Sir William James, 1st Baronet

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Commodore James, 1784 (painted by Joshua Reynolds)

Commodore Sir William James, 1st Baronet, FRS (c.1721 – 16 December 1783) was a Welsh-born British navy commander, known for his successful campaigns against Indian native navies.

Early life[edit]

The son of an impoverished miller from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, James ran away to sea in 1732, and by 1738 was commanding his own ship and serving in the West Indies. In 1747, he joined the East India Company and was appointed commodore of its Bombay Marine naval forces four years later.

Naval career[edit]

He is particularly associated with an action on 2 April 1755 when, commanding the Bombay Marine Ship Protector he attacked and destroyed the fortress of Tulaji Angre (also spelt Tollagee Angria; son of Kanhoji Angre, described by English revisionists as a "pirate", by local revisionists as the "admiral" of the Maratha Empire navy), at Severndroog (an English representation of the latter part of Janjeera Soowumdroog or Suvarnadurg), in Konkan, along the western coast of India, between Mumbai and Goa. He had initially been instructed only to blockade the stronghold, but through his intimate knowledge of the rocky coastline was able to get close enough to blow up the fortress. Although the East India Company had spent considerable sums providing protection from piracy, he only received £100 in reward.

In February 1756, he supported the capture of Gheriah (now Vijaydurg) by Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson, and was active in numerous skirmishes against the French, helping to consolidate the British position in India.

Later life[edit]

He returned to England in 1759, settling in Eltham in north-west Kent, and later became chairman of the directors of the East India Company, a governor of Greenwich Hospital and a fellow of the Royal Society for his contribution to navigation.[1]

James married twice. In 1765, he married his second wife, Anne Goddard, with whom he had two children: Edward and Elizabeth.[2]

Created a baronet in 1778, he died of a stroke at his daughter Elizabeth Anne's wedding to Thomas Parkyns, 1st Baron Rancliffe MP on 16 December 1783.[3]

He was buried at Eltham and the following year a folly, Severndroog Castle (designed by East India Company architect Richard Jupp), was built as a memorial to him by his wife, Lady James of Eltham, on nearby Shooter's Hill. His title passed to his son Edward William and became extinct on the latter's own death.[4]


Leigh Rayment's list of baronets

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
James Townsend
William Graves
Member of Parliament for West Looe
With: Charles Ogilvie 1774–1775
John Rogers 1775–1780
John Buller 1780–1782
John Somers Cocks 1782–1783
Succeeded by
John Somers Cocks
John Buller
Baronetage of Great Britain
New title Baronet
(of Eltham, Kent)
Succeeded by
Edward William James