BERNAL, Ralph (1783-1854), of 11 Park Crescent, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1818 - 1820
1820 - 1841
4 Apr. 1842 - 1847
1847 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 2 Oct. 1783,1 o.s. of Jacob Israel Bernal, jun., merchant, of Crutched Friars, London and Lea, da. of Refael Vas Da Silva, merchant, of Crutched Friars.2 educ. by Rev. J. Hewlett, Shacklewell; Christ’s, Camb. 1802; L. Inn 1804, called 1810. m. (1) 10 Apr. 1806, Anne Elizabeth (d. 10 July 1823), da. of Richard Samuel White of New Ormond Street, Mdx., 2s. at least 4 da.; (2) 3 Aug. 1824, Clara Christiana, da of John White, surgeon RN, of Chatham, Kent, 2s. at least 1da. suc. fa. 1811. d. 26 Aug. 1854.

Offices Held

Chairman of ways and means 1831-41, 1847-52.


Circumcised a week after his birth, Bernal, whose parents were Sephardi Jews, was baptized into the Christian faith at St. Olave, Hart Street, London, 8 Apr. 1805, perhaps because of his family’s quarrel with the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in London or with an eye to future advancement in the country of his birth.3 However, he abandoned a potentially lucrative career at the bar so that, as he later claimed, ‘there should be no temptations, no baits, to lure him from an honest course’.4 Instead he entered Parliament, where he was a dignified yet forceful speaker, who frequently brought his legal and commercial experience to bear on a wide range of issues. He increasingly made procedural and conciliatory interventions in the House,5 and often brought forward matters of individual concern, such as the case of William Charles Newland, whose petitions against the commissioners for the liquidation of the French claims he presented and endorsed, 23 June 1828, 28 May 1829. As a prosperous owner of plantations in Jamaica, he was often embroiled in troublesome West Indian affairs, and he was also a firm advocate of lowering the sugar duties. He was added to the standing committee of the West India Committee, 12 Mar. 1823, became closely involved in its activities and defended its interests in the Commons.6 The anti-slavery movement placed him in an extremely awkward dilemma. On the one hand, he benefited from the commercial advantages of slavery and stressed the planters’ prescriptive property rights, but, on the other, his undoubted humanitarian concerns led him to urge the eradication of the trade in slaves by other nations, and the amelioration of their condition in the British colonies. Though claiming an independent outlook, he was very active in the Whig campaigns for economical reform in the early 1820s, almost invariably voting for reductions in taxation and expenditure, and sometimes acting as a teller. However, perhaps conscious of the need for security in the Caribbean, he usually supported the maintenance of a sufficient military and naval force. A man of liberal principles, he usually divided with opposition for, among other matters, legal improvements, greater religious toleration and parliamentary reform.

Having abandoned his seat at Lincoln, he quickly endeared himself to the voters at Rochester, where he came forward at the general election of 1820 on the interest of the Whig James Barnett†, who retired. Despite the danger of a recurrence of the Whig rift of 1818 with John Calcraft*, Bernal was eventually returned unopposed; he was elected an honorary freeman of the city, 20 Mar.7 He sided with opposition on the civil list, 3, 5, 8 May, and was in most of the other minority lists that session. He spoke against the Aire and Calder canal being exempted from the poor rates, 13 June, and was appointed to the select committee on Rochester bridge, 16 June. He denied the necessity of the bill, sponsored by his ministerial colleague, Lord Binning, to allow the East India Company to raise a corps of volunteer infantry, 16 June, 3, 10 July.8 He asked for details of the late king’s will, 3 July. He opposed the renewal of the Aliens Act in peace time, 7 July, and talked of Britain as a country which historically had allowed foreigners to settle. In moving for the Dublin petition to be printed, 24 July, he called for inquiry into the intervention of the militia in the by-election there. He voted against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and against a secret committee on it, 26 June. He read the address of a deputation of Rochester Whigs to her, 26 July.9 He defended the freedom of the press over the issue, 18 Sept., when he argued against extending the jurisdiction of the Commons by allowing it to examine witnesses on oath and voted for an address to the king to prorogue Parliament. He spoke for inquiry into the role of officials in the circulation of seditious placards by William Franklin, 17 Oct. 1820.

Bernal presented and endorsed petitions for retaining Caroline’s name in the liturgy from Rochester and Marylebone, 26 Jan., and Lincoln, 13 Feb., and voted for this, 23, 26 Jan., 13 Feb., and to censure ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. 1821. He continued to act with opposition on most major issues that session and intervened on more minor ones; for example, he spoke for receiving petitions complaining of ill-treatment from Thomas Davison, 23 Feb., and Nathan Broadhurst, 7 Mar., and condemned the Morning Post’s treatment of the parliamentary quarrel between Sir George Warrender and Thomas Creevey, 15 Mar.10 On 12 Mar. he ‘called upon those gentlemen who were termed the neutral party, and who were constantly professing themselves the advocates of retrenchment, to support those professions by their votes’. On the occasion of one of his own votes for reducing the size and expense of the army, 15 Mar., he objected to the use of guards at the West India dock and asked for economies, ‘if it were only as a pledge that this country was not to be made a theatre of experiment for introducing the military and despotic systems of the continent’. He also spoke and voted against excessive military expenditure after six years of peace, 30 Mar., 13, 16 Apr. He requested information on commercial relations between Britain and Russia, 19 Mar., 10 July.11 He seconded Hume’s motion for leave to bring in a bill to disqualify civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., and expressed his hope that it would prevent governments from exercising undue influence. He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9 May, and to secure the independence of Parliament, 31 May 1821.

He was a teller for the opposition minority (of 77 to 115) on his own motion to reduce the admiralty grant by £3,500, 4 May 1821. He spoke and voted against the author of an item in the John Bull being imprisoned for an alleged breach of privilege, 11 May, and for inquiry into what he called the unjustified military intervention at Peterloo, 16 May. He paired in the majority for the committal of the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, and voted for its third reading, 4 June. He recounted how the four-and-a-half per cent duty had been extorted from Barbados since the reign of Charles II, 24 May, and unsuccessfully moved (by 61 to 104) to reduce the barracks grant by £78,000, 31 May, stating that it had been allocated for the now abandoned project of new buildings at Paisley and Glasgow. He described the lottery as ‘this immoral and unprofitable tax’, 1 June, and deplored the mistreatment of animals, 1, 14 June. He asked for information on the disturbances in Constantinople, 8, 29 June, and complained of violations by other European powers of the ban on trading in slaves, 13, 26 June. He recommended improvements to the tobacco duties bill, 18 June, and spoke in favour of reducing the duties on West Indian sugar if those on East Indian varieties were lowered, 25 June. He advocated extending poor relief, 20 June, paying sufficient salaries to attract talented staff in the insolvent debtors court, 29 June, and lifting the laws against aliens, 29 June.12 Having several times divided against the annuity for the duke of Clarence, he stated that the king could meet the expense from other funds without further burdening the people with taxes, 18, 30 June, but failed in his attempts to have the arrears omitted from the grant, 18 June, 2 July 1821 (by 131-81 and 94-33).13

He was ‘accidentally shut out’ of the division on Hume’s amendment to the address, 5 Feb. 1822, but maintained his steady adherence to the Whigs in his votes that year. He requested information on commercial relations with Russia, 8 Feb., 4, 8 Mar., and the United States, 21 Feb.14 On complaints that prisoners’ letters to Members had been opened, 25 Feb., he declared that ‘there ought always to be the most free and unrestrained communication between the people and their representatives, under whatever circumstances the former may be placed’. He complained of the ill-treatment of Henry Hunt* in Ilchester gaol, 1 Mar., and spoke for production of detailed returns on military and naval expenditure, 27 Feb. He advocated delaying the navy five per cents bill, 8 Mar., commended Hume’s ‘zeal and ability’ and ‘most beneficial system of retrenchment’, 15 Mar., but wandered from his usual strict adherence to economy by defending the pension of the controller of customs at Dover on the grounds of long service, 18 Mar.15 He spoke against further expenditure on the naval arsenal at Bermuda, 22 Mar., voted for paying the expenses of Barbados from the four-and-a-half per cent fund, 25 Mar., and clarified his position on 27 Mar. by stating that it was not his intention to refuse the necessary sums, but to see that they came out of the appropriate supplies. He vindicated the Middlesex county court from charges of maladministration, 28 Mar., and raised objections to the marriage bill, 3 Apr., 12 July.16 He voted for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., and to receive the Greenhoe petition in its favour, 3 June. He urged ministers to tighten the conditions of military and naval pensions in order to avoid the danger of having to make large future payments, 3 May. He objected to the registration of slaves, 17 May, and called the grant for putting down the illicit traffic in them excessive, 22 July. Though speaking against parts of the alehouses licensing bill, 20, 24 May, 7 June, he stated his belief that it was right to restrict magistrates’ powers to grant licenses and voted in the majority for its third reading, 27 June.17 He argued that Irish distress could only be relieved by a large grant and urged correction of deficiencies in the excise laws, 8 July, and he requested ministers to consider lessening the severity of punishments for smuggling, 29 July 1822.18

Bernal voted for parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., information on Inverness elections, 26 Mar., and reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823. He asked the chancellor whether he proposed to remit part of the window tax to shopkeepers, 7 Mar., and advised Huskisson, president of the board of trade, to reform all the laws relating to merchant seamen, 13 Mar.19 He repeated his arguments about the four-and-a-half per cent Barbados duties and was an opposition teller against them, 17 Mar. He pleaded the case of the petitioners of Cape Breton against union with Nova Scotia, 25 Mar. He spoke in defence of slavery, 22 Apr., 15 May, laying stress on the efforts made in Jamaica to ameliorate the condition of the slaves and on the need for compensation if they were emancipated. He moved to put off the bill to correct abuses in Limerick city corporation, 6 May.20 He voted for the abolition of corporal punishment, 30 Apr., and of the death penalty for larceny, 21 May. Ever a regular in opposition minorities, he complained of the vacillation of ministers, 5 June, and excessive expenditure, 9 June, but was listed as voting with government against inquiry into the currency, 12 June. Having raised questions on the beer duties bill, 27 Mar., he declared that it was futile and vexatious, and voted against receiving the report, 13 June.21 Bernal suffered a personal tragedy in July 1823, when his wife died as the result of her clothes catching fire while she was weak from a pregnancy, but he remarried a year later.22

Because of the naval menace in the Caribbean, Bernal endorsed ministers’ plans for military spending, 16, 20 Feb. 1824, but ‘begged to say, that no man was more constitutionally jealous than himself of a great increase of our standing army’. He voted for reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. While continuing to divide in favour of greater economies, he spoke in favour of the grant for new courts of justice, as the existing arrangements were inadequate, 1 Mar. He voted in favour of a complaint against the lord chancellor over an alleged breach of privilege, 1 Mar., raised objections to the management of the law courts, 4, 26 Mar., and voted for the bill to permit defence by counsel in felony cases, 6 Apr. He presented a Chatham shoemakers’ petition against the combination laws, 19 Mar., and in April he received applications from the corporation of Rochester to defend their interests over the Medway navigation bill.23 He voted for referring the reports of the inquiry into the Scottish courts of justice to a committee of the whole House, 30 Mar., and spoke and was a teller for the majority in favour of receiving the report on the Scottish juries bill, 14 Apr.24 He voted for inquiries into the church establishment in Ireland, 6 May, and the state of that country, 11 May. He apparently abstained on the motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, but he again defended the record of Jamaica on its treatment of slaves, 15 June 1824, and argued that, by continuing to raise the matter, Wilberforce was only making an amicable settlement harder to achieve.

Bernal seconded Brougham’s motion to adjourn the debate on the suppression of the Catholic Association, 11 Feb. 1825.25 He was among those named to consider a petition for lighting Rochester with gas, 14 Feb., and to prepare the subsequent bill, 21 Feb. He advocated lowering the duties on rum, 28 Feb., and glass bottles, 22 Mar. He again supported the proposed augmentation of the army, 4 Mar., but objected to the futile grant for the mixed commission for suppressing the slave trade, 11 Mar., and the unhealthy and degrading treatment of prisoners, 11, 24 Mar.26 He called for inquiry into allegations of corruption over the building of the Custom House, 28 Mar., 15 Apr., and voted for one on the corn laws, 28 Apr. Although his name does not appear on other surviving lists, he was named in March as one of those who had voted against the Irish unlawful societies bill ‘in some of its stages through the House’. He voted for the second reading of the Catholic relief bill, 21 Apr., and paired for its third reading, 10 May; he divided for the related Irish franchise bill, 9 May. He voiced repeated objections to allowing Mauritius to trade in sugar on an equal footing with the West Indies, 17 May, 3, 6 June, and again justified the institution of slavery, 23 June, when he also praised the work of missionaries there, whose ‘labours had always tended to preserve that peace, which the gospel of Christ had inculcated’.27 He spoke against hasty changes to the quarantine laws, 19 May, and divided with opposition on making the judiciary independent, 20 May, chancery administration, 7 June, and abolition of flogging in the navy, 9 June 1825.

He addressed the freemen of Rochester about slavery, 17 Feb., and presented their petition for its gradual abolition, 3 Mar. 1826. He was named to several subcommittees of the West India Committee to co-ordinate the defence of their interests and make representations to ministers, 30 Jan., 10, 24 Feb.28 He duly voted with government against the motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and complained of the vast and ineffective expense of retaining a settlement at Sierra Leone to eradicate the trade, 10 Mar. He spoke and voted against unnecessary military expenditure, 3, 6 Mar., and again divided for the abolition of flogging, 10 Mar., and to allow alleged felons to be defended by counsel, 25 Apr.29 He criticized allowing the Bank of England to lend on deposit, 8 Mar., obstacles to emigration, 14 Mar., and the ministerial salary of the president of the board of trade, 6, 7 Apr. He presented a victualler’s petition against the licensing system, 13 Apr., and voted to allow adjourned meetings for granting licenses, 12 May.30 He divided in favour of altering the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and curbing electoral bribery, 26 May. He voted for inquiry into the corn laws, 18 Apr., and against government on the state of the nation, 4 May. He made clear his by now habitual sentiments on slavery, 20 Apr., and was appointed to the select committee on the slave trade in Mauritius, 9 May. On 19 May 1826 he delivered a major speech on the subject, which was subsequently printed. It was a calm and cogent assessment of the rights of the slave owners, the ‘silent and unostentatious’ but ‘certain and beneficial’ progress of amelioration in Jamaica, and his belief in the need for the long-term educational and religious improvement of the slaves prior to any attempted emancipation.31

Bernal, who had announced his intention to offer at a meeting in February 1826, stood again for Rochester at the general election that summer, when he pledged his support for reduced expenditure, repeal of the assessed taxes and alteration of the corn laws. As he was to do several times during the subsequent campaign, he apologized for angering his constituents by his votes in favour of Catholic relief and promised to remain neutral on the question in future. In an address, he claimed that ‘I have generally supported that liberal system which the administration have adopted and, even when I may have entertained any doubts upon any parts of such system, I have abstained from opposition’.32 The entry of a second ministerial candidate produced a lively contest, and objections were raised against his alleged hostility to the interests of the slaves and the poor, but he was returned in second place.33 He sided with opposition against the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Feb., 2 Mar. 1827. He presented a Rochester petition for repeal of the corn laws, 16 Feb., and voted for making the import price 50s. not 60s., 9 Mar., against increased protection on barley, 12 Mar., and for lowering the duty on corn by 10s. by 1833, 27 Mar. He objected to the imposition of retaliatory duties against other countries, 9 Apr. He defended Colonel Bradley, 14 Feb., advocated the abolition of corporal punishment in the navy, 26 Feb., urged the abandonment of unprofitable exchequer prosecutions, 13 Mar., and supported reform of the law of property, 27 Mar., 2, 9 Apr.34 His only other known votes that session were for information on the mutiny at Barrackpoor, 22 Mar., against committal of the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., and for postponement of the committee of supply, 30 Mar. He argued against approving the grant for eradicating the slave trade until the recommendations of the report on Sierra Leone had been discussed, 14 May 1827, and the following day he denied that he had voted in the minority which had opposed exempting Mauritius from the protecting duty, and again defended the importance of the West India trade.35

Opining that the nation’s financial difficulties ‘should be treated in a bold manner’, Bernal queried the arrangements for raising grants for the navy and army prior to the report of the finance committee, 12, 22 Feb. 1828. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. He spoke in favour of reform of the laws concerning property, 29 Feb., poor relief, 18 Mar., and murder, 5 May, and he again divided against the Wellington ministry on chancery administration, 24 Apr. In typical speeches, 5, 6 Mar., he repeated his familiar arguments justifying the continuation of slavery and indicated that the West India interest would unite to defend itself. With his colleague Henry Dundas, he received a deputation of Rochester common councilmen hostile to the alehouses licensing bill, 26 Apr., and he subsequently spoke against it, 28 Apr. He threatened to vote against the measure because it gave powers to county as well as borough magistrates, 21 May, 19 June, and it was on his motion that the offending clause was thrown out, 19 June; later that year he received the thanks of the corporation for his defence of its privileges.36 He voted in the minority for fixing the pivot price of corn at 60s., 22 Apr. Although in favour of changes to the system of borough polling, he was sceptical of the proposed bill, 28 Apr., 15 May, and was similarly pessimistic about the utility of the voters’ registration bill, 6 June. He argued that the preventive service was unsatisfactory and threatened to divide for its complete abolition, 16 May. He continued to speak and to vote in favour of reductions, including of the grant to the Royal Cork Institution, 20 June, when he said that it was ‘unfair that England, in its present state of depuration and pecuniary nudity, should be called upon to advance large sums in order to mature and perfect education in Ireland’. He advocated lower duties on sugar, 9 June, on the ground that, as it was no longer a luxury but a necessity, consumption and revenue would increase, to the benefit of slaves, proprietors and government. Despite presenting another Rochester anti-slavery petition, 8 July, he complained of the divisiveness created by the subject being repeatedly raised in the House, 3 June, 1, 17, 25 July 1828.

In February 1829 Bernal was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘opposed to securities’, and he brought up a pro-Catholic petition from Rochester, 16 Mar.; but, in fulfilment of his election pledge, he (as in the previous two years) cast no known votes on Catholic emancipation that month. He called for the metropolis police bill to be extended to cover day patrols and the City, 15 Apr., 19 May. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and for the issue of a new writ, 2 June. His only other recorded vote that session was against the grant for a sculpture of the marble arch in front of Buckingham House, 25 May. On the same day he reiterated his arguments against the sugar duties, though he admitted that he could see two sides to the question and was not as fearful as some of his colleagues of the effect of increased competition between the East and West Indies. He made brief interventions on the justices of the peace bill, 27 May, the Scottish herring fishery’s bounty, 2 June, and production of the colonial accounts, 22 June 1829.

He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, and continued to divide regularly in the opposition’s renewed campaign for economies and tax reductions that year. He again voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 11 Mar. He divided for parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., 28 May, and to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. Having attended special meetings of the West India Committee, 18 Jan., 6 Feb., he endorsed its petition against the duties on sugar and rum, arguing that they had been raised only as a temporary war time measure, 23 Feb., and he was a teller for information on them, 21 Mar.37 He divided in favour of preventing Members voting in committee on any bill in which they were personally interested, 26 Feb. He voted with opposition on Portugal, 10 Mar., and the affair at Terceira, 28 Apr. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He asked that the duties on British and West Indian spirits might remain equal, 7 Apr., and complained of unfair and illegal competition from Mauritius, 13 May. He voted for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and, despite arguing that the motion should be delayed, for inquiry into the state of Newfoundland, 11 May. He divided in favour of the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He recommended that the administration of justice bill be postponed to the following session as there were so many outstanding problems with it, 27 May. He attended the meeting of Members interested in the West Indian colonies which resolved to support the lower rates of duty on rum, 2 June, and in the House he urged postponement of the sliding scale for the sugar duties until its effect could be examined, 14 June.38 When voting against the grant for Nova Scotia, 14 June, he despaired that there were ‘not ten Members in the House’ who really knew anything about the parliamentary ‘blue books’. He agreed that there should be a select committee on Sierra Leone, but denied that the mortality of officers there was equalled at Jamaica, 15, 21 June 1830.

He declared his candidature for Rochester at the general election of 1830, in the face of a number of potentially dangerous ministerial and Ultra challenges. His parliamentary duties kept him mostly in London, but he conducted an extensive canvass and received support as a tried and tested Member.39 Although he had to include a lengthy defence of the legitimacy of slavery in his speech on the hustings, 2 Aug., he declared that ‘I stand in the situation of your servant’ and promised support for liberty, retrenchment and definite, though not visionary, reform. He narrowly headed the poll in the ensuing contest, his election having supposedly cost £4,000.40 Despite two serious bouts of illness, he maintained his usual activities during the following session.41 He was, of course, listed by ministers among their ‘foes’, and he duly voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He denied that slave owners were guilty of what Daniel O’Connell called the ‘grossest of crimes’, 4, 23 Nov. He attended the meeting of the West India Committee which decided to petition Parliament in defence of its members’ property, 10 Nov., and endorsed it in the House, 13 Dec. 1830, when he particularly stressed that the slaves would be reduced to a state of destitution if they were immediately emancipated.42 According to Thomas Gladstone*, he ‘spoke extremely well’, 21 Feb. 1831, when, in a rare example of opposition to Lord Grey’s administration, he advocated lower sugar duties in order to reduce the extent of distress in the West Indies.43 He praised Lord Althorp’s attempts to reduce taxation and expenditure, and asked for a drawback on printed calicos, 28 Feb. He denied that the liberalization of trade between the Caribbean and the United States was particularly beneficial to the planters, 11 Mar. 1831.

Although objecting to the nuisance of having to make a return to the Speaker of the number of electors in his constituency, Bernal saw no reason why Members should not list their offices and emoluments, 5 Nov. 1830. He argued that the middle classes were ‘clamorous’ for reform, 21 Dec., and declared that ‘I am no advocate of what is called radical reform, but I wish to see the intelligence and the property of this country fairly and truly represented in Parliament’. He rebutted a rumour in one of the local papers that he would oppose the ministerial reform bill, 16 Mar. 1831, and when a Kent petition was brought up the following day, he stated that ‘I have been particularly requested to support the petition, which I most willingly do’.44 Though differing with the Rochester corporation’s hostile one, he stated that he felt bound to respect their request to present it, 19 Mar.45 He voted for the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He spoke against close boroughs and argued that men of talent should always be able to find seats in populous towns, 19 Apr. He believed that Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment that day

can be nothing less than an insidious ruse de guerre, decided upon after various marches and counter-marches. I know of no other object that can be effected by it, than that of catching in the net all stray Members and to induce them to direct all their efforts to throw out the bill.

He voted in the minority against it. His support for the imperative necessity of reform to confirm and stabilize existing institutions overcame minor differences of opinion at Rochester and ensured his unopposed and inexpensive return at the ensuing general election. At the Kent reform dinner in Rochester, 8 June 1831, he spoke in its favour, although he also warned against its being considered ‘an immediate and universal panacea’.46

Bernal assisted in the swearing of Members at the start of the new session and, as expected, he was elected chairman of ways and means, with a salary of £1,200, 27 June 1831.47 He argued that the House should not discuss the question of the use of molasses until its inquiry had reported, 20 July, and intervened on the steam vessels bill, 29 Aug. Already an active committeeman, he subsequently served on several drafting and second reading committees, including the one instructed to prepare the sugar bill, 28 Sept., and another on the state of commerce in the West Indies, 6 Oct. (and again, 15 Dec.). He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July. When not in the chair, he divided with government against using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July, for postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, to abolish one of the seats at Dorchester, 28 July, and to give holders of property in towns the right to vote in county elections, 17, 20 Aug. As chairman, he spoke briefly on procedure in divisions, 3, 6 Aug., and made minor interventions, 16, 18, 24, 25 Aug. On the motion to unite Chatham and Strood with Rochester, 9 Aug., the Tory Wetherell made the ironic comment that had he known the question would come on, he would have moved for Bernal to leave the chair, as the borough would thereby have benefited from an able advocate in favour of retaining its separate representation. Later in the same debate a quarrel developed between Thomas Duncombe and Goulburn, during which Bernal said that in the ‘little experience I have had in committees of this House, I have frequently listened with pain to expressions which were certainly not justifiable’, but he failed quickly to reassert order. He voted with ministers on the Dublin, 23 Aug., and Liverpool elections, 5 Sept., and spoke and was a government teller for issuing the Pembrokeshire writ, 26 Sept. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and its committal, 20 Jan., 20 Feb. 1832. Wetherell raised a laugh against him for being caught napping while presiding over a long sitting of the committee, 27 Jan. In the chair on the £10 householder clause, 3 Feb., he indignantly protested against Alexander Baring’s accusation of sharp practice against him. When Croker behaved disgracefully towards Ewart, 5 Mar., Edward John Littleton recorded that ‘the whole House felt indignant and [Edward Smith] Stanley insisted on explanations before the parties left the House. Bernal, the chairman, then called not on Croker! but on Ewart! to explain. He must have been asleep’.48 Francis Thornhill Baring took the chair in his absence on the bill’s last day in committee, 10 Mar.49 Bernal, who voted for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., apparently told Sir Henry Hardinge* that he believed the Commons would accept the Lords’ amendments providing schedule A was preserved and no nominal alteration was made to the £10 borough qualification.50 He was in the House on 10 May, when news reached him of the death of his youngest child, and he therefore paired for Ebrington’s motion that day for an address calling on the king to employ only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired.51 He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He supported the principle of Baring’s bill to exclude bankrupts from Parliament, but raised several objections to it, 6, 27 June, and was a teller against its committal, 27 June. From the chair, he made several suggestions on how to proceed with the bribery at elections bill, 6 Aug. At a dinner held in his honour at Borstal, near Rochester, 17 Aug., he declared that ‘from the moment he had entered his political career, he had been a reformer. And he had lived to see what he never expected to see, he had seen the great measure of reform carried’.52 His only other known votes in this Parliament were with ministers against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and (as a teller) on military punishments, 16 Feb., for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July, and against the recommittal of the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. 1832.

Bernal was returned again for Rochester in 1832 and at three other general elections, and for Weymouth in 1842, after his former colleague, Lord Villiers, had been unseated on petition. He failed to receive the Whig backing that would have brought him the Speakership in 1835, but he was for many years a respected chairman of ways and means under a series of Liberal administrations.53 In 1852 the Daily News noted of him that

so intelligent, so courteous, so accessible, so ready with information on all matters of detail, so constant in his attendance and so business-like while presiding over committees of the whole House ... Mr. Bernal was a fine specimen of thorough liberality of political opinions and complete independence of mere cliquerie, accompanied by cultural understanding, good taste and courteous manner.54

A connoisseur of art, he, for example, spoke in favour of the establishment of a national gallery, 28 Mar. 1825, and became president of the British Archaeological Society in 1853. His large and distinguished collection of paintings, furniture, books, porcelain and objects of vertû was sold at auctions in 1824, 1855 and 1889.55 He died, after a few days’ illness, in August 1854, leaving his estate to be divided equally between his surviving children.56 His eldest son from his first marriage, Ralph (1808-82), took the additional surname Osborne in 1844, on his marriage to the wealthy Irish heiress, Catherine Osborne, and, as the Commons’ jester, enjoyed a long career as a Liberal Member for several constituencies, 1841-74.57

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Bevis Marks Recs. v. 7.
  • 2. Ibid. ii. 101.
  • 3. Ibid. v. 85; IGI; J. Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish Hist. (1956), 198-200.
  • 4. Rochester Gazette, 18 Dec. 1832.
  • 5. E.g. on 26 May 1820, 6 Apr. 1824, 6 May 1828, 1 July 1830, 22 Feb. 1832.
  • 6. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4.
  • 7. Kentish Gazette, 25, 29 Feb., 3, 10 Mar. 1820; Medway Archives and Local Stud. Cent. Rochester city recs. RCA/A1/6, 197.
  • 8. The Times, 14 June, 11 July 1820.
  • 9. Kentish Gazette, 25, 28 July 1820.
  • 10. The Times, 24 Feb. 1821.
  • 11. Ibid. 16, 20, 31 Mar., 14 Apr., 11 July 1821.
  • 12. Ibid. 1, 9, 14, 15, 19, 20, 30 June 1821.
  • 13. Ibid. 19 June, 2, 3 July 1821.
  • 14. Ibid. 9, 22 Feb., 5, 9 Mar. 1822.
  • 15. Ibid. 9, 19 Mar. 1822.
  • 16. Ibid. 23 Mar., 4 Apr., 13 July 1822.
  • 17. Ibid. 21 May, 8 June, 23 July 1822.
  • 18. Ibid. 9, 30 July 1822.
  • 19. Ibid. 8 Mar. 1823.
  • 20. Ibid. 23 Apr., 7 May 1823.
  • 21. Ibid. 28 Mar., 10, 14 June 1823.
  • 22. Gent. Mag. (1854), ii. 628.
  • 23. The Times, 20 Mar. 1824; Rochester city recs. A5/2, 40-1, 45-7.
  • 24. The Times, 15 Apr. 1824.
  • 25. Ibid. 12 Feb. 1825.
  • 26. Ibid. 12 Mar. 1825.
  • 27. Ibid. 7 June 1825.
  • 28. Kentish Gazette, 21 Feb. 1826; Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4/1.
  • 29. The Times, 4 Mar. 1826.
  • 30. Ibid. 15 Mar., 14 Apr. 1826.
  • 31. Substance of Speech of Bernal (1826).
  • 32. Kentish Chron. 10 Mar., 23 May, 9 June; Kentish Gazette, 9 June 1826.
  • 33. Maidstone Jnl. 20 June; Kentish Gazette, 20, 27 June; Kentish Chron. 23 June 1826.
  • 34. The Times, 17, 27 Feb., 10 Apr. 1827.
  • 35. Ibid. 15 May 1827.
  • 36. Ibid. 29 Apr. 1828; Rochester city recs. A1/6, 512, 534, 539-41; A5/2, 89-90, 100-1.
  • 37. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4/2.
  • 38. Ibid. M915/11/7.
  • 39. Rochester Gazette, 22 June, 6, 13, 20, 27 July; Kentish Gazette, 13 July 1830.
  • 40. Rochester Gazette, 3 Aug.; Maidstone Jnl. 10 Aug. 1830; Kentish Gazette, 21 Jan. 1831.
  • 41. Rochester Gazette, 26 Oct. 1830, 25 Jan. 1831.
  • 42. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4/2.
  • 43. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 22 Feb. 1831.
  • 44. Kentish Gazette, 15, 18 Mar.; Maidstone Gazette, 22 Mar. 1831.
  • 45. The Times, 21 Mar. 1831; Rochester city recs. A1/6, 644-8.
  • 46. Rochester Gazette, 26 Apr., 3 May; The Times, 3 May; Maidstone Jnl. 14 June 1831.
  • 47. Macaulay Letters, ii. 45; CJ, lxxxvi. 576, 909.
  • 48. M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 16947; Hatherton diary.
  • 49. Baring Jnls. i. 92.
  • 50. Three Diaries, 238.
  • 51. Rochester Gazette, 15 May 1832.
  • 52. Maidstone Gazette, 21 Aug. 1832.
  • 53. Torrens, Melbourne, ii. 82; Parker, Peel, ii. 292; CJ, lxxx. 576; xcvi. 571; ciii. 218; PP (1851), x. 776-81.
  • 54. P.H. Bagenal, Life of Ralph Bernal Osborne, 4-5.
  • 55. Cat. of Cabinet of Bernal (1824); Cat. of Celebrated Collection of Bernal (1855); Cat. of Objects of Art of Mrs. Bernal (1889).
  • 56. The Times, 29 Aug. 1854; PROB 11/2197/663; Oxford DNB.
  • 57. Oxford DNB.