WALSH, Benjamin (b.c.1775), of Lower Clapton, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. c.1775, ?s. of Francis Walsh of Inner Temple Lane, London. m. 10 Mar. 1803, Mary Bidwell, da. of Isaac Clarke of Lower Clapton, at least 2s. 5da.
Walsh may have been the Benjamin who, with his brother Joseph, was apprenticed to Thomas Hughes, stationer of Inner Temple Lane, London in 1792. At the time of his marriage he was a stockbroker in partnership with Nisbett at Angel Court, Throgmorton Street, London. He was subsequently a lottery contractor, which should have formally disqualified him from sitting in Parliament. But his obtaining a seat was a debtor’s expedient. He came in for Wootton Bassett (the home of his brother Joseph’s wife) on the interest of James Kibblewhite*, paying 4,000 guineas or £5,000 for the purpose. He then went bankrupt. In 1809 the Stock Exchange expelled him for ‘gross and nefarious conduct’. Next he attempted to defraud the solicitor-general Sir Thomas Plumer of at least half of a draft for £22,000 supplied him by Plumer, as his broker, to purchase Exchequer bills. Cyrus Redding recalled:
Walsh had been Member of Parliament for Wootton Bassett. Whether he was considered clever among the stockbrokers of the City in the mystery of money-making, I do not know; but he was a very feeble-minded man, destitute of political, as he was of literary information. His manners were mild, and on the whole, I should describe him as a weak, unreflecting person, beyond a business which flourishes or fails, like the tables of hazard. He said he had ninety thousand pounds one morning, and the next day was thousands worse than nothing. He had in his despair, as it was ‘charitably’ said, but in too much of a methodized despair, taken off twenty thousand pounds, with which he had been entrusted by Sir Thomas Plumer to purchase exchequer bills. He had been dabbling in lottery and lost all he possessed: he then purchased American stock with his plunder, bought American coin, and set off to Falmouth to sail to America. From Falmouth, he franked a letter to his family, with a stolidity unparalleled, justice being in pursuit of him. He was brought back, tried and condemned, and was expelled from the House of Commons.1
The letter Redding referred to was penned to Joseph Walsh, 5 Dec. 1811:
I saw ... there was no chance of saving myself from ruin, and my dear wife and children from poverty, and my brothers and sisters from loss by me which they could ill afford, but to pursue a step, which though it will bring disgrace on my name, yet will afford me the means of preventing these dreadful calamities ... Oh! my God, pardon my heinous offence—Sir Thomas Plumer employed me to sell a large sum of stock to pay for an estate, and I have withheld a part of the proceeds. I might have taken all; but I thought it crime enough for my future life to answer for, to take what I conceived would be sufficient to maintain my family in competence and pay those debts which hung the heaviest on my mind. I have already remitted it abroad; and though my person is safe from arrest, yet I have resolved to follow it, as I can never live in this country without shame and dishonour.
This was used to incriminate him at his trial, 15 Jan. 1812: but the sentence being reserved for the judges, they recommended a pardon, 15 Feb., granted by the Regent five days later. Redding suggested that Walsh had been ‘condemned to die, and pardoned through a legal opinion, that he had been only guilty of a breach of trust, in place of the felony for which he was tried, not that there was any difference in the two crimes in the sight of a rational person, but it was not so in law’. In law, as George Eden pointed out, ‘If he has committed a felony, Plumer cannot take his money from him without compounding the felony which is a heavy offence. If it be a civil debt only, the other creditors will have an equal claim, for a new commission of bankruptcy is sued out against Walsh.’2
On 25 Feb. 1812 Henry Bankes moved for evidence of Walsh’s conviction, with a view to having him expelled the House, and for his attendance to answer for himself. Two days later Walsh defaulted, but the incriminating letter was read. On 2 Mar. Walsh’s doctor alleged ‘mental derangement’ as his excuse for absence, but this was disbelieved and Walsh promised the Speaker to attend on 5 Mar. He did not do so and Bankes moved that he be ‘unworthy and unfit to continue a Member of this House’. In the debate that followed, several opposition Members demurred, notably Sir Francis Burdett, who claimed that a man who ‘had purchased a seat in that House and was expelled could ... if he had the money, purchase another’. He claimed that a small fish like Walsh caused more embarrassment than scandal:
it appeared, in the investigation of his books and accounts before the commissioners of bankruptcy that there was an item of £5,000 charged on the assets of Mr Walsh on account of his seat in that House, and such odd and whimsical confusion did it produce amongst the commissioners that after ineffectual efforts to meet the difficulty, they were obliged to resort to delay to evade it, and soon after Mr Walsh’s debts were paid, the bankruptcy superseded, and the matter heard no more of.
Sir Samuel Romilly, who did not speak, gave as his reason for opposing the expulsion:
The facts of the case ... amounted to a private and fraudulent breach of trust, committed with very aggravated circumstances. I thought it extremely dangerous that the House of Commons should assume to itself a power of expelling any of its Members, merely on the ground of their having been guilty of gross immorality ... further ... the House had no evidence of the fact on which it could proceed—only the record of the conviction.
He also noted that a letter from Walsh to his brother had been opened and delivered to Sir Thomas Plumer ‘in violation of the trust which men are invited to repose in the Post Office’. Walsh was expelled in accordance with a precedent of 1732 by 101 votes to 16 and his case gave rise to a general bill to punish frauds by brokers. Romilly claimed that ‘the minority consisted ... with the exception of a single individual, of men who always vote with the opposition. Walsh, however, had never in any one instance, while he was in Parliament, voted against the ministers.’3 In fact, he had: on 15 and 17 Mar. 1809, when he supported Wardle’s and Turton’s motions critical of the conduct of the Duke of York and, by one account, on 13 Apr. 1810 when he voted for Irish tithe reform (he was of Irish origin). Lord Auckland, doubtless erroneously, styled him ‘one of the worthy members of the Walcheren majority’,4 but there is no evidence of his voting with ministers. Redding, who alone threw light on Walsh’s later career, would have it that he was ‘a financial friend of Perceval’.
In 1813 Walsh purchased the Plymouth newspaper of which Redding was the owner:
It required some degree of assurance to assume the character of the publisher of a newspaper, since a public character in some degree, the editor of a paper must necessarily be. The individual should rather have hid his head in the obscurity of a remote place, where his conduct and person were alike strange. He was only known to me personally, when he resigned the property of which he had become the purchaser ... I never heard the particulars of his after-career, except that he set up as a merchant as well as a newspaper proprietor, and failed.
This failure occurred in 1816 and two years later Walsh still owed dividends to some of his creditors. His wife was described as of Park Hill, near Frome, at her death, 27 Aug. 1832, aged 50.5
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Fortescue mss, Walsh to Vansittart, 18 Feb. 1806, encl. to Grenville [19 Feb.]; Rogers, Law of Elections, 742; Parl. Deb. xxi. 1196; Redding, Fifty Years’ Recollections, 2nd ed. (1858), i. 222-3.
- 2. Parl. Deb. xxi. 940; Gent. Mag. (1812), i. 82, 286; Add. 34458, f. 302.
- 3. Romilly, Mems. iii. 15.
- 4. Grey mss, Auckland to Grey, 17 Dec. 1811.
- 5. London Gazette (1818), 2084; MI at Clifton.