by Shane Badham

Before I describe the content of the notes mentioned in the title, I need to set the context and introduce the players.

The Bristol and Exeter Railway Company was incorporated with a capital of £1,500,000 in 15,000 shares of £100 each and William Purnell was appointed Chairman. On the 24th October 1835, Thomas Osler was appointed secretary to the board of directors. On the 8th February 1836 William Purnell resigned, Frederick Ricketts was appointed Chairman and James Gibbs, a director, was appointed Vice Chairman. On the 18th May 1837 Thomas Osler tended his resignation, having secured the post of secretary to the board of the G.W.R. On the 19th July 1837, out of eight candidates including himself, Mr J.B. Badham was appointed secretary to the board and took up the post on the 1st August, with a salary of £400 p.a.1 This was subsequently raised to £500 and on the recommendation of the board, raised to £600 in 1841. This remained his salary until the 1st January 1854 when a further addition of £200 a year was made spontaneously and without solicitation2.

During the early years of the Company, most of the work of the board was concerned with the issuing of shares and the raising of the necessary capital to build the line. Once they had sufficient subscriptions, they started the planning, in order to get Parliament approval for I.K. Brunel’s design. Although the design was Brunel’s, he had other commitments and to save time, recommended one of his engineers to carry out the survey. Brunel assisted in the presentation of his design to Parliament. After approval, most of the work was in buying the land over which the track was to be laid, and the arranging of compensation for the people who were affected by the construction. Most of the compensation was settled out of court. However, there were cases of greed and some of these were taken to court, but only where the Company was sure of a judgement in their favour. There were also the arrangements made to pay for the first part of the line from Bristol to Bridgewater.3

James Wentworth Buller (1798-1865) joined the board of the Company as a director, but at this time I am not sure when. However, it is possible that this was sometime shortly after he ceased representing the constituency of Exeter. He was appointed Chairman in the place of James Gibbs in about 1847, Gibbs having succeeded Ricketts in the mean time. The Buller family is interesting. He married Charlotte Juliana Jane Howard Molyneux-Howard, daughter of Lord Henry Thomas Howard and Elizabeth Lang on 5th October 1831. He was MP for Exeter from 1830 to 1835 and MP for North Devon from 1857 to 1865. Their son became, General Rt. Hon. Sir Redvers Henry Buller, V.C. (1839-1908), who distinguished himself during the Zulu wars and the Boer war and led the relief of Ladysmith.

I understand that the family still live at Downes which is situated near Crediton, Devon.4

Travelling to Bristol would not have been a problem for Buller, because the line to Exeter was completed on 1st May 1844. James, as Secretary, kept in touch with him with regular correspondence.

James’s letters to Buller are held by the Devon Record Office and I have had the privilege to be able to read them, photograph all 54 of them, plus one from Alonzo Badham in 1857 and notes written by James W. Buller. The big kick I got from this was on the way home on my bicycle when I realised I had actually been holding the original letters that my G-G-Grandfather had himself held and written! The letters cover the period from late 1847, 1848, 1849 and a few from 1855. Obviously the collection is not complete. I did not find Buller’s letter book containing his replies; maybe he did not use one, or the family has kept it.

Having established the context and the players, my story now turns to the notes written by Buller. Although undated, I believe these were written early in 1857 and concern James’s illness, resignation and the accolade paid to him by Buller. I think he wrote the notes for an address to be given by him to the board. They are written in haste, with several crossings out and missing words and obviously were not intended for publication. I created a transcript, adding words and moving text around, to aid my understanding. The text below is not a verbatim quote, but I have tried to keep the style of English that Buller used. Buller mentions, below, two savings made by James, which were made when the Company was in some difficulty.

“In 1842 £11,000 were received from the Insurance Office for Timber consumed” [Presumably by fire.]

“In 184x the issue of £400,000 preference six per cent Stock was re-listed and 4 per cent Stock was subsequently substituted. This guaranteed a saving of £8,000 a year for ever.”

Mr. Badham enjoyed the confidence of former Chairmen Messrs. Ricketts and Gibbs. James was a stranger to Buller when he was elected Chairman, but he soon found the value of his services. Buller communicated with him without the slightest reserve on all matters relating to the business and interests of the Company, from the moment of his election to the Chair up to almost the hour when James was suddenly seized with the alarming attack of illness which compelled him to resign his office. Buller says that he ought not to say compelled him to resign his office, because severe and alarming as had been the attack, his mental powers had been mercifully and most wonderfully preserved. All those who communicated with him either personally, or by letter could bear the strongest testimony that there were neither in his conversation nor in his correspondence the slightest traces of any diminution of mental power. Buller called particular attention to this happy and peculiar feature in this case, because his medical attendants most strongly recommended his retirement from the anxieties and labour of his official position as affording the best chance of prolonging his life and promoting his return to comparative health; it would prolong a life so valuable to his family. However, he was not mentally incapacitated from retaining office and the Directors would have felt it their duty to have made such arrangements, as whilst they valued their old Secretary, relief from some of  the most onerous of his duties would have enabled him to attend the Meetings of the Board and reclaim the care of the Minute Book. This had been so admirably kept by him for so many years and in which the entries of the Proceedings of the Board were rendered with a clearness correctness and fidelity which could not be exceeded. [Having seen three of these minute books at TNA, I can vouch for that!]

Whilst he did admirably discharge his duties to this Company, he enjoyed in a remarkable manner the confidence and respect of the Officers of other Companies. Buller did not hesitate to say that from this candid understanding, which James so zealously cultivated, great benefits had at various times resulted. The friendly spirit with which he turned towards his unsparing good temper and the conciliating tones which he adopted, rather from a natural kindly helping disposition than from mentioning the taking of a vote, had a most important influence in softening asperities and presenting that good understanding which more than any other was so essential to the time and interests of a company and less of individuals, in its relations with other Companies.

Mr. Badham has a claim which no other officer can possess. He was identified with the Company almost from its formation. His remarkable energies were directed to its support during the period of extending difficulty with which it had been the future of all Companies to contend. He seems to have inspired our courage and vigour into the administration, when the undertaking was expressed to make changes which would have daunted the courage of many men and in these respects Buller felt most deeply with James, for it would have been be a most agonising struggle to surrender his favourite and long cherished occupation and to resign himself to the guidance of others against his own wishes and opinion when though he does full justice to their friendship and kind and considerate motives, he cannot admit to being free of their reasons or the propriety of their judgement.

Buller said that they should not forget the man who’s exertions were so incredible at the time when they were most needed and this had contributed in a great degree to the prosperity their company had enjoyed for many years and is, he trusted, destined to enjoy in the future.5

At this point I would have liked to provide a transcript of Alonzo’s letter but, due to constraints of copyright, I will describe the content.

Alonzo wrote to Buller on the 28th February 1857. He gave a favourable account of his father’s progress, after the visit of Dr. Martin, who considered James to be decidedly stronger. James cautions Alonzo not to expect him to recover to his former vigour, but he did agree with the doctor’s opinion of his progress. Alonozo wrote that his father was grateful for the great kindness evidenced by the continued stream of sympathising enquiries as to his health. He described the visit of Mr. Carrol with a document for his father’s signature, which he read, understood and commented on, before signing and sealing it as Sardinian Consul [a post James had held for several years]. This example Alonzo gave as an illustration to show that his father had full possession of his mental faculties and manual dexterity. He finishes up by saying that the report of the Meeting containing Buller’s “kind allusion to his sudden illness was heard by him with the greatest pleasure”.6

I believe that this last bit refers to Bullers notes which I have described above and I am pleased that James was aware of the Chairman’s regards.

On May 4th James’s resignation was made public in The Times, however I believe that he continued in office, in a reduced capacity, until August when he left the Company. Mr. W. Harwood, the Company accountant, was appointed Secretary in his place.7

At a subsequent meeting of the shareholders in August of the same year, they voted James a pension of £500 p.a. for life.8

James Billings Badham died on the 27th June 1858 at 10 Kings Parade, Clifton, Bristol, aged 73.

  1. RAIL75/1, at TNA
  2. Buller of Downes - Notes, Ref. 2065M/SS1/10, at Devon R.O.
  3. RAIL75/2-3, at TNA
  4. thePeerage -, search for James W. Buller
  5. Buller of Downes - Notes, Ref. 2065M/SS1/10, at Devon R.O.
  6. Buller of Downes - Letters, Ref. 2065M/SS1/10, at Devon R.O.
  7. Times issue 22671; Mon, May 4, 1857; p12; col E
  8. Times issue 22771; Fri, Aug 28, 1857; p10; col D