BENT, John (1776-1848), of Oat Hall, Lindfield, nr. Hayward's Heath, Suss.
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Family and Educationbap. 27 Mar. 1776, 2nd s. of John Bent of Kenton, Devon and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Hamlyn of Ashburton, Devon.1 m. 17 Feb. 1801, Maria, da. of John Brown, 1s. 4da.2 d. 6 Oct. 1848.
V.-pres. Equitable Loan Co. 1824; dir. Arigna Iron and Coal Mining Co. 1824; trustee and dir. European Assurance Co. 1826-39.
Bent was a Devonian of humble origins, his mother’s family being tradesmen at Ashburton. Nothing is known of his life until his return to Parliament for Sligo in 1818 through the offices of the Liverpool ministry’s whip, William Holmes*.3 He certainly had money, was known in the City and invested substantially in landed property in the Lindfield and Cuckfield area of Sussex, but no evidence has been found to corroborate an assertion of 1823 that he was ‘a West India planter’.4 At the general election of 1820, when he was described as a ‘friend’ of the Speaker, Manners Sutton, he replaced Holmes as Member for Totnes on the interest of his brother-in-law Christopher Farwell, a leading corporator; his elder brother Thomas Hamlyn Bent was a non-resident freeman.5
He initially continued to support the Liverpool ministry, but he was a very poor attender and is not known to have uttered a syllable in debate. He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He was absent from the division on the opposition motion censuring ministers for their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided, as previously, against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., the omission of arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and Hume’s economy and retrenchment motion, 27 June. However, he divided for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, 4 June 1821. The next known trace of his parliamentary activity is his vote with government in defence of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. By the next session his political line had changed: he divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., and paired for it, 10 May 1825. His last recorded votes were against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 27 May, 2, 10 June 1825. At the dissolution in 1826 he had to make way at Totnes for Lord Barnard, whose family interest had been reasserted, although it had been reported the previous autumn that Farwell hoped to secure his return at a future election.6
The last session of Bent’s parliamentary career was spent under the cloud of his involvement in the scandal of the Arigna Iron and Coal Mining Company. By the end of 1825 it was public knowledge that he and other directors of the company, including James Brogden, Member for Launceston and chairman of ways and means, who had been nominated by Sir William Congreve, Member for Plymouth, had received a payment of £1,047, being a share in the proceeds of a fraudulent appropriation from the shareholders by Congreve’s coadjutors, the Clarke brothers. Brogden, who took the brunt of the outcry in early 1826, defended Bent as well as himself inside and outside the House, and at meetings of the shareholders both were exonerated of knowledge of or involvement in the fraud.7 Waithman, the radical Whig Member for London, secured the appointment of a select committee of inquiry early in the 1826 Parliament, and Bent was examined before it, 13, 14 Dec. 1826, and again, 6 Feb. 1827. From the outset he complained that he and Brogden had been ‘as much aspersed as if they were criminals’, even though they had ‘been the individuals to unravel a mass of infamy’. He stuck to his story that he had been surprised to receive the packet of money at a directors’ meeting on 15 Jan. 1825; had become angry on being told that it came from the sale of his reserved shares; had immediately used it to repurchase them, at a loss of £300; had warned Brogden that something was amiss, but had remained ignorant of the Clarkes’ peculation until July 1825, whereupon he had been instrumental in having the scandal exposed. He insisted that he had and still genuinely believed his money to have come from the sale of his shares. The most he would concede was a ‘qualified admission of imprudence’ in accepting it on this assumption.