KEENE, Benjamin (1753-1837), of Westoe Lodge, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. 1753, 1st s. of Rt. Rev. Edmund Keene, bp. of Ely, by Mary, da. and h. of Lancelot Andrews of Edmonton; nephew of Sir Benjamin Keene, M.P., ambassador to Madrid. educ. Eton 1762-70; Peterhouse, Camb. 1770; G. Inn 1767. m. 18 Mar. 1780, Mary, da. of George Ruck of Swyncombe, Oxon., 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1780.
Keene was launched on his parliamentary career by his father, who in September 1775, when a by-election at Cambridge seemed imminent, asked Lord Hardwicke to support his son because ‘my public situation in this diocese and my private property in the county, which probably will fix my son in it, when we can meet with a proper residence, give me a pretence for offering my son in preference to strangers’. In June 1776 Keene himself wrote of ‘the obligations which your Lordship has conferred upon me’, and of his determination to ‘spare no pains’ in securing the mayor to their interest; but he could not bring himself to accept Hardwicke’s offer of a company in the Cambridgeshire militia, being ‘by no means fitted for military employment’ which would be ‘extremely inconvenient and disagreeable to me’. At the by-election in November 1776 he was opposed by Thomas Plumer Byde, who was backed by the Duke of Grafton and the bishop of Peterborough, but though Keene refused to buy about 20 mercenary voters, with Hardwicke’s support he was returned by a large majority.1
There is no record of his having spoken in the House, and his first known votes were for Administration: in the divisions on sending Keppel to sea, 3 Mar. 1779, and on the state of the navy, 8 Mar. On 13 Mar. 1780 he voted for economical reform, and on 6 Apr. for Dunning’s motion, but was with Administration on the motion against proroguing Parliament, 24 Apr. John Robinson noted in his survey of 1780: ‘Mr. Keene has taken a line against in almost all the popular questions and indeed generally does go against Administration in any question of Opposition.’ He added: ‘He does not stand on very firm ground at Cambridge and may be opposed.’ A contest did take place, Keene coming second in the poll with 83, against 96 for James Whorwood Adeane, and 18 for Christopher Potter.
Keene continued in opposition until the fall of North’s Administration; but on 18 Feb. 1783 he voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries. He did not vote on Fox’s East India bill, and of two minds on every subject he wrote to Philip Yorke on 4 Jan. 1784:2
Was it possible in these times to give a vote in Parliament upon any public measure without being necessarily accessory to the immediate dissolution or establishment of a ministry, I should very gladly have been present when the new Indian bill was introduced into the House of Commons and from its not resembling that which was lately rejected should very probably have voted for it ... I have never yet been a partizan ... If however I had been disposed to have attached myself to either of the contending parties I should have been much embarrassed in the choice I was to make. I never was a friend to the Coalition and very much disliked the means by which it came into power; but as it afterwards seemed to have strength ability and firmness I by no means wished its removal, thinking that almost any Government was better than the anarchy and confusion inseparable from the want of one. The present ministry not having a prospect of a long continuance can hardly expect the support of persons unconnected as I am who may think its immediate dissolution would be preferable to its existing in a weak and lingering state during a great part of the session; at the same time I can hardly wish to see it supported for the reason I have assigned. I must confess that I have a much better opinion of its head than of any other political character.
Keene did not contest Cambridge again in 1784, or at any time later. He died 21 Nov. 1837.