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James Delaney is a former cadet of the East India Company who embarks on a personal vengeance against it. James is the protagonist of Taboo. He is portrayed by Tom Hardy, who also co-created the series.

Official Description[]

"Adventurer, sailor and enigma. James Keziah Delaney returned unexpectedly from Africa after 10 years presumed dead. Shrouded in mystery and preceded by wild rumours." [1]

"James Keziah Delaney is a man who has been to the ends of the earth and comes back irrevocably changed. Believed to be long dead, he returns home to London from Africa to inherit what is left of his father’s shipping empire and rebuild a life for himself. But his father’s legacy is a poisoned chalice, and with enemies lurking in every dark corner, James must navigate increasingly complex territories to avoid his own death sentence. Encircled by conspiracy, murder, and betrayal, a dark family mystery unfolds in a combustible tale of love and treachery." [2]

Character Overview[]

James Delaney is a no-nonsense former corporal of the East India Company with an inclination to violence and insubordination albeit described as an outstanding cadet, skilled in all manner of tasks. James has proven to be both mentally cunning and physically ruthless, thinking ahead of his enemies and being able to overpower his attackers. With no interest in political personal gain, he does know the game is fixed and plays accordingly without hesitation on resorting to extreme violence. His irascible temperament is imputed to the same mental illness that afflicted his mother. With a desire to both honour and surpass his own father, Horace Delaney, and oppose the East India Company's monopoly over the sea trades, James managed to become one of the most feared crime lords in London, due to his charisma and his contempt for the upper-classes. In fact, he prefers to reside in the working-class districts downstream from the City of London instead of a clean and cultured environment, since he wants to hide his crimes and be able to carry out his machinations. However, He is a strong opponent of imperialism from what he saw in Africa in how black slaves were mistreated, and his main objective was to protect people from his mother's side of the family —the indigenous inhabitants of Nootka— from countries like the United States of America and the British Empire, to prevent it from happening again. He even sees capitalism as the main source of energy for the British Empire that he despised so much, which is why he was never interested in money. James is also a man capable of being charitable and friendly with those few who counts among his allies. James has beliefs and rituals learned from his stay in Africa, making him odd in the eyes of the British, and granting him the moniker of “Devil Delaney”. He believes he can hear the dead sing to him and has multiple hallucinations of events in his past and present.

James is a man in his late twenties with a well-proportioned build, unshaven oval face marked by some scars, and blue eyes. James has tribal tattoos all over his body; on his chest, neck, stomach, arms and thighs, adequately covered by clothing. He also appears to have a symbol of a bird burned into the skin on his upper back that was inflicted upon him from his captors in Africa. Its meaning within the story remains unknown.


The following contains plot spoilers – read at your own risk.


James Keziah Delaney was born in 1787 to Horace and Anna Delaney. At the age of eleven, in the year 1798, three years after his mother's death, James was put in as a cadet at the East India Company Military Seminary in Woolwich by Horace Delaney and his new bride. After an initial brilliant career as a cadet in Sir Stuart Strange's regiment, during which he excelled in all disciplines, in 1800 he began his insubordination towards the officers. According to Benjamin Wilton's researchers, James "set ablaze of a Navy boat in an experiment with oil and mashed potatoes while drunk. And a fight with a bear in Chancery Lane, a rebellion against the cooks for bad custard, started by him, and he raved about fortunes and hidden treasures. He tried to recruit other boys to go down the river to India, to trade with Red Indians, to take gold from the Aztecs. Finally, in the year of our Lord 1802, he took himself off to Africa" [3] John Pettifer added further details during an East India Company conversation, revealing that "According to charter records, he went to Cabinda aboard a ship called Cornwallis, then boarded a ship called the Influence, bound for Antigua. It was a slave ship. It sank off the Gold Coast, and it was assumed Delaney was dead." [3]

When he started trading in Africa, he became a prisoner and later accustomed to some indigenous practices and presumably during this time he received the Sankofa's mark on his back. It was during this period that rumours began to circulate about barbaric and cruel behaviours surrounding his persona. During his initial training at the military academy and before setting sail for Africa, James began a love affair with his half-sister, Zilpha.

A Ghost in London

James during his father's funeral

Covered with an overcoat during a rainstorm, James buried a bag before spurring his horse toward London. Entering the morgue, he stole the coins placed on the eyes of his late father and, later, he put the coins in the offertory during the funeral, leaving those present shocked by his presence as he was long believed dead. The Greater shock occurred when, during the burial, he murmured strange words as he painted his face with red dust. Approached by his sister and her husband, James presented himself as unfriendly, with his brother-in-law at least. By contrast; his meeting with his servant Brace, who he met warmly when he returned to his old home. The two had a long conversation before the fire, digging up unpleasant memories of the past.

The next day, James went to the old offices of his family at the docks, where he discovered that Helga, an old acquaintance of his and a prostitute, was exploiting the unused warehouse as a brothel. Irritated, the two had an altercation resulting in a profit-sharing of the brothel revenue. Moreover, James tried to remedy the wrongdoing of his father to his tenants, providing monetarily for the maintenance of a kid believed to be his father's illegitimate son under Ibbotson's care.

James exorcising a vision

By night, Delaney visited the mortuary where Dr Powell, a physician was intent on studying the recently stolen corpse of Horace Delaney because James wanted to find out the causes of his father's death. The place, however, triggered disturbing visions for James, where he removed the shrouds from some corpses in a slave-ship, and apparently raised the corpse of a black slave coming forth to judge him. In the following days, Delaney went to the headquarters of the East India Company in London to discuss his legacy, proving right away little tolerance to the creeping hypocrisy among men who received him in a luxurious room.

Back home, James found a letter secretly sent by his sister, in which she begged him to let the secrets of the past be "buried in a deeper grave". [3]

James and Atticus' first meeting

After retrieving the bag he buried before his return to London, James began to secure rough diamonds contained inside it in a recently purchased safety deposit box, after having sent a diamond to his sister Zilpha. Downtown, James bought a ship at an auction on behalf of his own shipping company, attracting the attention of Wilton and the East India Company. His presence in London did not go unnoticed and in fact, he was approached by Atticus, a former sailor in the pay of his father and currently mobster, who informed him of a gentleman had come to the Dolphin Inn, trying to recruit Atticus to kill Horace Delaney. The man was later identified as his brother in law, Thorne Geary. Another hint of a potential assailant came from Winter, a young mulatto that by night approached James at the dock, telling him that Helga was conspiring behind him. Indicating a moored boat as the hiding of commissioned killer, the two embarked toward the moored ship. However, when James reached the ship he found nothing but rats and a few coins. He decided, therefore, to set fire to the ship.

James carving symbols on the ship's floor

Even worse was what he found aboard the Felice Adventurero, the recently acquired ship, which turned out to be a slave ship. Overwhelmed by dreadful visions, James got rid of his clothes and, completely naked, began to exorcise the ship, carving designs on the floorboards and breaking the chains while chanting in Twi language, later throwing a few pieces of coloured glass into the sea.

With awareness of slave trades conducted on behalf of the East India Company, Delaney tried to get in touch with Dumbarton, an American doctor who could have put him in contact with the dense network of American spies, but the two soon arrived at loggerheads.

When he thought he had solved his problems with his father's legacy, as the sole heir, Lorna Bow made her appearance at the attorney's office, claiming to be the widow of Horace Delaney. After the fiasco to mend relations with his sister, James was stabbed by a masked assailant while walking in a dark alley. In turn, Delaney savagely mauled the assailant's neck. [4]

James threatening Dumbarton

Survived the attack thanks to the timely rescue of one of Dumbarton's spy, James haggled with the Yankee doctor about the possibility of contacting "Carlsbad." James Delaney demanded the monopoly on the tea trade in exchange for valuable help against the British Crown and the East India Company. Meanwhile, Dumbarton stitched his wounds. Determined to carry on his plans, and accompanied by Brace, James settled a few trades with Atticus at the port. Later, he met with Thoyt to draw up his testamentary wills, leaving everything as an inheritance to the fifteen Free States of America.

His plans were slowed down, however, when James visited his deceased mother's bedroom, where he experienced frightening visions of the past. With the visions also bringing him to seek answers about the Sankofa (tribal bird) marked between his shoulder blades, and engraved in the hood of the fireplace. Even more determined to discover the past misdeeds of his father and prepare for revenge against the East India Company, James visited a brothel for men only, where he forced "Godders", the Company's clerk, as well as his former classmate in love with him, to become his informant about the Company's private affairs.

After exchanging a few letters with his sister Zilpha, in which he remarked his love for the woman and the opportunity to run away together from outdated social norms and sorrow, the siblings met secretly in church but only after James had had an unpleasant conversation with his brother in law. Meanwhile, Lorna Bow showed up at Delaney mansion claiming to be its co-owner. James was forced to accept her once she explained she was entitled to half of Nootka Sound and the mansion as his father's widow. He had to rush to the rescue of Lorna later when the woman was involved in a brawl with a rich man who wanted to use her as a prostitute. [5]

Assembling an Army

James performing a ritual

James, sitting before the fireplace, was intent on having a vision of him floating in the water when the soldiers broke into the house to arrest Lorna Bow. James had time to warn Lorna what to do before she was swept away by the constables. When Lorna was exonerated and returned home, James again offered her his protection in exchange for an alliance. Later, James visited Godfrey to be informed of the East India Company plans. Urged by the desire for his sister, wearing only a shirt James knelt before the fireplace and began chanting incomprehensible recitations, dirtying his face with pigments and soot, and blowing smoke and wine on the flames. In doing so, James was apparently able to unleash erotic dreams in his sister.

Totally intrigued by the show of the chemist George Cholmondeley, James offered him a job as a member of his entourage of criminals. He held such consideration of the scientist's skills to offer him a desolate farmhouse in the countryside as a new factory for creating his explosives. While visiting the farm, James was attacked by a muscular assassin who, after briefly gaining the upper hand, was quickly dispatched by James who was so over-excited by the murder to cut the man's tendons of the legs and disembowel him.

James and Zilpha at Musgrove's soiree

James received an invitation from Countess Musgrove, and he showed up at the soiree together with Lorna Bow. The party was a triumph of alcohol and laughter and quickly turned into an obscene feast. Not at all interested in taking part in it, James had the opportunity to be alone with the Countess, who turned out to be no other than "Carlsbad". The two decided to become allies before James found himself in a fight with Thorne. The latter then challenged him to a duel in front of all the guests, including Zilpha. [6]

James during the duel with Thorne

Accepting the challenge, James went to the preordained location early in the morning onboard a small boat and without a second thought. Thorne Geary's gun was loaded with blanks pushed him to doubt the loyalty of his brother-in-law's companion, so James shot him fatally. Back home, James decided to have breakfast on the beach with Lorna, where he asked her once again to give him his father's trunk. The rest of the day was so full of commitments; after brutally hurting a spy who was at his heels, James reached Cholmondeley to note the progress in the processing of chemical compounds, carrying his little half-brother as an assistant to the chemist.

James' dark vision

James then visited the criminals of the Dolphin Inn, where he tore the thumb of a traitor as a warning to all others, before going to Helga's prostitutes, warning them about the soldiers' intentions. In the evening, James performed a ritual on the lakeshore, where he had a vision of himself covered with ashes, and immersed in the lake. The premonition was accompanied by the sound of an explosion, but when James asked for explanations from the chemist, he denied that any explosion had occurred outside of his vision.

At home, James burned all the drawings and the letters of his father recovered from the trunk, in search of the document in which was drawn up the sale of Nootka Sound and his own mother from the native tribe. After a discussion with Lorna, she pointed to the man a secret compartment where the document was hidden. The next day, James was solicited by Dumbarton to shorten the processing time of making gunpowder; a request that led to an argument between James and Cholmondeley because of the danger of using chlorate. James then visited the Countess to ensure that the agreement is respected even if James refused to hand over the document until he had trusted the woman. [7]

James had an unpleasant conversation with Brace about the real reasons that led his father to lock James' mother in an asylum. James was furious with his servant when Brace said that Anna Delaney tried to drown him as an infant. Angry and drunk, James went to the docks at night, where he met Winter. The two conversed briefly before James sent the girl away rudely. The next morning, James performed one of his mysterious rituals, by immersing himself in the lake for summoning visions about the mysterious figure identified as his mother. The vision was so violent and terrifying that James risked drowning. In the distance, hidden behind a tree, Robert witnessed the scene.

James going undercover to deliver gunpowder

Meanwhile, the preparations of gunpowder were almost completed, and James arranged with Dumbarton to transport the gunpowder inside the coffin designated as coffins of some of the cholera patients. The transit was successful thanks to Robert who pretended to be one of the corpses in the coffin when some soldiers checked the cargo of the hearse. Back home after three days of absence without saying anything, James had a conversation with Lorna about her concerns for the life of her stepson. Late at night, James was visited by his half-sister who confessed to having killed her husband. James then had to get rid of the corpse using the help of Dumbarton, who falsified the autopsy indicating the death as due to cholera.

James and Zilpha in her bedroom after Thorne's funeral

James was visited by his friend Godders, who informed Delaney that Ibbotson had betrayed their gang. Angered, James killed the farmer and removed his tongue before laying the body in the church so that it was found by the priest who had blabbed Ibbotson's confession to the East India Company. To avoid getting caught, James Delaney and his men had to flee with gunpowder on board small boats. Later, James dug a grave for the coffin of his brother-in-law, and after the funeral, he had sexual intercourse with his half-sister, which ended when he tried to choke her, shocked by some visions of his mother.

The next day, on his way to the harbour, James was approached by Benjamin Wilton, who informed him that Sir Stuart Strange had declared war. As soon as the executive walked away in his carriage, James' ship blew up. Extremely angry, James went to the Molly house where he pointed a knife at the throat of Godders, but the young secretary said that he was completely in the dark of Sir Strange's plan. To work off his anger, James went to Helga's tavern and the two argued when she refused to kill a captain to procure a new ship to James. Drunk, James headed to the docks where he argued with Winter. The next morning, James woke up in the middle of the mud beside Winter's mauled corpse. [8]

A Deal with the Devil

James witnessed the funeral of Winter from afar, claiming to be on the shoreline to notice the ships moored when Lorna Bow expressed her condolences. James day did nothing but get drunk all day, consumed with guilt over the death of the young girl, so much to see her spirit haunting his room. At night, he was visited by George Chichester, a spokesperson of the Sons of Africa. The man claimed to be aware of James' involvement in the sinking of the slave ship following the orders of Sir Stuart Strange. The two decided to team up to cause the defeat of their common enemy.

The next day, James handed to Robert the key to his safety deposit box so the boy preserved it with great care. Later, walking toward the tavern, James was sideswiped by gunshots fired by Helga, who accused the man of the murder of her daughter. James decided to guard the barrels of gunpowder inside the asylum where his mother was locked, and he made sure that Atticus took charge of the task. In his office, James discussed with Zilpha, putting an end to their relationship to the chagrin of the woman. Back home, he talked with Brace, and the servant confessed to having poisoned Horace Delaney using rat poison out of mercy.

James is imprisoned in the Tower of London

The next day, James was performing one of his rituals in the woods when he was approached by Godders and the two made their way to the Molly House where they met George Chichester. James at this point persuaded Godders to convince Chichester to be willing to take part in their conspiracy against the East India Company. After addressing Godders to Atticus, and having asked the prostitutes of the brothel to leave the building, James was arrested for high treason by the King's guards. James was long tortured by Solomon Coop's men, but he refused to confess his allies' names. James' only request was to speak with Sir Strange. After hours of agony without confessing anything, James received permission to speak with Sir Strange in a cell. [9]

James blackmailing Sir Stuart Strange

James blackmailed Sir Strange revealing that he had put in place a plan to ensure the success of his escape. If within four hours Sir Strange had not been to the terms of the agreement, James would have made sure that Godfrey hand over his report to the Royal Commission. Shortly before his trial in front of the members of the royal council, James had a crisis that made him spill blood and foaming at the mouth. This made the trial postponed for a few hours. Once before Solomon Coop, James Delaney informed the royal secretary that he would be released by noon due to the falling of the charges against him by the East India Company.

James killing Dumbarton

Once out of the Tower of London, James gave Robert a letter for Mr Chichester, then came home and discovered about Zilpha's death from a letter penned by Zilpha herself. Unable to accept the death of his beloved Zilpha, James was comforted by Lorna. James paid a visit to Dumbarton at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and the doctor made him drink laudanum diluted with burdock to relieve his pain. James revealed that he had discovered Dumbarton's true intentions and his alliance with the East India Company. For this betrayal, James killed the spy by drugging him with the laudanum and drowning him in a basin with dye. Doing so triggered the vision of his drowned sister. Before leaving St Bartholomew's Hospital, James hung Dumbarton's corpse with ropes, as a message for Sir Strange.

James revealing Atticus their true destination

James reached Atticus and the rest of his affiliates at the Dolphin Inn. While waiting to be able to set sail, James informed Brace that he would have remained in England and that Chamber House now belonged to him. After a violent clash with King's guards, which cost the lives of several of his allies, James sailed to the Americas. As a last gesture of courtesy, James made sure that Chichester got the documents needed to prosecute the East India Company for the sinking of the Cornwallis, the ship is known as "The Influence" when used as a slave ship. Once at sea abroad Good Hope, James revealed to Atticus that they were directed not to the Americas, but rather to Ponta Delgada in the Azores, Portugal. [10]

Memorable Quotes[]

"I witnessed and participated in darkness that you cannot conceive."
― James Delaney

"People who do not know me soon come to understand that I do not have any sense."
― James Delaney to Helga

"I do know the evil that you do because I was once part of it."
― James Delaney to Sir Stuart Strange

"I have sworn to do very foolish things"
― James Delaney

"I know things about the dead."
― James Delaney

"I am inside your heads, gentlemen. Always."
― James Delaney

"What kind of rational man believes in justice?"
― James Delaney to Chichester

"I have a use for you."
― James Delaney to Sir Stuart Strange

"I’m going to sail away and all those who have use to me will sail along with me – and on my ship, there will be no rules and there will be no judgment. We are sailing to a new world."
― James Delaney to Godfrey

"I suggest that you leave very quickly and very quietly or you can stay for the extreme violence that is coming your way."
— James Delaney to molly

"The Lioness will fiercely protect her cubs, regardless of the consequences. Even if that means her certain death."
— James describing Helga's role to Atticus


Episode Appearances[]

Season 1


  • His full name is James Keziah Delaney.
  • The mysterious words Hardy’s character uses throughout the episode are from the Twi language, spoken by of the native Ashanti people from Ghana, Africa. The program was advised on the language by Naomi Fletcher, Anthnoy Dwomo and Akwasi Amponsah from The Cultural Group. [11]
  • Hardy conceived the character of James Delaney almost a decade ago, and the project has grown out of that initial character portrait: a villainous character like Oliver Twist's Bill Sikes, mixed with the likes of Heart of Darkness's Marlow and Jack the Ripper, and put inside a gentleman's body. [12]
  • There are many legends on James Delaney and his time spent in Africa. One of these concerns cannibalism. Others are raids, massacres, and bestial brutality.
    • According to Winter, James Delaney is a werewolf with knowledge of the magical arts.
    • One of the rumours spread throughout London concerning the alliance between James and the Devil himself and some claim that James is himself a devil.
  • The connections to the supernatural are reinforced by James Delaney's beliefs and behaviours, including the recitation of prayers and incantations. Through the use of herbs and fumigations, James can have disturbing visions but it is unknown whether these visions are real, simple memories, or the result of a deviant mind.
  • Since there are no direct references to it in the series, James Delaney's practices have given rise to many theories and conjectures. Given the language used, Ashanti Twi, and the Sankofa, an Adinkra Symbol, it is very likely that such practices should be sought in the religion and spirituality of the Ashanti people.
    • Some have sought associations with West African Vodun, and it was described as "Sex Voodoo," based on misconceptions and pop culture.[13]
    • The practices of hypnotising, seductive trances, and possessions were also associated with Mesmerism.[13]
  • James Delaney often wears a Mālā, a string of prayer beads.
  • Tom Hardy told IGN that the parts of the story that might seem supernatural are more just a way for Taboo's storytellers to play around with the show's tone.

    "What's interesting is that if a person's third eye is opened up, then their dreams, they dream while they're awake and they're processing it. Those dreams take on the imagery of what he's projecting and mixing together. So they're not specific, they're an amalgamation of imagery that he deciphers," Hardy explained. "He's firing images about what he doesn't know and trying to process that. It's not supernatural, it's about processing traumatic stress."

    And as for that thread of supernatural storytelling, Hardy wants to emphasise that it's less an integral part of the narrative they're weaving and more a way to get inside Delaney's head.

    "He very well may be shamanistic. He very well could have a third eye. But he could actually just be damaged," he said. "We have to start with a slow burn so it feels like a novel so by the time you establish who they are, hopefully, people stick with it because the payoff in eight is in a different place than we start off. So then when you rewatch it, that's a nice contained piece which can continue on." [14]

  • Although Robert is believed to be Horace Delaney's illegitimate child, there is the possibility that he might be a result of the relationship between James and Zilpha. [15]
  • His English address was a mansion known as "Chamber House", on Wapping Wall, a street located in the East End of London at Wapping.
  • Describing James Delaney, co-creator and executive producer Steven Knight said:

    "One of the things about creating a hero of any sort is that they are occasionally ridiculous. For all the weirdness, there are elements of James Delaney that are recognisable and that’s what audiences respond to." Hardy simply stated: "Is he an antihero? I don’t think so. He’s heinous and opportunistic, but he’s not just a standard bad boy. I wanted to go further than that."[16]


  1. BBC One, Taboo's Cast and Characters biographies
  2. BBC Media Centre, Major cast announced for BBC One/FX Drama
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Knight, Steven (writer) & Nyholm, Kristoffer (director); January 7, 2017 BBC; January 10, 2017, FX; "Episode 1". Taboo.
  4. Knight, Steven (writer) & Nyholm, Kristoffer (director); January 14, 2017, BBC; January 17, 2017, FX; "Episode 2". Taboo.
  5. Knight, Steven (writer) & Nyholm, Kristoffer (director); January 21, 2017 BBC; January 24, 2017, FX; "Episode 3". Taboo.
  6. Knight, Steven & Ballou, Emily (writer) & Nyholm, Kristoffer (director); January 28, 2017 BBC; January 31, 2017, FX; "Episode 4". Taboo.
  7. Knight, Steven & Hervey, Ben (writer) & Engström, Anders (director); February 4, 2017 BBC; February 7, 2017, FX; "Episode 5". Taboo.
  8. Hardy, Chips & Knight, Steven (writer) & Engström, Anders (director); February 11, 2017 BBC; February 14, 2017, FX; "Episode 6". Taboo.
  9. Knight, Steven (writer) & Engström, Anders (director); February 18, 2017 BBC; February 21, 2017, FX; "Episode 7". Taboo.
  10. Knight, Steven (writer) & Engström, Anders (director); February 25, 2017 BBC; February 28, 2017, FX; "Episode 8". Taboo.
  11. 13 burning question on Taboo
  12. Why Tom Hardy went to TV with "Taboo"
  13. 13.0 13.1, Taboo, repression, and possession: the mesmerising history behind Tom Hardy's sex voodoo
  14. TABOO: Tom Hardy explains the supernatural side of the period drama
  15. Who Is The Boy In 'Taboo'? Episode 5 May Reveal Robert's Mysterious Identity
  16. The Guardian, From Taboo to Mindhunter: how TV drama washed away toxic masculinity