GASKELL, Benjamin (1781-1856), of Thornes House, nr. Wakefield, Yorks. and Clifton House, nr. Manchester, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1806 - 4 Feb. 1807
1812 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 28 Feb. 1781, 1st s. of Daniel Gaskell of Clifton Hall and Hannah, da. of James Noble of Lancaster. educ. Gateacre, nr. Liverpool; Manchester acad. 1796-7; by Rev. Thomas Belsham, Hackney, Mdx.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1800; L. Inn 1804. m. 17 June 1807, Mary, da. of Joseph Brandreth, MD, of 68 Rodney Street, Liverpool, 1s. suc. fa. 1788; cos. James Milnes† to Thornes House 1805. d. 21 Jan. 1856.

Offices Held


Gaskell, a ‘quiet’ Lancastrian who had inherited a Yorkshire estate in 1805, was again returned unopposed for Maldon on the independent interest at the general election of 1820.1 On his first venture on the hustings there in October 1806 one witness wrote that he was ‘evidently quite inexperienced, but did not appear to want understanding or decision of character’.2 Not known to have uttered a word in debate during his 14 years in the House, he continued to vote consistently with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry; but he never joined Brooks’s, and was far from being a thick and thin attender in this period.

He voted against administration on the civil list, 5, 8 May, the additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May, and the investigation of Queen Caroline’s conduct, 26 June. He divided against the aliens bill, 7 July 1820, 5 June 1822, 23 Mar., 2, 12 Apr. 1824. He was steady in support of Caroline, 23, 26 Jan., 6, 13 Feb. 1821. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He only rarely voted for retrenchment, as on 15 Mar. 1821, 2, 15, 16 May 1822, 17 Mar. 1823, 10 Apr. 1826; but he opposed the royal grants, 8, 18 June 1821, 30 May, 2, 6, 9, 13 June 1825. He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9, 10 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 26 Feb. 1824, 13, 27 Apr. 1826. He divided for reform of the judicial system, 9 May 1821, 26 June 1822, 7 June 1825, and for mitigation of the punishment for forgery, 4 June 1821. He voted for inquiry into Peterloo, 16 May 1821, and the remission of Henry Hunt’s* prison sentence, 22 Mar., 24 Apr. 1822. He divided for a reduction in the number of placemen in the Commons, 31 May 1821, and to deplore the current influence of the crown, 24 June 1822. He was in the minority of 36 against the proposed corn duties scale, 9 May, and voted to relax protection, 18 Apr. 1826. He voted for inquiries into the government of the Ionian Islands, 14 May, the lord advocate’s treatment of the Scottish press, 25 June, and the Calcutta bankers’ complaints, 4 July 1822. He divided against the Irish constables bill, 7 June 1822, for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May 1824, and against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He was in the minorities condemning the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824, and the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. He voted for the licensing of public houses, 27 June 1822, and tithe reform, 6 June 1825. He retired at the dissolution in June 1826, having given notice of this intention nine months earlier, when he stated that ‘circumstances over which I have no control ... would probably interfere very much with the discharge of my duty’.3

Gaskell lived abroad, 1827-8, but thereafter led ‘a life of quiet retirement and unostentatious goodness’ at Thornes, where William Ewart Gladstone†, the Eton and Christ Church friend of his only child James Milnes Gaskell (1810-73), Conservative Member for Wenlock, 1832-68, was a guest in 1829 and 1832. When Gladstone returned there in 1871 he experienced ‘a vivid recollection of the place as it was associated with much kindness received and with my first stepping out from a very retired childhood and youth into the world’.4 Gladstone was drawn to Gaskell’s wife, who mothered and inspired him, by a common interest in religion.5 Gaskell, whose brother Daniel was Liberal Member for Wakefield, 1832-7, was widowed in 1845 and died intestate at Thornes in January 1856. Administration of his estate was granted to his son.6

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Sharman Kadish


  • 1. C.M. Gaskell, An Eton Boy, p. xii; PROB 11/1425/371; Suff. Chron. 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. Essex RO, Bramston mss D/DLu 10/2/26.
  • 3. Colchester Gazette, 3 Sept. 1825.
  • 4. Gladstone Diaries, i. 257-60, 579-82; Gladstone to his Wife ed. A.T. Bassett, 189.
  • 5. Gladstone Autobiographica ed. J. Brooke and M. Sorensen, i. 146-7, 149-50; Add. 44161, f. 39; 44355, f. 202; 44357, ff. 185, 205.
  • 6. PROB 6/232/75.