BENNET, Richard Alexander Henry (?1771-1818), of North Court, Shorwell, I.o.W.
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Family and Education
Lt. RN 1790, cdr. 1793, capt. 1796.
Captain Bennet, who was on active service in the frigate Tribune, owed his seat in Parliament to the fact that he was the Duchess of Northumberland’s nephew. The duke brought him in for Launceston in 1802. Bennet made little mark in Parliament. A friend of Samuel Whitbread, he wrote to him from Jamaica, 14 May 1801, to express his satisfaction that Whitbread had given up secession, ‘a childish unworthy proceeding’ and ‘an unpopular measure’. He added that ‘Your being allowed to do it proved plainly that the state of the representation is worse than you reformers make it’. In July 1802 he informed Whitbread that he was glad Burdett was losing the Middlesex election as, now that war was over, he would prefer that ‘the interior remained quiet’.2 He voted with the minority on the King’s message concerning negotiations with France, 24 May 1803. There was no further indication of his attendance at this time, although he was listed a friend of Fox in March 1804, of the Prince of Wales in May, of Fox and Grenville in September and ‘Opposition’ in July 1805: this agreed with his patron’s line in politics. He voted with the majority for Whitbread’s motion in favour of the criminal prosecution of Melville, 12 June 1805. His only speech in that Parliament was in defence of the conduct of Admiral Duckworth, a friend of his patron, against his critics, 7 June 1805. When the Grenville ministry was formed in 1806, they ignored the Duke of Northumberland, who in revenge proposed to ignore them; Bennet thought their conduct ‘unpardonable’, but supported their repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and did not appear in the minority lists.3
In any case, he gave up his seat at the dissolution of 1806 to allow his patron to bring in his heir, though he wished to be in Parliament. When in December Lord Grenville was anxious to effect a reconciliation with the duke, the latter’s agent, Richard Wilson, reported that ‘if we could have a seat for Captain Bennet ... on reasonable terms I think that part of the wound would be effectually healed’ and the duke was prepared to purchase one.4 The Treasury found one. In January, accordingly, Bennet was returned for an Irish borough seat, which he held until the dissolution, without drawing attention to himself. At the election of 1807 he stood together with the duke’s agent as a friend of the late ministers at Ipswich, but was unsuccessful. Soon afterwards, the duke’s heir having vacated Launceston to sit for Northumberland, Bennet was again returned there.
Until late in 1810 he was inactive in the House and presumably at sea, though the Whigs were ‘hopeful’ of his support: they could not be sure of him until the Regency crisis, November 1810-January 1811. He voted for Catholic relief, 31 May 1811, and for Morpeth’s critical motion on Ireland, 4 Feb., as well as for Brougham’s on the droits of Admiralty, 21 Jan. 1812. He had introduced on 9 Apr. and 12 June 1811 unsuccessful motions to secure the payment of naval officers serving abroad who, he said, lost by the rate of exchange: they should, like the army, be able to allot part of their pay to their families. He claimed to have had conferences with the Admiralty on the subject and denied that he was courting popularity.
Since 24 Feb. 1812, when Bennet voted for Bankes’s motion against McMahon’s sinecure office, the Duke of Northumberland had become a supporter of administration and Bennet’s continuing to espouse opposition motions, such as Turton’s, 27 Feb., and Brougham’s on the orders in council, 3 Apr., irritated him, as he was eager to make a show of support to the Prince Regent. On the day Bennet voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., the duke wrote to the Regent’s secretary McMahon, ‘Captain Bennet is going to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds, and Raine will come in for Launceston, so that I hope we shall be all right at last’. This does not state explicitly that Bennet was deprived of his seat by the duke for his political conduct, but in view of the way that Raine was lectured on the subject soon afterwards, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion and the duke more or less admitted it in a letter of 16 June.5 Nor was Bennet in Parliament again. In 1813 he suffered a stroke of apoplexy. He died 11 Oct. 1818, commanding ‘the esteem of all who knew him’, according to his obituary.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. By Mrs Ann Jennings of Sloane Street, Chelsea, according to his will, PCC 495 Cresswell. His brothers-in-law, as trustees, were to invest £10,000 for them.
- 2. Whitbread mss W1/1170, 1178.
- 3. Alnwick mss 63, ff. 68-9.
- 4. Fortescue mss, Wilson to Grenville, 11 Dec. 1806; Alnwick mss 63, ff. 256-7, 273.
- 5. Alnwick mss 67, ff. 79-80, and 2nd ser., ff. 62-4; Geo. IV Letters, i. 63.
- 6. Grey mss, Rosslyn to Grey, 16 July 1813; Gent. Mag. (1818), ii. 570, where his age was wrongly given as 37 (he was 47).