James Bandinel was born in Oxfordshire on 6th January 1783. He was the second son of Reverend Dr. James Bandinel, Rector of Netherbury, West Dorset and his wife Margaret Dumaresq.
On 11th January 1813 Bandinel married Marian Eliza Hunter at Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset. Later, on 19 May 1814 their son, James, was born in Chelsea, London. The marriage did not last and by 1816 they had separated. Marian went to live in Madeira and their son spent his child-hood in six-month stays with each parent. Bandinel never re-married.
In an article in ‘The Leisure Hour’ magazine of 1887, Bandinel’s son remembers his experiences as a child living with his father. He describes a visit by King Kamehameha and the Queen of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) who were taken on a tour of Westminster Abbey where his father had rooms. He also describes a visit by Augustin de Iturbide, ex emperor of Mexico who had breakfast with them, and an elderly lady who called herself Princess de Rohan.
Bandinel was ‘a peculiar character; a capital scholar, a man variously and curiously informed, of great worth, kindness and hospitality. His quarters in the old Abbey are a perfect “old curiosity shop” furnished with all kinds of antiquities and curiosities’.Washington Irving, American author and diplomat.
Career and anti-slavery
On 5th April 1799, at the age of sixteen, Bandinel was appointed Clerk at the Foreign Office in London. During his 46 year career in government he would serve under several Foreign Secretaries. These included Lord Castlereagh, a tireless campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, and George Canning.
Bandinel was promoted from Clerk, to Senior Clerk and finally in 1824 to First Superintendent of the Slave Trade Department. This was a time of difficult and complex international negotiations. The Foreign Secretary, George Canning, was trying to convince other world powers to abolish the slave trade. Bandinel played an important part in supporting Canning in the administration of these Treaties. He also took on the management of the Mixed Commission Courts. The courts decided the fate of vessels detained on suspicion of being slave ships.
Bandinel was author of one of the first published histories on anti-slavery. In 1807 the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill became law. It prevented the import of enslaved people by British traders into territories belonging to foreign powers. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. On 1st August 1834 all enslaved people in the British dominions, excluding the East India Company territories, were finally freed.
As early as 1824 Bandinel received an annual allowance for superintending the slave trade business. He also received a lump sum in recognition of having conducted this business over the previous five years. Bandinel was also responsible for the distribution of parliamentary grants. They averaged from £20 to £30,000 a year in the form of contingency expenses, salaries and pensions to commission personnel. In effect, he acted as paymaster to the commissioners collecting one percent fee on their salaries. The Treasury was unaware of this arrangement until 1843 when it assumed direct responsibility for such payments.
Bandinel retired from the Foreign Office in 1845. The sixteen year old, from a modest ecclesiastical background, was now an individual of considerable wealth.
Bandinel was a close friend of the engineer Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He helped to finance their construction of the Thames Tunnel connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping.
Bandinel family in the South West
In 1845 he provided land for the construction and endowment of a parish church at Melplash in Dorset. It had been an unfulfilled wish of his father to see the church built and Bandinel saw it through to completion. He also donated land for a village school and schoolhouse.
Bandinel died on 29th July 1849 at 19 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London. He had contracted Asian cholera while staying in Salisbury.
Bandinel’s son, the Reverend James Bandinel, retired to Devon. He based himself at Hulham House, Withycombe Raleigh, near Exmouth. He presented his father’s collection to RAMM in 1882. This collections includes items linked to Mandinka slavers, Bioko island, and the Borgu Emirate. He died in 1892.