BERNAL, Ralph (1784-1854), of Guildford Street, Mdx.

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



1818 - 1820
1820 - 1841
4 Apr. 1842 - 1847
1847 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 1784, o.s. of Jacob Israel Bernal jun., merchant, of Crutched Friars, London by Lea, da. of Refael Vas Da Silva, merchant, of Crutched Friars.1 educ. by Rev. J. Hewlett, Shacklewell; Christ’s, Camb. 22 June 1802, aged 17; L. Inn 1804, called 1810. m. (1) 10 Apr. 1806, Anne Elizabeth (d. 10 July 1823), da. of Richard Samuel White of New Ormond Street, Mdx., 1s. at least 4da.; (2) 3 Aug. 1824, Clara Christiana, da. of John White, surgeon RN, of Chatham, Kent, 1s. at least. suc. fa. 1811.

Offices Held

Chairman of ways and means 1833-41, 1847-52.


Bernal’s father was the son of a London merchant of Sephardi descent, the family having originally emigrated from Seville to Amsterdam. He traded with his father-in-law and their West Indian business brought him Jamaican sugar plantations previously mortgaged to him.2 His son, born at Colchester, was not brought up in the Jewish faith and had recently been called to the bar when he came into his inheritance. He did not take to a legal life and seems to have had two passions: a collection of mediaeval and later objets d’art, and a parliamentary career. The first, which raised £71,000 after his death, paid for the second, which cost him £66,000 in election expenses.3

In 1818 Bernal was adopted as the ‘third man’ by the freemen of Lincoln resident in London and defeated Lady Warwick’s nominee Robert Percy Smith. Lady Warwick regarded him as a Burdettite.4 He voted steadily with opposition in his first Parliament. In his maiden speech, 25 Jan. 1819, he asked the House to detain a convict ship bound for New South Wales: ‘common humanity required some interference’. (On 2 Mar. he voted for criminal law reform.) He spoke in support of Tierney’s motion for a committee on the circulating medium, 2 Feb. 1819, declaring that only ‘pseudo-merchants’ would oppose a metallic currency. Earl Grey was informed that Bernal ‘speaks pretty well’.5 On 25 Feb. he justified his opposition to the Windsor establishment bill by reference to public opinion and the principle of economy ‘which the House professed’. He voted for Scottish burgh reform, 1 Apr. and 6 May, but was a critic of the Barnstaple bribery bill, 10 May, though he dropped his amendment to thwart it. He thought ‘no statute or committee had ever declared a seat in a coach to be a bribe’ and giving a London voter £10 was ‘no more than giving 1s. a mile for travelling expenses’. He voted for Burdett’s reform motion, 1 July. He had also voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and for inquiry into abuses of charitable foundations on Brougham’s motion, 23 June.6

Bernal was a prominent critic of repressive legislation in December 1819. On 19 Dec. he was admitted to Brooks’s Club, sponsored by Earls Fitzwilliam and Grey. On 22 and 23 Dec. he was opposition teller, proposing to limit the operation of the newspaper stamp duties bill and characterizing the blasphemous and seditious libels bill as ‘one of the most odious of coercive measures which ministers had thought proper to obtrude upon Parliament’. In 1820, when he did not offer at Lincoln, Tierney did not regard his Whig successor, Robert Percy Smith, as Bernal’s equivalent,7 but he found another seat. He died 26 Aug. 1854.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Lawrence Taylor / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Univ. Coll. Lib. London (Mocatta Lib), Anglo-Jewish archives, Hyamson coll. B1, ex. inf. Isabel Mordy and Timothy Wilson; Bevis Marks, Recs. ii. 101.
  • 2. Caribbeana, ii. 129; iii. 156, 296; v. 156.
  • 3. Bagenal, Life of Ralph Bernal Osborne, 4.
  • 4. See LINCOLN.
  • 5. Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 5 Feb. 1819.
  • 6. Morning Chron. 26 June 1819.
  • 7. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 5 Apr. 1820.