HAMMET, Benjamin (?1736-1800), of Taunton, Som.
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Family and Education
m. Louisa, da. of Sir James Esdaile, London banker, 3s. 5da. Kntd. 11 Aug. 1786.
Alderman of London 1785, sheriff 1788-9.
Hammet, a self-made man, variously reported to have been the son of a Taunton serge manufacturer1 and of a Taunton barber,2 is said to have started his London career as a porter in a bookshop on Fishstreet Hill.3 By 1763 he was established as a merchant on the corner of Change Alley. He himself told the House of Commons on 16 Apr. 1783 that he had been in America and was ‘formerly concerned with their affairs’,4 but gives no indication of his business there or of the date of his visit. In 1781 he became a partner in the London bank of his father-in-law, Sir James Esdaile, he having previously established a banking house at Taunton, where he had also acquired considerable property. He took a leading part in attempts to improve the borough, and in 1769 became a trustee of the progressive Market House Society, an association of local tradesmen who were mainly Dissenters. Largely through his efforts the centre of Taunton was cleared of ruinous and disreputable property and a fine new street bearing his name built instead. In 1782 Hammet successfully contested Taunton with the support of the Market House Society and of Government.
He was a frequent speaker in the House. In his first reported speech on 6 Dec. 1782 he stated that he had no connexion with any ministers.5
[He] rose with great warmth, to reprobate the language of gloom and despondency which he had heard held the preceding day in the House ... We had beat the French in the West Indies, baffled them in the East, disgraced them in Europe ... As to the funds and resources of this country he was convinced that rather than submit to the cession of Gibraltar, and to other ignominious terms, the people of this country would carry on the war for ten years and spend two hundred millions more ... His professional habits and knowledge of the resources of the country gave him, he observed, a right to say what he had done.
Hammet voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; for Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals, 7 May 1783; and against Fox’s East India bill, 1 Dec. 1783. On 19 Dec. 1783 he told the House that he ‘liked those ministers who were gone out, and those who were coming in; he was really sorry that such divisions prevailed in the House’, and he wished that ‘a coalition, taking in the abilities of all parts of the House might take place’. He was a member of the St. Alban’s Tavern group which in January 1784 attempted to bring about a union of parties, but on 2 Feb. 1784 he declared that Pitt ‘possessed ... the confidence and affection of the people at large in as eminent a degree as any minister had ever done’. Hammet was classed in Stockdale’s list of 19 Mar. and by William Adam in May 1784 as an Administration supporter. But he himself told the House on 28 July 1784 that he was ‘totally unconnected with any party; he never had received or solicited the smallest favour from any ministers whatever’.6 He strongly criticized measures of which he did not approve, particularly the shop tax which he continuously attacked till its repeal, but on major issues regularly supported Pitt’s Administration.
Hammet died 22 July 1800, aged 64.