LESTER, Benjamin Lester (1779-1838), of 65 High Street, Poole and Stone Cottage, nr. Poole, Dorset
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Family and Educationb. 18 Dec. 1779, 1st s. of George Garland†, Newfoundland merchant, of Leeson House, Purbeck, Dorset and Amy, da. of Benjamin Lester†, Newfoundland merchant, of Poole. unm. ?2s. ?2da. illegit. suc. mat. grandfa. 1802; changed name to Lester 15 May 1805; suc. fa. 1825. d. 16 July 1838.
Sheriff, Poole 1804-5, mayor 1815-16.
Capt. Poole vol. inf. 1803, Dorset vol. inf. 1804, maj. 1805-8; capt. E. Dorset militia 1813.
Lester came from one of the prosperous dynasties of Poole Newfoundland merchants, who between them dominated the corporation and largely controlled the representation. He was the grandson and heir of Benjamin Lester, Member for Poole, 1790-6, and eldest son of George Garland, who sat for the borough, 1801-7.1 Elected a free burgess of Poole in 1801,2 his father contrived to bring him into Parliament at a contested by-election in 1809, with tacit government support, though in the House he was inactive and independent.3 He had a difficult relationship with his father, particularly over money, perhaps because of the downturn in the fortunes of the Newfoundland trade. Garland censured his son’s extravagance, writing to him, 9 Feb. 1821, that
you must be aware if you reflect a moment that what I allow you one way or another and the necessary repairs of your houses, etc., etc., is little if any thing short of £1,600 per year, which with your own is equal to a tolerably well conditioned estate of £2,500 per year. I do not wish to point out here, but you must alter some of your plans and live at less expense. Do not therefore put it off, for I can consent to no further advance, nor will I pay any more debts; and if you were not in Parliament, I would not allow you so largely.
Nothing came of his father’s plan in May 1822 to set him at the head of a country bank in Poole.4
At the general election of 1820 Lester was again returned unopposed for Poole, from whose inhabitants he often brought up petitions. He was granted ten days’ leave on urgent private business, 27 June 1820. He voted to reinstate Queen Caroline’s name in the liturgy, 26 Jan., 13 Feb., but divided against condemning the Liverpool administration’s conduct towards her, 6 Feb. 1821.5 He paired for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. He sided with ministers against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., but divided against them on the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May 1821. He voted several times for reduced expenditure and taxation, though the radical John Ward commented that he ‘did not vote for any popular motion’ that session.6 He was listed in the minority for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr. 1822, and voted for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, inquiry into the civil list, 15 May, and reduction of the cost of the embassy to the Swiss Cantons, 16 May. He spoke in favour of repealing the salt tax, 11 June 1822.7 He supported the prospective candidacy of the Tory Henry Bankes* for Dorset at the by-election in February 1823.8 He voted with ministers against Hume’s amendment to limit the sinking fund to the real surplus of revenue not exceeding £5,000,000, 13 Mar., and repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., but with opposition for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 24 Apr. Unless it was Ralph Leycester, Member for Shaftesbury, with whom he was sometimes confused, he seconded the motion for leave for the jurors’ qualification bill, 19 June, and voted for the introduction of trial by jury under the New South Wales jurisdiction bill, 7 July 1823. He urged repeal of the salt tax, 4 Mar., 9 Apr. 1824.9 He voted in the minority for securing proper use of the Irish first fruits fund, 25 May, but in the government majority against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He divided to repeal the usury laws, 17 Feb. 1825. He voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May. He voted for repeal of the assessed taxes, 3 Mar., and revision of the corn laws, 28 Apr., and against the window tax, 17 May, and the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 6, 10 June. His father died, as the result of a road accident, 28 Dec. 1825, leaving a large estate, which included personalty sworn under £120,000. Lester inherited his personal effects, £16,000 and properties in Poole and elsewhere, but the residue, including his father’s ships, was divided between his brothers.10 He suggested that distressed manufacturers could be relieved by allowing corn in hand to be released to general circulation, 14 Apr., and voted for inquiry into the corn laws, 18 Apr., parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and Maberly’s clause in the alehouses licensing bill to permit adjourned meetings for granting licenses, 12 May 1826.11 The expectation that if he stood singly for Poole he would be re-elected was borne out at the general election that summer, when he plumped for himself and topped the poll in a contest against two local country gentlemen.12
Lester voted against the Clarence grant, 16 Feb., for inquiry into the allegations against Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., to condemn chancery administration, 5 Apr., and for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, and Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He voted against extending the franchise of East Retford to the freeholders of the hundred of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., but was credited with dividing with the Wellington ministry against inquiry into chancery administration, 24 Apr.; he voted for various economies, 20, 23 June, 4 July 1828. He was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’ on the Catholic question, and duly divided in favour of emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, against an additional grant for the sculpture of the marble arch, 25 May, and for reduction of the hemp duties, 1 June 1829. Later that year Sir Richard Vyvyan*, the Ultra leader, listed him among ‘those who voted in favour of the third reading [of the Catholic bill] but whose sentiments are unknown’ on the possible formation of a coalition ministry. He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address complaining of distress, 4 Feb. 1830, and divided steadily in favour of retrenchment and lower taxation that year. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar., and for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and paired for parliamentary reform, 28 May. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He was listed in the minority on the motion of his father’s former partner, George Richard Robinson, for inquiry into the state of Newfoundland, 11 May, and voted for inquiry into Ceylon, 27 May 1830.
As no alternative candidates in the end materialized, he was returned unopposed for Poole at the general election that summer, when he told the electors that he had some sympathy with the cause of the unfranchised commonalty and boasted that for 21 years he ‘had acted in the House in the most independent manner’. In September he provided the land for a new library in Poole and having (like all the other electors) nominated two additional freemen, 16 Sept., he attended a celebratory dinner there, 28 Sept. 1830, when he promised to vote for economies.13 Later that year he privately expressed concern about the spread of the ‘Swing’ riots to Dorset.14 He was listed by ministers among their ‘foes’, and voted in the majority against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. He brought up reform petitions from Poole, 17 Dec. 1830, 14 Mar. 1831, and voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He was thanked for his reform votes at a public dinner in Poole, 7 Apr., when he congratulated the inhabitants on obtaining the franchise and spoke in favour of reform, retrenchment, and civil and religious liberties. In his address, he claimed that ‘independence and liberality I have attempted to make the mainsprings of my parliamentary conduct’, and he was again returned unopposed with the reformer William Ponsonby at the ensuing general election.15 In the Dorset contest he split for the reformers Edward Berkeley Portman* and John Calcraft*.16
He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July, and steadily in favour of its details, though he was in the minority for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept., when government allowed it to retain one seat. He voted in favour of the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He sided with ministers on the Dublin election, 23 Aug., and for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for Ponsonby in the Dorset by-election that month.17 He complained of the curtailment of debate on the bankruptcy court bill, 13 Oct., when he replied to the Tory George Bankes’s jibe that those on the other side of the chamber were asleep, by retorting that ‘it is only for the last few minutes that I have sat upon this side of the House. For three hours I sat on the same side with the honourable gentleman ... patiently expecting that something would be said to the purpose’. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, regularly for its details, and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. In January he was reported to be ready to join the putative Dorset Whig Club.18 He voted with government against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and military punishments, 16 Feb., and against amendment of the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. He divided for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increasing the representation of Scotland, 1 June. He voted for Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June. His only other known votes that session were with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July. He made representations to ministers about their plans for the administration of Newfoundland,19 and in the House, 23 July 1832, he denied that the grant for its civil establishment included charges for conveying the governor from post to post.
Lester was returned as a Liberal at the top of the poll at the general election in December 1832.20 He retired from Parliament two years later and perhaps moved abroad, though he retained his roughly 50 properties in Poole, which brought him rent of £649 in 1837. He died in Paris in July 1838, and the French death certificate, dated 25 July, described him as a ‘rentier’, resident in the Avenue de Neuilly. By his will, dated 10 May 1838, he divided his estate, which included personal wealth sworn under £16,000, between his siblings and their children, and left £10,000 and the residue in trust to his brother, Augustus Lester Garland, a Leghorn merchant.21 Lester evidently had at least two illegitimate children in Newfoundland, as on 3 June 1820 he wrote to his brother John Bingley Garland (who was later speaker of the assembly there), that ‘with respect to the boys, my only wish is that they should be brought up to that situation which is likely best to suit their capacity’. He probably also had two illegitimate daughters, as his will made provision for Miss Jane Moore, the mistress of the Parkstone boarding school near Poole, and her daughters Eliza and Mary Ann.22
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. C.N. Cullingford, Hist. Poole, 124, 129-36; D. Beamish, J. Hillier and H.F.V. Johnstone, Mansions and Merchants of Poole and Dorset, 85-114; Dict. of Canadian Biog. vi. 490-2; PROB 11/1370/123.
- 2. Dorset RO, Poole borough recs. DC/PL RMP3.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1832, iv. 419.
- 4. Dorset RO, Lester-Garland mss D/LEG F23, ff. 39, 69, 70, 87.
- 5. Salisbury Jnl. 26 Feb. 1821.
- 6. Black Book (1823), 170, where some of Ralph Leycester’s votes are credited to Lester.
- 7. The Times, 12 June 1822.
- 8. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Lester to Bankes, 11 Feb. 1823.