BENNETT, THOMAS, merchant, politician, and stipendiary magistrate; christened 15 Oct. 1788 in the parish of St James, Shaftesbury, Dorset, England, son of Thomas and Leah Bennett; d. 12 Feb. 1872 in Shaftesbury.
Thomas Bennett’s first position was in the British Commissariat Department just before the end of the Napoleonic wars. A few years later, probably in the early 1820s, he came to St John’s, Newfoundland, as a partner in the mercantile business that his brother, Charles Fox Bennett*, had just established. Charles Fox, the head of the firm, was the wealthier brother and an arch conservative. Thomas, perhaps more moderate in politics, also became a prominent member of the mercantile community in St John’s. In 1831 he signed a petition asking for representative government. When the system was introduced the following year, he was elected to the House of Assembly as the first member for Twillingate and Fogo. In 1834 when John Bingley Garland, first speaker of the house, was appointed to the council, a sharp contest for the speakership took place between the Liberal Dr William Carson* and the Conservative Thomas Bennett. Bennett won. Although in 1836 he was again returned for Twillingate and Fogo, the whole election was invalidated, after which Bennett, like many of his party, chose not to stand for re-election.
He had been appointed a commissioner of lighthouses in 1834, and in 1837 was appointed to the Board of Control to regulate road-building. Before the introduction of the Amalgamated Legislature [see John Kent] in 1842, Governor Sir John Harvey* was careful to assure the services of both Bennett brothers, whom he described as “intelligent and highly reputed.” An election had been called for December and Charles Fox had already announced his candidacy for St John’s, when Harvey, reasoning that the more moderate Thomas would stand a better chance of winning a seat in Liberal Catholic St John’s, promised Charles Fox a seat in the Legislative Council and urged Thomas to run in his stead. Once elected, Harvey would appoint him to the Executive Council as a representative from the assembly. Accordingly C. F. Bennett was appointed to the Legislative Council in January 1843 and Thomas, although defeated at the polls along with the other Conservative candidates, was appointed to the Executive Council in August 1843.
Bennett remained a member until the restoration of the usual form of representative government in 1848. Thereupon he retired from an active role in C. F. Bennett and Company and was appointed stipendiary magistrate at St John’s. He continued to be a prominent figure in the city, with a residence known as Mount Dorset, was an active member of the Church of England, a director of the St John’s Academy and of the St John’s Hospital. He was appointed by the governor in 1859 to investigate election disturbances at Harbour Grace. Following a riot in St John’s at the opening of the legislature in 1861, the Liberals blamed the two magistrates Peter W. Carter and Thomas Bennett for causing violence by calling out the troops to disperse the mob. In 1870, after his brother became prime minister, Bennett was pensioned off from the magistracy and retired to Dorsetshire.
Dorset County Record Office (Dorchester, Dorset, Eng.), records for the parish of St James, Shaftesbury. PANL, Newfoundland, Dept. of the Colonial Secretary, letter books, December 1832–June 1835, September 1836–June 1838. PRO, CO 194/83, 194/114. Newfoundland, House of Assembly, Journals, 1834, 87; 1871, app.9. Newfoundlander (St John’s), 6 Oct., 15, 22 Dec. 1842; 14 May 1861. Newfoundland Patriot (St John’s), 5 Oct. 1842; 30 Aug., 6 Sept. 1843. Public Ledger (St John’s), 2 Dec. 1836, 20 June 1837, 15 Feb. 1872. Hutchinson’s Newfoundland directory for 1864–65, comp. Thomas Hutchinson (St John’s, 1864), 73, 338, 339.