by Fiona Spear -member of the History Research Group, Regency Restoration Project
William Paxton and Charles Cockerell (1755 – 1837) both had an eye for a good business opportunity. The combination of their entrepreneurial talents made their agency house one of the most successful businesses in India in the late 18th Century.
Charles Cockerell arrived in India in 1776 as a writer in the Surveyors Office in Bengal. He quickly rose through the ranks of the East India Company and became Postmaster General from 1784 – 1792. He then concentrated on his business interests in India, in particular the agency house he ran with William Paxton.
Charles was a great networker. He was friends with the first Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, as well as Richard Wellesley, older brother of The Duke of Wellington. Wellesley later became Governor General and was notorious for his military expansion in India. It was the agency house of Paxton, Cockerell and Trail who financed Wellesley’s campaign against Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Mysore War 1798-99. Charles was rewarded for this by Wellesley supporting Charles’s elevation to Baronetcy in 1809. Charles married Mary Tryphena, daughter of Sir Charles William Blunt in Calcutta in 1789. Sadly, she died a year later.
Charles returned to Britain in 1801 and kept his business ties with India, overseeing the British arm of the agency house. He was a stockholder in the East India Company and was Commissioner of the Board of Control in 1835 and 1837. Charles had various business interests in Britain including, along with William Paxton, directorship of The Gas, Light and Coke Company. Another of Charles’s business interests was the establishment of passenger ships travelling to India which were partly steam powered, making journeys faster.
In 1808 Charles married Harriet Rushout, daughter of John Rushout, 1st Baron Northwick. They had two daughters and a son. This was Charles’s entry into the aristocracy, a path which many former East India Company employees followed on their return from India. They were known, rather scathingly, as nabobs and seen as a corrupting influence on society. Charles’s son later adopted his mother’s surname to distance himself from any societal taint. The other hallmarks of a typical nabob were purchasing a fine country house and a political career.
Charles became MP for Tregony in 1802. He stood for various constituencies over the years, mostly successfully, eventually becoming MP for Evesham in 1819 until his death in 1837.
Charles’s elder brother John was employed by the East India Company. After his return to England in 1794, John bought Sezincote, in Gloucestershire, an estate in a poor state of repair. John commissioned his brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, as architect for the renovations. John died in 1798 before the renovations were underway. He bequeathed Sezincote to his siblings Charles, Samuel and Elizabeth. Charles bought out Samuel and Elizabeth. Charles employed Samuel to finish the renovations in an oriental style, an influence later embraced by the Prince Regent’s Brighton Pavilion. It was a style quite different from other country houses Samuel Pepys Cockerell designed, including Daylesford, Warren Hastings’s home and William Paxton’s Middleton Hall.