BENETT, John (1773-1852), of Pythouse, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 20 May 1773, 1st s. of Thomas Benett of Pythouse by 2nd w. Catherine, da. of James Darrell of York Street, St. James’s Square, Piccadilly. m. 1801, Lucy, da. of Edmund Lambert of Boyton House, Wilts., 2s. 5da. suc. fa. 1797.
Sheriff, Wilts. 1798-9; cornet, Wilts. yeomanry 1800, lt. 1802, maj. 1825.
Benett boasted, when he stood for the county in 1818, that an ancestor of his had been sheriff of Wiltshire in Henry III’s reign. His family had been settled at Pythouse since 1725 and his father had twice contested Heytesbury in the 1760s. With an estate of 2,000 acres, he was reckoned ‘a gentleman of very large fortune’ and was prominent as an agricultural improver and president of the county agricultural society.1 In March 1808 he gave evidence, as an agricultural protectionist, to a select committee and in 1814 he led the pro-Corn Law agitation in the county and gave evidence in its favour.2 In this he differed from one of the county Members, Paul Methuen, whose election in 1812 he had sponsored, as an opponent of club rule.3
On the retirement of the other Member, Long, in February 1818, he offered as an independent. Lord Malmesbury described him as ‘very unfit for the situation—a democrat, a suppressor of tithes, and a supporter of the Catholic question’, but thought he had ‘the yeomanry and the rabble with him’.4 As Methuen refused to ally with him, despite feelers from Benett and manoeuvres which disgusted Methuen, the contest lay between him and Long Wellesley, and in a scurrilous campaign Benett was abused as a tyrannical landlord, an atheist, a clubman and ministerialist; his friends boosted him as a native of the county unconnected with ministers, unlike his opponent. He was ill received on the hustings and, despite a subscription his favour, unable to compete with Long Wellesley.5 A year later Methuen retired, and before Benett knew of it John Astley offered: in offering again, he complained of Astley as a deserter from his own cause and it was reported that
the notion that Benett has not been well used has turned the popular opinion here in his favour. A year ago no partisan of his could appear in the streets without being pelted, and this very morning we were received with the cry of Benett for ever.6
This time Benett was successful in the contest, which was supposed to have completed his financial ruin.
In the House he voted against the address, 24 Nov. 1819, and for Althorp’s motion for a committee on the state of the nation, 30 Nov., when in his maiden speech he made a cautious protest against indiscriminate repression: ‘he would say there was not a county in England more attached to the constitution, and more opposed to the mountebank orators, than the county which he represented’. On 2 and 13 Dec. he voted against the seditious meetings bill, and on 6 Dec. for the limitation of it to three years; he voted against the seizure of arms bill, 14, 15, 16 Dec., and against the newspaper stamp duties bill, 20 Dec. On 13 Feb. 1820 he wrote to Lord Holland to thank him for promising him support at the ensuing election and for his approval of his conduct in Parliament on the repressive measures:7
I agree with your lordship in considering those measures unnecessary and unconstitutional. And further, I believe the tendency of some of them to be exceedingly dangerous, for by the restraints they impose on public and constitutional meetings, they point out to the disaffected the only effectual mode of executing their dangerous purposes.
Benett continued to lean towards the Whigs. He died 1 Oct. 1852.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Hoare, Wilts. Warminster, Add. 58; A Wiltshire Parson and his Friends ed. Greever, 146.
- 2. PP (1808) iv. 146; Hunt, Mems. i. 220-5, 231, 465; Horner Mems. ii. 242; Kaleidoscopiana Wiltoniensia (1818), 95.
- 3. Methuen mss, P. to P. C. Methuen, Fri. ; Kaleidoscopiana, 184.
- 4. Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to Fitz-Harris, 26 Feb., 27 June 1818.
- 5. Kaleidoscopiana, 3, 4, 8, 15, 16, 21, 158, 243, 248, 365, 384; Methuen mss, Benett to Methuen Poore, 3 June 1818.
- 6. Wilts. RO, Benett mss 413/484; Carlisle mss, M. Marsh to Morpeth, 8 July 1819.
- 7. Add. 51831.