BENSON, Ralph (1773-1845), of Lutwyche Hall, nr. Wenlock, Salop.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1812 - 1818
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 1773, in Jamaica, 1st ‘reputed’ s. of Moses Benson, W.I. merchant of Duke Street, Liverpool, Lancs. educ. Manchester g.s. 1782. m. 1795, Barbara, da. and coh. of Thomas Lewin of Cloghans, co. Mayo, 2s. suc. fa. 1806.

Offices Held

Capt. 85 Ft. 1793-5; capt. Salop vol. inf. 1808.


Benson’s father, a well-to-do West India merchant of Lancashire yeoman stock, referred to him and his other three children in his will as his ‘reputed’ sons and daughters, and provided well for them. Ralph received £10,000 and the realty, which included a Shropshire estate purchased for £25,000 and a Liverpool residence.1 He was then a merchant at Duke Street and Kent Street, Liverpool. In 1794 he had joined the Flanders expedition, supposed to have damaged his health; but a year later he served in Ireland, where he married. That ended his military career.2 In 1807 he offered himself for election at Stafford, but withdrew before the poll after rupturing a blood vessel. In 1812 he again offered there and headed the poll with ease, regarded as a ministerialist, though assumed in government circles to be connected with Canning (then contesting Liverpool). He was not on the Treasury list of supporters after the election and was elsewhere listed Canningite with a query. These doubts lingered, but Canning maintained in 1814 that Benson, enraged at not obtaining a piece of Liverpool patronage through him, had ‘tendered himself to the government in a manner not to be mistaken’ previously and probably wanted a baronetage for himself.3 As it was, his reported vote for Catholic relief on 2 Mar. 1813 was queried;4 he supported the bill on 13 May and was absent with leave on 24 May. (On 9 May 1817 he opposed relief.)

Benson was less interested in Catholic relief than in opposing the additional leather tax, by which his shoemaker constituents were distressed. His motion for repeal, twice delayed by the Catholic question, was approved by the Speaker’s casting vote on 18 May 1813, but defeated on the second reading on 20 May, when the chancellor of the Exchequer opposed it, by 125 votes to 120. Apart from this his contributions to debate were unpredictable. On 28 May 1813 he criticized the absurdities of the fire arms improving bill. He was a critic of corporal punishment in the army, 29 Nov. 1813, but also of insubordination, 17 Nov. 1814. On 21 Apr. 1815, before acting as teller for government, he declared that nine-tenths of the country had become reconciled to the property tax. He was a spokesman for the Liverpool corporation, 15 June 1815, and on 20 June for his friend Governor Gore, whose conduct in Canada came under fire. He voted in the government minority on the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage grant, 3 July 1815. He was a defaulter on 13 Mar. 1816, but the order was discharged the same day. He resumed his hostility to the leather tax, 9 May 1816 (and again 12 Mar. 1818). On 12 Mar. 1817 he clashed with Brougham over the Liverpool petition for reform, justifying the refusal of the mayor to authorize a meeting for it in view of the riotous behaviour of the mob; he assured Brougham ‘that there were never greater mobs in Liverpool, than when the honourable and learned gentleman headed them’. Taking this to refer to the election of 1812, Brougham could not quarrel with Benson. He was in the majority against reduction of the Admiralty, 25 Feb. 1817. His tongue proved too sharp on 6 Apr. 1818, when after a sarcasm at the expense of Hart Davis, who dared to put in a word for the leather tax, he was reprimanded by the Speaker and obliged to apologize. He voted with ministers on their use of informers, 5 Mar., and for the ducal marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818. He was an opponent of Bennet’s plaidoyer on behalf of redundant artillery drivers, insisting that there was nothing to prevent them from rising in the service, 30 Apr.

Benson evidently thought little of his chances at Stafford in the election of 1818. He supported Canning at Liverpool and addressed his former constituents from there, 15 June, denying that he had either withdrawn in favour of General Colin Macaulay, or tried to secure both their returns, but reminding them that in 1812 he had been invited to bring a partner with him. Meanwhile Thomas Lewin, a barrister connected with him by marriage, appeared at Stafford, but got nowhere. Benson was a shadow candidate in the election farce at Liverpool, with another brother-in-law John Bolton.5 In 1820 he stood at Bridgnorth, but beat an acrimonious retreat and failed to make up for it at Stafford.6 He consoled himself with country sports and on the Turf. In 1826 he was again returned for Stafford. He died 23 Oct. 1845, aged 72.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PCC 829 Pitt.
  • 2. Rev. J. F. Smith, Admission Reg. of the Manchester School, ii. 107; The 85th King’s Light Inf. ed. Barrett, 34.
  • 3. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 18 Nov. 1812; Add. 38363, f. 64; 38739, f. 271.
  • 4. Morning Chron. 10 Mar. 1813.
  • 6. Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 21 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 661.