BENT, Robert (c.1745-1832), of 46 Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx. and West Moulsey, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Bent, who was probably of Lancastrian origin, had shares in at least eight ships based at Liverpool between 1786 and 1794. He was established as a merchant at 101 Duke Street and, in partnership with his brother Ellis, in a counting house at 3 Henry Street in Liverpool by 1790. Subsequently his premises moved to 14 and 15 Hanover Street, but his business activities in the city had evidently ceased by 1804. He may have been related to the Bents who began brewing at Johnson Street in Liverpool a few years later. He appears to have set up a business in London in 1793, residing at 34 Bedford Row until 1800, when he moved to Portugal Street, but the nature of his activities is not clear. The historian of Aylesbury, writing in 1885, described him as a West India merchant, while a supporter of his rival at the Aylesbury election expressed a hope that ‘the disgraceful nature of his merchandise will be serviceable to us in obtaining the popular cry against him’. These allusions and Bent’s connexions with Liverpool suggest participation in the slave trade, but in the debates of May 1804 on the Aylesbury election bill neither Robert Hurst, who claimed to know Bent, nor the hostile George Rose, who described him as ‘a merchant of irreproachable character and the highest respectability’, mentioned such involvement.3
In January 1802 Bent, who had joined the Whig Club in 1796, was asked to stand for Aylesbury where dissatisfaction with Scrope Bernard, the sitting Member on the Marquess of Buckingham’s interest, and traditional avarice had stimulated a desire for a third man. The approach came from Samuel Cole, a relative of an Aylesbury publican, who kept wine vaults at Bird Street, Grosvenor Square. A hostile reaction to his initial offer to pay £3,500 if returned forced Bent to promise the sum, win or lose. After liberal expenditure, in which the other candidates also participated, he beat Bernard into third place. He voted with the Foxite opposition to Addington for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts on 4 Mar. and for the amendment to the address concerning relations with France, 24 May 1803. He is not known to have spoken in the House. He was unseated on petition in February 1804, on the ground of bribery, but Rose’s proposal to have him prosecuted, 9 May 1804, was rejected after Fox and Sheridan had expressed their dissent.
Bent, who went bankrupt on 3 June 1806, was the subject of a memorandum of July 1808, found in the Blair Adam papers, which put his case as a deserving object for the charity of Whig grandees, to the tune of £1,500, the sum necessary to ‘preserve him from total ruin’, now that he was at the mercy of his creditors after the failure of his ‘extensive concerns’. His insurance of £24,000 on the ship Port au Prince, which was thought to have been lost, was offered as security for repayment of the loan. It is not known how Bent fared in this matter, but when he wrote to Lord Bathurst in 1816 and 1817 to request a pension for the widow of his son Ellis, who had died in Australia in 1815 as judge advocate of New South Wales (his eldest son Jeffrey Hart Bent became chief justice of New South Wales), he confessed that his family had ‘seen better days’.4
He died, ‘at a very advanced age’, about September 1832.5
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. In 1816 he described himself as being ‘more than 70 years of age’ (Hist. Recs. Australia (ser. 4), i. 178).
- 2. According to Gent. Mag. (1817), i. 636.
- 3. Liverpool Registry of Merchant Ships ed. Craig and Jarvis (Chetham Soc. ser. 3, xv), 4, 10, 23, 43, 60, 111, 130, 140; R. Gibbs, Aylesbury, 250; Spencer Bernard mss PFE 3/8(b); Parl. Deb. ii. 389, 405.
- 4. Hist. Recs. Australia (ser. 4), i. 217, 251.
- 5. Bucks. Gazette, 15 Sept. 1832.