BENSON, Ralph (?1773-1845), of Lutwyche Hall, nr. Wenlock, Salop
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Educationb. ?1773, in Jamaica, 1st ‘reputed son’ 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. d. 23 Oct. 1845.
Capt. 85 Ft. 1793-5; capt. W. Salop militia 1808.
Benson’s father, whose early mercantile activities probably included slave-trading, was considered one of the old ‘merchant princes’ of Liverpool, with at least seven ships registered to him by 1788.1 He had four ‘reputed’ children and sent his two sons, Ralph and Moses, to Manchester Grammar School. After a brief army career, cut short by a fever contracted at Walcheren in 1794, Benson joined his father in fashionable Liverpool society as a merchant. His Irish wife, according to contemporary gossip, hosted ‘delightful parties’, but Benson was considered ‘too much of a Lothario’.2 On his father’s death in 1806 he inherited £10,000 and a life interest in the recently acquired Shropshire estate of Lutwyche.3 His younger brother appears to have assumed control of the family’s mercantile house in Liverpool.
Returned for the venal borough of Stafford in 1812, after an abortive attempt in 1807, Benson had given general support to the Liverpool ministry. He did not stand again in 1818, when he supported Canning at Liverpool and was one of the shadow candidates nominated to safeguard his position.4 At the general election of 1820 he initially stood for Bridgnorth where, it was later claimed, he ‘told the people, he had come down with a sum of £20,000 to spend among them, for the good of the country’.5 To his chagrin the other candidate, Thomas Whitmore*, a fellow vice-president of the Wolverhampton Pitt Club, persuaded his Whig kinsman William Wolryche Whitmore* to stand in coalition against him. In desperation Benson offered again at Stafford, but with his prospects poor, he did not canvass and returned to Bridgnorth, where he denounced the Whitmores for their ‘entire monopoly of the representation’ and ‘offensive expressions’ against him before conceding defeat.6 He maintained his links with Liverpool throughout the 1820s, serving on the committees of the Ship Owners’ Association, the Royal Institution for Literature, Science and the Arts and the Mechanics’ Institute. At a Shropshire county meeting called to consider a loyal address to the king, 10 Jan. 1821, he spoke briefly in favour of ‘omitting all reference to the ministers’.7 A keen horseman and devotee of the Turf, he subscribed towards new kennels for the Shropshire Hunt in 1824.8 At the 1826 general election he secured the support of the corporation and offered again for Stafford, where both the sitting Members had retired. During his canvass he pledged to ‘do nothing in Parliament which in his opinion would endanger the Protestant establishment’.9 Heavy expenditure, most of it on credit, and the mayor’s hasty swearing-in of over 100 non-resident and honorary freemen helped to return him in second place.10
Benson voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He probably supported Canning’s brief ministry, referring to him in the House as his ‘late lamented friend’, 10 Apr. 1829. In February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, forecast that he would vote ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation and although he voted silently against it, 6 Mar., he did endorse a favourable petition from Staffordshire, 9 Mar., and declare his ‘most hearty and cordial assent’ to a ‘conciliatory measure’ which would bring ‘peace and tranquillity in Ireland’ and ‘end all discontent’, 17 Mar. Yet he apparently abstained on the third reading, 30 Mar. He spoke in support of the Spanish claims bill, 10 Apr., the customs duties bill, 28 May 1829, and the forgery bill, 1 Apr. 1830. He presented petitions from Bicester in favour of the Warwick and Northampton canal bill, 30 Mar., from Leamington against child employment, 16 Apr. 1829, and from his constituents against the Stafford improvement bill, 5 Apr. 1830, when he moved its second reading. Taking his cue from the county Member Edward Littleton, he argued for cheaper turnpikes, 26 Feb. 1829, and on 1 Apr. 1830 he introduced a bill to revise the regulations governing payment of wages in kind. On 6 May he was added to the select committee on the bill, which foundered at its report stage, 9 July. He voted against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform plan, 18 Feb. On 11 Mar. he launched a vociferous campaign on behalf of people who had been fraudulently entered as subscribers to the London and Birmingham canal and he was instrumental in having the Company’s solicitor officially reprimanded, 20 May.11 His own estate bill, authorizing the sale of his late father’s settled estate in Liverpool, received royal assent, 16 July 1830.Benson’s decision to retire at the 1830 dissolution was probably owing to financial difficulties. Although it was considered normal in Stafford ‘that the money is not paid for two years’, Benson had yet to pay ‘one iota’ by 1830 and as a result dared ‘not show his face there’.12 Only a month after his return in 1826, a civil action had been successfully brought against him for the recovery of debts incurred during the 1820 Bridgnorth contest.13 The bankruptcy in 1828 of the family’s Liverpool mercantile concern probably restricted his credit even further.14 Writs subsequently issued by his former agent for the recovery of costs eventually led to another judgement against him in December 1829, and may account for his apparently assiduous attendance in the Commons during much of that year. (In one exchange with Hume, 28 May 1829, he claimed to ‘have not been absent from my duty any one night during the session’.) Soon after retiring he decamped to France, where he remained for the next decade. On 12 Jan. 1841, some six months after his return, he appeared in the insolvent debtors court with total scheduled debts of £76,032, which he attributed ‘to expenses incurred in two contested elections at Stafford, and one for Bridgnorth’, and ‘after having signed his schedule, was declared to be entitled to his discharge forthwith’.15 He died intestate at Lutwyche in October 1845, ‘aged 72’.16 Lutwyche Hall passed to his eldest son, Moses George Benson (1798-1871).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. VCH Salop, iv. 211; Rev. J. Aspinall, Liverpool A Few Years Since, 37; Liverpool Registry of Merchant Ships ed. R. Craig and R. Jarvis (Chetham Soc. ser. 3, xv), 210.
- 2. Aspinall, 37.
- 3. PROB 11/1451/829; IR26/117/48.
- 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 233-4, 364; iii. 183; The Times, 20, 29 June 1818.
- 5. The Times, 21 July 1826.
- 6. G.P. Mandler, Wolverhampton Antiquary (July 1934), ii. 15-21; Wolverhampton Chron. 1 Mar.; Staffs. Advertiser, 4 Mar.; Salop RO, Weld-Forester mss box 337, Robins to Pritchard, 5 Mar.; Hatherton diary, 21 Mar. 1820.
- 7. Shrewsbury Chron. 12 Jan. 1821.
- 8. VCH Salop, ii. 169.
- 9. Staffs. Advertiser, 3 June 1826.
- 10. The Times, 13 June; Staffs. Advertiser, 17 June 1826; S.M. Hardy and R.C. Baily, ‘Downfall of Gower Interest in Staffs. Boroughs’, Colls. Hist. Staffs. (1950-1), 283-6.
- 11. The Times, 21 May 1830.
- 12. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss, T. to J. Gladstone, 20 June 1830.
- 13. The Times, 21 July 1826.
- 14. Ibid. 27 Sept. 1828.
- 15. Ibid. 13 Jan. 1841
- 16. Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 661.