Tuesday, July 31, 2018

John Dent Esquire

by Lauren Gilbert

John Dent Esquire was born August 21, 1761, 2nd son (but 1st surviving son) of Robert Dent (1731-1805) of London and Clapham, who was a banker. Robert Dent became a partner of Child’s Bank in 1763, when Robert Child became senior partner. John’s mother was Jane Bainbridge of St. James, Westminster. An old Westmoreland family with property in Appleby, his father was the son of a younger son of Robert Dent of Trainlands (1651-1702) and may have been a schoolmaster before he was hired as a clerk at Child’s Bank. Robert Dent purchased a house in Clapham, Surrey, and a share in the manor of Cockerham near Lancaster. John was initiated as a Freemason in 1788. As a Freemason, John served as Provincial Grand-Master of Worcestershire from 1792-1826 and as Grand Treasurer of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1813-1826.

John was married October 29, 1800 to Anne Jane Williamson, daughter of John Williamson, a brewer, who was also a justice of the peace and served as Mayor of Liverpool 1761-1762. He built Roby Hall near Liverpool. Anne and her sister Mary were co-heiresses of their father’s estate. John and Anne had 5 sons and 5 daughters.

John was taken into the firm of Child’s Bank in1795, and, like his father, became a partner in 1805 (the year his father died). He acquired a share of the manor of Cockerham, although he did not live in it. He also acquired a manor house on a cliff near Barton on the Hampshire coast. The family had a townhouse in Clapham; John also lived at the manor in Hampshire when Parliament was in recess.

John served as a Member of Parliament for about 30 years: he represented Lancaster (which includes Liverpool) from 1790-1812, and Poole (in Dorset on the coast). An active and diligent member, he was not considered a great speaker but was also not considered a poor one either. Serving during Pitt’s ministry, he generally supported the ministry but went his own way on certain issues. One issue which invoked strong feelings was his opposition to the abolition of the slave trade in 1793 and again in 1796 (as a representative of a constituency that included a major slave port, Liverpool, this was not surprising), supporting Col. Isaac Gascoyne who was married to his wife’s sister Mary and represented the constituency of Liverpool. He based his opposition to abolishing the slave trade on (among other things) the ideas that the abolishment of the slave trade would injure the planters who owned and relied on slave labour and that the slaves needed to be prepared for freedom before experiencing it. The issue was argued heatedly through the 1790’s; the slave trade was finally abolished March 25, 1807.

Another issue regarding which John Dent Esquire felt strongly was the Dog Tax. Byron and others referred to him as “Dog Dent” because, on April 5 1796, John proposed a tax on dogs, in support of which he followed up with vigour (he envisioned the elimination of nuisance dogs that were annoying property owners, and a tax affecting the rich with the funds raised being used for poor relief). Although Dent’s measure was not initially successful as it was considered unreasonable, Pitt later revised the measure and in 1798 it was combined in a bill that included the dog tax with taxes on carriages, horses (saddle and carriage) and male servants, to raise money for war expenditures. John supported the Bank of England in late 1796-early 1797 and stood against the establishment of a new bank. The records indicate that, throughout his career, John was a dedicated and busy Member of Parliament, contributing his thoughts and speaking on a wide range of issues. After Pitt’s government fell, he ultimately transferred his loyalty to Canning. In 1805, John declined the offer of a baronetcy.

In 1811, John Dent Esquire was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of London. He was a serious bibliophile (a catalogue of his impressive library was compiled in 1825). He was one of the eighteen founding members of the Roxburghe Club. (For more on the Roxburghe Club, go HERE.) As a member of the Roxburghe Club, he presented 23 books to each of the members (these books were reprints of rare texts, which were produced and bound at the giver’s expense to each member).

A copy of a portion of a rare print by Visschyer..."
the publisher is indebted to the liberality ofJohn Dent Esq; M.P. and F.A.S;
in whose magnificent library it is deposited." 

In the general election of 1812, John canvassed for the seat representing Poole but had to withdraw. Although there are indications that a seat for Petersfield was offered to him, he apparently refused it. In 1814, John changed his mind about the baronetcy and asked for it, but it was too late and the baronetcy was not awarded. In 1818, he stood for and won the seat representing Poole and held this seat until 1826.

In his later years, John suffered from tic douloureux. He suffered a great deal from this condition. He supposedly tried to kill himself in 1825 by jumping off a cliff near his villa (the cliff was too low, so the fall didn’t kill him). This condition is known today as Trigeminal Neuralgia and is a condition of the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve in the face (there is one of these nerves on each side of the face). This disorder causes sudden, intense pain, usually on one side of the face, without warning, and is considered to be one of the most painful conditions known. The cause is not known, so there is no way to prevent the attacks. Although modern medicine provides some measure of relief today, little could have helped him except possibly laudanum.

John wrote his will July 29, 1824; his wife Anne was beneficiary. He died Nov 14, 1826. In his obituary, which appeared in the February edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine, his hiring at Child’s was attributed to “Accident and superior penmanship...” (1) His library, which was extolled in his obituary, was sold at auction March-May of 1827. His will was recorded March 5, 1827. His widow Anne died May 20, 1856.

(1) From The Gentleman's Magazine: And Historic Chronicle from January to June 1827 (GoogleBooks) cited below.

Sources include:

eMedicineHealth. “Tic Douloureux (Trigeminal Neuralgia)”. HERE

GoogleBooks. The Gentleman’s Magazine: And Historic Chronicle From January to June 1827. Volume XCVII Part the First HERE; British Freemasonry 1717-1813, Volume 5 HERE; A Catalogue of the Library of John Dent, Esq., M.P. F.R.S. HERE; A History of British Taxes and Taxation in England: From Earliest Times to the Present Day, Vol. III Direct Taxes and Stamp Duties by Stephen Dowell, pp. 293-304. HERE; Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals, p. 165. [Poem: "Dear Doctor I have Read your Play]

History of Parliament Online. “Dent, John (?1761-1826) of Clapham, Surr; Cockerham, Lancs; and Barton Cottage, nr Christchurch, Hants.” HERE

National Archives. "Will of John Dent Esq." Prob11-1722-272.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online. "Dent, John (1761-1826) by D. R. Fisher. First published September 23, 2004, this version May 26, 2016. (Thanks to Jacqueline Reiter who generously assisted me with this.) HERE

Image: Wikimedia Commons. (Image in public domain) HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband, with roses, hibiscus, plumeria and heliconias blooming and fresh pineapple ripening in the yard. She is working on her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. Her first published book, HEYERWOOD: A NOVEL is still available through Amazon and other fine booksellers. She has a BA in English with a minor in Art History and is a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. You can find more information on her website HERE.


  1. Fascinated by this post as I have Dent ancestors with similarities/connections - banking connections, anti-slavery, brewing etc. But they are East Anglia/Yorkshire.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting.


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