In March 1761 the diarist Horace Walpole complained that “West Indians, conquerors, nabobs, and admirals” were attacking every parliamentary borough in the general election. Although it lacked statistical proof, this sour observation became an accepted tenet in political histories of Britain written during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even the one full-length study of nabobs published in 1926 echoes Walpole's refrain; Holzman depicted them as a group of nouveaux riches “determined to raise their power and position to the level of their credit. This precipitated a fierce class strife, which was signalised [sic.] by changes in the ownership of landed estates and pocket boroughs.” The investigations of the Namierite school have long since demolished the myth of an East Indian onslaught on English politics and society in the mid-eighteenth century. Only a handful of novice MPs were returned to parliament in the general elections of 1761 and 1768, and those elected did not constitute a concentrated and coherent East Indian lobby at Westminster.
Yet should Walpole's observation be dismissed so readily? This was an age of ignorance of the nature of the British presence in India, of considerable misgivings over the many effects that an empire of conquest in the east would have on Britain, and of a resultant lack of enthusiasm for an Asian empire. The leading historian of the British connection with India in the eighteenth century has recently pointed out that this reluctance derived in part from fears that it would upset not only the social and political, but also the moral underpinnings of established society.