James Silk Buckingham was a Cornish-born British author, journalist, and traveler. He was known for his contributions to Indian journalism. He was a pioneer among the Europeans who fought for a liberal press in India.
Life of James Silk Buckingham
His father, and his ancestors, were marine men. James was the youngest of three boys and four girls and his youth were spent at sea. The property of his deceased parents consisted of houses, land, mines, and shares, which were left to the three youngest children. In 1797 he was captured by the French and held as a prisoner of war at Corunna.
In February 1806, Buckingham married Elizabeth Jennings (1786–1865), the daughter of a Cornish farmer.
On 30 June 1855, Buckingham died after a long illness at Stanhope Lodge, Upper Avenue Road, St John’s Wood, London. Buckingham is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
His youngest son, Leicester Silk Buckingham, was a popular playwright.
The career of James Silk Buckingham
In 1821, his Travels in Palestine was published, and in 1825 Travels Among the Arab Tribes was published. After years of wandering, he settled in India, where he founded a periodical, the Calcutta Journal, in 1818.
This proved highly successful, but in 1823 the paper’s blunt criticisms of the East India Company led to the removal of Buckingham from India and to the elimination of the paper by John Adam, the acting governor-general in 1823.
His case was produced before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1834, and a pension of £500 a year was finally awarded to him by the East India Company as compensation.
Buckingham resumed his journalistic ventures on his return to England and settled at Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park. He started the Oriental Herald and Colonial Review (1824–9) and the Athenaeum (1828) which was not a success in his hands, Buckingham selling to John Sterling after a few weeks.
James Silk Buckingham in Politics
Between 1832 and 1836 Buckingham served as MP for Sheffield. He was a strong advocate of social reform, calling for the end of flogging in the armed services, abolition of the press gang, and the repeal of the Corn Laws.
During his time as an MP, Buckingham served as Chair of the select committee charged with examining “the extent, causes, and consequences of the prevailing vice of intoxication among the laboring classes of the United Kingdom” to devise a solution.
Campaigner for the working class Frances Place decided that the lack of “parish libraries and direct reading rooms, and popular lecture that were both entertaining and instructive” were drawing individuals to frequent “public houses for other social enjoyment.”
With this in mind, Buckingham included the Public Institutions bill in 1835. Buckingham’s bill allowed boroughs to charge a tax to set up libraries and museums. This bill never became law but would serve as inspiration for William Ewart and Joseph Brotherton, who introduced a bill that would “[empower] boroughs with a population of 10,000 or more to raise a ½d for the establishment of museums”. Ewart and Brotherton’s bill would become the basis for the Museum Act of 1845.
In October 1837, following his retirement from parliament, Buckingham began a four-year tour of North America. In 1844 he was central to the foundation of the British and Foreign Institute in Hanover Square. Buckingham was the former editor of Asiatic Mirror.
He was a prolific writer. He had traveled in Europe, America, and the East, and recorded many useful travel books, as well as many announcements on political and social subjects. “In 1851, the value of these and of his other literary works was recognized by the grant of a Civil List pension of £200 a year. At the time of his death in London, Buckingham was at work on his autobiography, two volumes of the intended four being completed and published (1855)”. This work is important as it mentions in detail the life of the black composer Joseph Antonio Emidy who settled in Truro.
Oriental Herald and Colonial Review by Buckingham
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.
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