Buller to the role (despite Buller being the superior lawyer), but did make Buller a baronet on 13 January 1790. On 19 June 1794, he resigned from the King's Bench and took his place in the Common Pleas.
He was a guardian of Anna Eliza Brydges and a trustee to the 1796 settlement between her and Richard Temple, later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Buller built the original house now occupied by Two Bridges Hotel on Dartmoor.
His health in the late 1790s was undermined by frequent attacks of gout and by a slight stroke of paralysis. He had arranged to resign in a few days time, when, during a game of piquet at his house in Bedford Square, he was seized with his fatal illness. He died during the night of 4/5 June 1800. 
He was succeeded by his eldest surviving son Sir Francis Buller-Yarde-Buller, 2nd Baronet. Lady Buller died in 1810.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Courtney, William Prideaux (1886). "Buller, Francis". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 7. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Lundy, Darryl. "FAQ". The Peerage.[unreliable source]
- Oldham, James (2004). "Buller, Sir Francis, first baronet (1746–1800)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
|Baronetage of Great Britain|
(of Churston Court)