GASKELL, Benjamin (1781-1856), of Clifton Hall, Lancs. and Thornes House, Wakefield, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 28 Feb. 1781, 1st s. of Daniel Gaskell of Clifton Hall, nr. Manchester by Hannah, da. of James Noble of Lancaster. educ. Gateacre, nr. Liverpool; Manchester acad. 1796-7; by Rev. Thomas Belsham, Hackney; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1800; L. Inn 1804. m. 17 June 1807, Mary, da. of Joseph Brandreth, MD, of Broad Green Hall, Liverpool, 1s. suc. fa. 1788; cos. James Milnes* to Thornes House 1805.
Gaskell blossomed in 1805 when he inherited a Yorkshire estate: he was later described by his son’s friend Hallam as ‘a quiet little man, very good natured, and simple almost as a child with very little conversation in him and much laudable desire of seeing everything that is to be seen and doing everything that is to be done to the last iota’.1 In 1806 he stood for Maldon, associating himself with the promotion of a new charter for the borough:2 he beat Charles Callis Western* for second place, but was unseated on petition and defeated by Western at the ensuing general election. When Western obtained the county seat in 1812, he stepped into his shoes. His colleague Joseph Holden Strutt* claimed the credit for this, explaining that Gaskell ‘pledged himself to my politics, except as to the Catholic question’. He appeared on the Treasury list. Meanwhile John Goodwin informed Lord Grey, 24 Dec. 1812, ‘I have no doubt if Lords Fitzwilliam and Derby will notice Gaskell he will come over to the Foxites as being most congenial to [his] natural principles’.3 But no one noticed the little man, who proceeded, without drawing attention to himself (he was utterly silent in debate), never to vote with ministers and to vote more like a radical than a Whig, though his line was his own.
Gaskell, whose father had been a Presbyterian, invariably voted for Catholic relief. He voted against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813. He opposed the East India trade monopoly, 17 June, and also Christian missions to India, 22 June. He was in favour of accepting the printed petition for parliamentary reform, 30 June. He was in the minorities against the blockade of Norway and the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 12 May, 5 July 1814. He opposed the corn bill, 1 Mar. 1815, and, the same day, the ill treatment of the Spanish Liberals. On 1 May he supported the London petition for peace and retrenchment. He opposed the marriage grant to the Duke of Cumberland, 28 June. In the majority against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, he proceeded to vote for reductions in public and royal expenditure, 25 Apr., 6, 24 May, 14, 17 June; against the unconstitutional use of the military, 13 May; against the aliens bill, 20 May; against the farm horse tax, 14 June; and for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank, 1, 3, 8 May 1816 and 1, 18 May 1818. He was for the reduction of the Admiralty board, 25 Feb. 1817, 16 Mar. 1818, 18 Mar. 1819, and opposed the suspension of habeas corpus throughout that session and the next. On 20 May 1817 he voted for Burdett’s motion for parliamentary reform. He was in the minority on the choice of a new Speaker, 2 June 1817. On 13 and 15 Apr. 1818 he opposed the ducal marriage grants. He voted for the repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May 1818, and for Brougham’s motion for an inquiry into popular education, 3 June.
Early in 1818, when the Whigs thought of intervening at Maldon, Peter Ducane informed Lord Holland that Gaskell (whom he described as ‘the Whig Member’) had ‘uniformly voted so well since his return that I should have felt great diffidence in risking his return for the sake of my own’. Gaskell’s colleague Strutt much preferred him to any ‘violent party Whig’.4 That he was not, for after his unopposed return in 1818 he was not a signatory to the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whig opposition; nor did he vote for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. He voted for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank and for putting Brougham on the select committee on the subject, 2, 8 Feb. 1819; against the royal establishment at Windsor, 22, 25 Feb.; for reform of the criminal law, 2 Mar., and against the salt laws and lotteries, 29 Apr., 4 May. He supported burgh reform, 6 May. On 2 June he opposed the navy estimates and on 3 and 21 June the foreign enlistment bill. In the last session of that Parliament he was a steady opponent of the curtailment of civil liberty.
This inarticulate rebel became a recluse on the death of his wife. He died 21 Jan. 1856, disguised by an obituary as ‘a moderate Whig’.5