Turtle Bunbury

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This history was commissioned in 2005 by the Greens of Ballyvolane House, County Cork, Ireland, one of the finest places you could possibly stay in Ireland.

For Benson Part 2, click here.

The Benson family originally hailed from Westmorland in the English Lake District where they were in possession of a property called The Fould "from the earliest mention of it by name". (1) The family were renowned for their clerical inclinations from the Tudor Age onwards. John Benson was vicar of Grasmere in 1550, and a Thomas Benson was his Curate. William Benson, Abbot of Westminster on the eve of the Protestant Reformation, was almost certainly a member of this family. The arms engraved upon Abbot Benson's brass in the Chapel of Saint Blaise in Westminster Abbey are the same as those borne by Barnard Benson of The Fould. And it is from Barnard that Ian and Wendy Benson of Tim's House at Ballyvolane descend.

Barnard Benson & the Gylpins

When Barnard was born in 1495, England was entering its second decade of peace under the Tudor monarch Henry VII whose victory over the Yorkists at Bosworth in 1485 finally put an end to the devastation of the Wars of the Roses. Barnard married twice. The identity of his first wife is unknown but she was mother to his eventual son and heir, Thomas. His second wife, Elizabeth Gylpin, came from nearby Kentmere Mansion. The Gilpyn - or Gilpin - family had been awarded the Kentmere estate by Baron Kendal during the reign of King John "for extraordinary services both in war and peace". Elizabeth's great-grandfather, William Gylpin, died at Bosworth while serving as a Captain in the Tudor army. Her uncle George Gylpin was Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to the States of Holland. Another uncle Bernard Gylpin was an eminent cleric in these times but caused great offence to the Queen when he rejected her offer of the Bishopric of Carlisle. Elizabeth bore Barnard a son, Francis, who went on to inherit The Fould, and three daughters, Dorothy, Alice and Jane. The girls were married respectively to Sir William Hutton, Kt, Lancelot Davies and James Braithwaite of Broomhead Hall. Sir William and Lady Dorothy Hutton's son and heir, Sir William Hutton, would go on to become chief steward to the Earl of Cumberland during the reign of James I.


Barnard died in 1562 and was succeeded at The Fould by Francis Benson, his only son by his second marriage. As Charles E. G. Pease observed in an email to me in September 2015: "One hundred years after Barnard Benson was known living at the Fold, his namesake and descendant, Barnard Benson was still farming there. The difference was, he became a Convinced Quaker, and for his refusal to pay tithes, was imprisoned at Lancaster and died there.... as 'arrested by the "steeple minister"..... and taken prisoner on ye 2nd or 3rd day and John Dixson on ye same day and by the same writ on 10th month year 1692 and remained a prisoner unto death. Barnard died on ye 23rd of 4mo 1694 and John Dixson was buried 29th of First month 1694.' The younger Barnard appears in numerous accounts of the period, as do many of the other related Quaker families in the Langdale, Grasmere and Hawkshead areas of that era.


The elder Barnard's firstborn son, Thomas Benson (1543-1610), built a new home, Benson Hall, at Scailthwaiterig near Kendal. Thomas also seems to have owned estates at Elterwater and Hugil, as well as the Manors of Ladyford and Kentmere. Thomas was born in 1543 and married during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The name of his wife is unknown. They had four sons and six daughters. Upon Thomas's death in Kendal on 5th May 1610, his estates were divided between his four sons. George, the eldest, succeeded to The Fould. William inherited Ladyford, Charles inherited Scailthwaiterig and Randall inherited Kentmere.

Rev. George Benson (1570-1647)

Thomas Bensons' eldest son, the Rev. George Benson, DD, was born in 1570. He matriculated from Queen's College Oxford on 17th December 1585 and subsequently became Vicar of Rock, Worcsestershire, and Canon of Hereford Cam. He was a Fellow of both Queen's College and Christ Church Oxford. His wife, Martha, was a daughter of Edmond Whitton, of Henley-on-Thames. He died in 1647 having had, with other issue, three sons, Thomas, Edward and George.

Edward and George Benson - A Holy Pair

Thomas is the son of most interest as it is from him that Ian and Wendy Benson descend. However, we must detour for a quick word on his younger brothers who both followed their father into the church. The second, Edward Benson, born in 1609, studied at Oxford and became Rector of Eastham and Treasurer of Hereford Cam. The youngest brother, George Benson, enjoyed a particularly eminent career. He matriculated from Queen's College Oxford in 1628 but was heavily penalized for his support of the Royalists during Cromwell's Commonwealth. Upon the restoration of Charles II, he was made Canon of Worcester and then Prebendary - and later Archdeacon - of Hereford. In 1672 he was made Dean of Hereford which influential post he retained for the next twenty years until his death. In 1680, he was also instituted as Rector of Cradley, Worcs, but resigned two years later in favour of his son John. His wife, Katherine, was a daughter of Samuel Fell, Dean of Christ Church. Dean Fell was a devout Royalist who took his own life soon after he heard of Charles I's execution. Katherine's brother John Fell became Bishop of Oxford and did much to beautify and extend the university town, employing the likes of Sir Christopher Wren to design new buildings. The Very Rev. George Benson died on 24th Aug 1692. His descendents continued to play a dominant role in the church during the 18th century with particularly close ties to Christ Church College, Oxford. They all fetched up as Vicars, Rectors and Prebendarys. One grandson, the Rev. Martin Benson, was Bishop of Gloucester from 1735 to 1752, while a granddaughter, Catherine, married the Rev. Thomas Seeker, the Archbishop of Canterbury credited with establishing Christianity in America.

Thomas Benson of Kingsford

Returning to Thomas Benson, the eldest son of the Rev. George and Martha Benson. He was born in 1607 but what he did with his life is unknown. In 1649 he purchased the property of Kingsford, Wolverley, Worcestershire, from Thomas Foley. The property was once home to William de Tracey, the man hired by Henry II to assassinate Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Thomas inherited considerable property in Henley and elsewhere from his mothers' Whitton forbears. The name of his first wife is unknown. She gave him a daughter, Martha (who married Edward Waldron of Wolverley) and at least four sons, George, John, Thomas and Arthur.

The Move to Ireland

All four sons moved to Co. Antrim and settled between Lisburn, Blaris (Hillsborough) and Ballycastle. The third son, Thomas, married Margaret Smythe, a sister of the Rt Rev William Smythe, Bishop of Kilmore, forefather to the Smyths of Barbavilla, from whom Katherine Bulbulia (nee Guinness) is descended. After the death of his first wife, the elder Thomas of Kingsford married secondly Elizabeth, widow of Philip Hunt. She had grown up in the rich grazing cattle country of Herefordshire where her parents, George and Elizabeth Karver, owned the farm of Buttas near the village of King's Pyon. He died on 3rd July 1681, having by her had two further sons, William and Edward. Like his half-brothers, William moved to Ireland and settled in Lisburn. It is not known precisely when he moved there but when he was married aged 23 in 1675, his wife, Ellen Higginson, was also described as "of Lisburn".

Lisburn in the 17th Century

Lisburn was a relatively young town when the Benson brothers arrived. It was sited on the chief of Killutagh's stronghold of Lisnagarvoch, seized following the collapse of the Gaelic Resistance in 1601 and granted to Sir Fulke Conway. By 1627, the settlement had 53 tenements, occupied by English and Welsh settlers. By the eve of the Confederate Wars, the town's basic street formation was in existence. Lisnagarvoch's name was allegedly changed to Lisburn when, despite massive loss of life, rebel forces reduced the town to ash during the rising of 1641. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Jeremy Taylor, the Royalist divine and scholar, was appointed Lord Bishop of Down and Connor in 1662. Considering their prominent ecclesiastical pedigree, it seems likely that the Benson brothers arrived in Lisburn as part of Bishop Taylor's retinue. It is worth noting that there is still a Benson Street in Lisburn to this day.

Death of William of Lisburn

William Benson died aged 33 on 25th July 1685 and was buried, alongside Saint Patrick, in Down Cathedral. The Cathedral had been granted its Charter by King James in 1609, at which it was decreed that it be dedicated to the Holy Trinity, as the ancient Celtic church had been before the arrival of the Normans. Rather than lose the connection with Saint Patrick, for whom it was named, the town itself assumed the name of Downpatrick. William's premature death meant he narrowly missed out on what must have been an astonishing spectacle when, during the winter of 1689-90, the Duke of Schomberg, set up his headquarters in Lisburn and quartered a large portion of his 10,000 strong Williamite army in the town.
Edward, Rector of Downpatrick

William and Ellen Benson had a son, Edward. He was only five when his father died but he would go on to matriculate from Trinity College Dublin in 1697 and later became Rector of Downpatrick, and Prebend of Down. In 1703, the Rev. Edward Benson married Jane Winder. Her father, the Rev John Winder, had succeeded Jonathan Swift as Prebend of Kilroot in May 1696. Winder, a friend and correspondent of Swift, was staunchly opposed to the Presbyterians. In 1714 he twice gave a sermon speaking out against 'the mischief of schism and faction', condemning the subversive nature of Presbyterianism. Dr Sacheverell, the arch English Tory, reputedly regarded Winder as 'an excellent preacher'. In 1715, following the defeat of the Irish Tories in the general election, the former Whig MP Edmund Stafford was installed as Sheriff of Co. Down. The Rev. Edward died on 14th September 1741 having had four sons and four daughters.

[Rev John Winder's father is sometimes said to have been Col. Cuthbert Winders but family historian Stephen Winder now believes his father was actually Peter Winders from Dearham in Cumbria who spent some time with his children in Glenarm Co Antrim.]

Leslie, Stronge, Portis and Agar

The three elder boys all went to Trinity College Dublin and joined the Church. The eldest, the Very Rev Hill Benson was born in 1704 and became Dean of Connor. He married Margaret Leslie, daughter of the Rev. Peter Leslie of Leslie House, Co. Antrim. The second brother, the Venerable Trevor Benson was Archdeacon of Down and Rector of Hillsborough; I will return to him below. The third brother, the Rev Arthur Benson (1715 - 1771), DD, became Rector of Monaghan and was married in July 1753 to Mary Stronge, daughter of the Rev. James Stronge, Rector of Tynan Abbey, and sister of Matthew Stronge, Mayor of Liverpool. (2) The youngest son William lived in Downpatrick and established himself as a merchant on Abbey Street in Dublin. He married Frances Portis, daughter of George McCartney Portis of Belfast, and their daughter Jane married Charles Agar, 1st Earl of Normanton and Archbishop of Dublin. (3)

Archdeacon Trevor Benson of Hillsborough

Edward and Jane's second son, Trevor Benson, was born in 1709 and matriculated from Trinity College Dublin on 15th April 1728. The Dublin of his day would have been alive to the mischief of his grandfather Winder's friend, Jonathan Swift, although the death of Stella in 1728 would bring a new layer of grief to the Dean's writings. Trevor went on to become Archdeacon of Down and Rector of Hillsborough. His first wife, Jane, was a daughter of Samuel Hutchinson and sister of the Rt Rev Samuel Hutchinson, Bishop of Killala. She bore him two sons, Samuel and Hill, and three daughters. The Archdeacon, who died in March 1772, subsequently married Mary Butler, and by her had issue, with a third son, William, who became a Captain in the Royal Navy and died in 1811, and two daughters, Margaret and Sophia. In 1778, Sophia Benson married John Blackwood, elder brother of the 2nd Baron Dufferin but died without issue.

Rev. Hill Benson & the Blessington Estates

The Benson's close connection to the diocese of Down and Connor soon brought them into favour with the influential Hills family, soon to become Marquess of Blessington. Like his father, the second son, the Rev. Hill Benson, obtained an MA from Trinity College Dublin and joined the Church. By dint of his connection with the Hillsboroughs, he became Rector of Blessington, and later of Kilcar. It is not known when he moved to Wicklow but at the reopening of Hillsborough Church in Co. Down in 1773, the Rev. Hill Benson is recorded as having said prayers while his father, Archdeacon Benson, preached the sermon. The fact his first name is Hill would suggest that he was some form of kinsman or perhaps a godson to Arthur Hill, 2nd Marquess of Downshire, and owner of both the Blessington and Hillsborough estates. In 1790, Hill Benson was transferred south to be agent to the Marquis's estates in County Wicklow. He was simultaneously appointed Vicar of St. Mary's Church in Blessington. Coinciding with the bloody years of the French Revolution, the 1790s was a heady decade in Irish politics. They began with the foundation of the Society of United Irishmen in 1791 and nearly exploded when Wolfe Tone arrived with a French fleet off Bantry Bay in December 1796. Bad weather prevented the invasion and the authorities began a major crackdown on all suspected United Irishmen.

As magistrate and vicar of Blessington, the Rev. Hill Benson was in constant receipt of valuable information about local disturbances and rebel sympathisers, particularly from William McCormack, a Castle spy, and John Smith, an Englishman and former member of the Belfast branch of the United Irishmen. In August 1797, word leaked that McCormack was preparing to give evidence against the local branch of the United Irishmen at the county assizes. Determined to prevent this "two to three hundred local men rushed into the town brandishing pikes and muskets". They surrounded McCormack's house and, despite the best efforts of the local yeomen, dragged the man out and murdered him. Hill Benson's house was attacked the same day. (4) The authorities swiftly offered £100 reward for any information that would lead to the arrest of the murderers, a reward supplemented by subscriptions from the local gentry and aristocracy. Although the number of willing informers in the Blessington area died down dramatically after McCormack's murder, Hill continued to supply Dublin Castle with vital information up until 1803. In September 1798 rebels again attacked the Vicar's house while he and the local yeomanry were forced to barricade themselves into St. Mary's Church for safekeeping.

In September 1801, the 2nd Marquisof Hillsborough died and was succeeded by his 13-year-old son, another Arthur. The boys' mother, Baroness Sandys of Ombersely, oversaw the running of the Hill estates for the next eight years during which time their financial status became dire. When the 3rd Marquess came of age in 1809, Hill Benson reported that the bonfires "on every hill and illumination in the very huts" were such that "dark as the night was, any person might have travelled through any part of the estate commodiously". But as Kathy Trant reveals in her excellent book, The Blessington Estate 1667-1908, the estate was by now in debt some £300,000 - perhaps as much as €12 million in today's currency. According to Trant, Hill "had a rather relaxed attitude to his position" during the Marquis's minority but, when the Marquis turned 21, "a more harassed note soon crept in, with the agent [ie: Hill Benson] at pains to assure the Marquis that he was working very hard at his duties". In December 1809, the Marquis fumed that not one farthing of his November rents had been lodged into his bank account and that he was still none the wiser as to what had been going on with his accounts for the previous two years. He called for the Vicar to provide the names of those tenants still owing him money so "that I may prevent in future any person from literally cheating me and alleging excuses for the non-payment of my right". Hill Benson did his best to sidestep the situation, claiming he was not a businessman. The Marquis answered that if that was the case, then he should not have accepted the post in the first place. He demanded that Hill "and every one of my agents and their trustees" be held personally accountable for the deals they struck during his minority. In an "ominous postscript" he warned the Vicar that "my patience is nearly exhausted and you will find it best for you to obey my order". Whatever Hill Bensons' intentions were is unknown but he was brusquely sacked in 1810 and subsequent retired to Inch House near Arklow in East Wicklow, where he was Rector of Kilcar.

The Rev. Hill Benson married Miss. Catherine Griffin of Dublin. He died on 21st March, 1837, having had six sons and four daughters. The only one of his sons to marry was the Rev. George Simpson Benson (1787 - 1863), Rector of Adamstown, Co Wexford. George's wife Anne was the daughter of William Lloyd Jones. Their son George Francis Benson (1821 - 1892) lived at Primrose Hill in Ballina. By his marriage to Kate Coneys, George was father to the Rev Arthur Benson, Rector of Castleconnell and Vicar of Ham, near Richmond in Surrey, where Anthony Blunt's father Stanley was once Vicar. The Rev. Benson was father to Sir Arthur Benson (1907 - 1987), Governor of Northern Rhodesia from 1954 - 59, and Nial S Benson, headmaster of the Cathedral School in Salisbury.

Samuel Benson (1734 - 1770)

We now return to Samuel Benson, brother of the luckless Rev. Hill Benson and elder son of the Venerable Trevor Benson by his first wife, Jane. Born in 1734, he had an address at Lisnacroy in Co. Armagh. In what must have been very trying circumstances for the family, Samuel died suddenly, the shock of his death apparently causing the death of his young wife while giving birth to their only child, James Benson of Fintona, Co. Tyrone.

James Benson (1770 - 1828) & the Move to Canada

Samuel's only son James became an orphan on the very day he died in 1770. He was baptised on 25th November 1770 and presumably raised by aunts and uncles, but no detailed records of his early life have been found. On 19th March 1803, he married Ann, daughter of Hugh Robinson, of Fintona. Their eldest son Thomas was born at Fintona on January 11th the following year; he went on to become 'one of the most public spirited and energetic men that ever lived' in Port Hope, Ontario. Twin boys arrived on 7th August 1805 - John Robinson Benson (of whom more anon) and Henry Benson (forefather of the Greens of Ballyvolane). The fourth son was the Hon. James Rea Benson (1807 - 1885), Senator of the Dominion of Canada and father to Maj-Gen Sir Frederick William Benson, KCB (1849 - 1916). (5) A fifth son was William Benson, Collector of Customs at Windsor. A sixth was Joseph W. Benson, M.D., a Professor in a Medical College, Chicago. One of James and Ann's daughters was Ann, wife of the Dungannon-born medical pioneer John R. Dickson, M.D., sometime superintendent of the Lunatic Asylum at Rockwood, Kingston, and later President of the Medical College, Kingston. Dickson also served as the first president of the Council of Medical Education and Registration of Upper Canada.

In 1816, 46-year-old James Benson took the courageous step of transporting his wife and ten children from County Tyrone to America. At first they settled at Lansingburgh, New York but, after three years, they relocated to Kingston, Upper Canada. James died in Kingston on Christmas Eve 1828. His widow survived him by 25 years and died at St. Catharines on August 30th 1854.

Captain Thomas Benson of Port Hope (1804 - 1857)

James and Ann's eldest son, Thomas Benson (1804 - 1857) was born at Fintona in 1804 and arrived in America with his family when he was 12 years old. At the age of 15, he was educated at Kingston where he became 'inclined to the legal profession'. However, his parents were opposed to such a career and urged him to 'enter upon mercantile life'. On December 10th 1827, he married Alice Maria Lowe, only daughter of Richard Lowe, Esq., of Adolphustown, County of Lennox. They had twelve children, many of whom became important players in Canadian politics. (6) In 1832, four years after his fathers death, he moved to Port Hope where he traded until 1837. When the Canadians broke out in Rebellion against the British later that same year, he took command as Captain of a Company of Volunteers, and was on duty at Chippawa and Navy Island until the disturbances of that year and the following were quelled. Captain Benson returned to duty when the rebellion recommenced in 1839 and held a commission as Captain and Paymaster in the 3rd battalion of Incorporated Militia. He was stationed at Niagara from the enrolment of that corps until it was disbanded in 1845. 'This battalion was commanded at first by Col: Thorne, and afterwards by Col. Kingsmill, and Captain Benson was a great favorite not only with them, but with the regiment. He possessed the fullest confidence of the commanding officers mentioned, and both addressed him very complimentary letters, expressing their high appreciation and admiration of him as an officer and a gentleman'.

From 1845 until 1853, he and his brothers settled at Peterborough on the Otonabee River in central-eastern Ontario, Canada, 125 kilometres (78 mi) northeast of Toronto. Peterbrough certainly had its attractions for the Irish in America. In 1822, the British Parliament approved an experimental emigration plan to transport poor Irish families to Upper Canada. The scheme was managed by Peter Robinson, a politician in York (present-day Toronto) who may have been a cousin of the Bensons. The town of Scott's Plains was re-named Peterborough in his honour and, in 1825, over 2000 immigrants arrived from Cork. Among the city's residents in the 1840s was Sandford Fleming, inventor of Standard Time and designer of Canada's first postage stamp. In Peterborough, Thomas ran a milling business. He became the town's first Mayor and established a reputation as a highly energetic, philanthropic and liberal minded member of the Council. He was devoted to the Church of England and a fervent supporter of the Upper Canada Bible Society but promoted toleration for other religions. In politics, the Mayor was a Liberal Conservative but he never sat for election. 'He always took a lively interest and a very active part in public doings of any consequence. He was especially useful in advancing all matters connected with education in the county, and was for some time Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Counties of Peterborough and Victoria'. In 1853 he returned to Port Hope where he became Secretary and Treasurer of the Peterborough and Port Hope Railway Company, later the Midland Railway of Canada. While on a business trip on behalf of the Company, on the On 12th March 1857, the Captain and 57 other passengers (including celebrated railway man Sam Zimmerman) were traveling on the Great Western Railway when the bridge over the Desjardins Canal near the City of Hamilton collapsed under the weight of their train. All passengers were killed. 'So awful was the calamity, so painful to contemplate was his death and so exalted was the esteem in which he was held in Port Hope, that few persons that were ever buried there had a greater number of sincere and profoundly smitten mourners'. (5C)

Henry William Benson (1805 - 1874)

Henry William Benson was born, along with his twin brother John, on 7th August 1805. We can presume they were born at Fintona and that they too emigrated to North America with their family in 1816. On 26th November 1829, eleven months after his fathers' death, he married Mary Wilson, mother of his sons, Thomas and John, of whom we treat presently. HW Benson is described as a gentleman but alas this author knows little else of him, save that he died on 19th March 1874, not long before his rather more famous twin.

John Robinson Benson - The Miller of Peterborough (1805 - 1875)

Henry's twin brother John Robinson Benson settled in Peterborough, Ontario, where he managed John Brown's General Merchandise store after it opened in 1827. On September 21st 1832, he was married at Douro, Ontario, to Catharine E. Lee. She was born in 1815, either in New York or in Virginia where her father was a cousin of the famous American General Robert E Lee. (5D). In the autumn of 1838 John R Benson was amongst three civilians appointed by the Lieutenant Governor to serve as Captains with the Peterborough Militia as part of Upper Canada's response to the raid on Prescott. (5E) After the Rebellion, he seems to have returned to running one of Peterborough's three flour mills until at least 1848. In 1851, John and Catharine were living with their four sons and six daughters in a one and a half-story frame house at "Conc. 1, Lot 16" in the Smith and Harvey Township of Peterborough County. They seem to have been Wesleyan Methodists although their eldest daughter, Annie, was Church of England. A contemporary living at Smith Township in this time was the artist, naturalist and author, Catherine Parr Traill. By 1867, John R. Benson was "still a well-known citizen". (5F) By 1867, he had leased his flouring mill to Messrs. Nicholls & Hall who manufactured 20,000 barrels of flour annually. In his 60s he experienced a new lease of life, first as coroner for Peterborough County, and later, in 1870, during the first Riel Rebellion when he commanded the boats and voyageurs that set off with Col. Garnet J. Wolseley's Red River Expedition, via the Great Lakes, to Fort Garry. Wolseley's force consisted of 400 British regulars and 800 Ontario and Quebec militia men. They reached Fort Garry on August 24th 1870 and found the fort deserted by Riel. The British quickly returned to Ontario and Colonel John Benson was put in charge of the militia left to garrison the fort. He died of inflammation at Peterborough on 10th November 1875, aged 70. He is buried at Little Lake Cemetery, Peterborough. His widow died at Winnipeg of old age in 1899 and was buried beside him. They had eleven children, most of whom settled in Winnipeg from the 1870s.Their fourth daughter, Alicia Benson, married John Green, a lawyer in Peterborough. For more on this branch, see 'The Bensons of Port Hope'.

Mary Hudspeth Benson & Abe Lincoln

Both HWB's sons studied at Queen's University, Ontario. In 1866, the elder son Thomas Benson (1831-1867) married Mary Lucy Hudspeth, widow of Robert (or possibly Thomas) Hudspeth.

Mary's father, Oren H Strong (sometimes Orwen Strong), was born in Shaftsbury Bennington in Vermont in about 1810, eldest son of Ozem Strong and Clarissa Keeler. The Strongs descended from an early English adventurer, John Strong of Chard in Somersetshire who settled in Massachusetts in the 1630s. Mary's mother, Orpha Bogue was born in Pittsford Vermont. Mary was the third of five children. She was born in Vermont in 1824 but moved to Canada at an early age with her parents. Her eldest sister Caroline married John Platt and died young. Her next eldest sister Corinthia married Coburg postmaster Thomas Scott in 1840, had seven children and was widowed in 1866, the same year Mary married Dr. Benson. Mary's youngest sister Martha lived in Coldwater and died unmarried. Their only brother, William Gustavus Strong was born in Canada in 1830, became a merchant in Coburg and was married in 1851 to Anna Eliza, daughter of Dr. Matthew Craig Gilchrist of Colborne, Ontario. (See Elizabeth Sutherland Page on Ancestry for more).

Mary Hudspeth Benson may well have been the lady of that name who achieved fame for her interception of letters relating to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She testified at the trials of John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt, but had to flee to Canada because of attempts on her life. [See Appendix A at the end of this article].

Mary married Thomas Hudspeth, a prominent lawyer and father of her four children, including the future Senator. She lived in Jersey City and later moved to Millington, an area of Long Hill Township (formerly Passaic Township) in Morris County (near Morristown), some 25 miles west from Jersey City (and accessible by train since 1873). She first started visiting Millington with her son Robert when he bought an 18th century farmhouse and property here in 1890 as a summer residence. In 1902, after her husband's death, she moved to Millington with her four children. In Millington, she married Dr. Benson whose 'sudden death' aged 35 left her a widow for the second time. This may well have been our Thomas Benson.

One source states that Dr. Benson was born in Coldwater, Michigan. His death seems to have prompted his younger brother John Robertson Benson to migrate to Australia soon after. Mary was a well-known benefactor for Jersey City and a member of the Jersey City Woman's Club. She was instrumental in establishing the All Saints' Church in Millington (completed in 1906) and in securing a parkland at Little Italy Park for the city's children. The 'Grand Old Woman' died in New Jersey aged 80 in December 1904. Her daughter and grand-daughters lived in the house for many years and were all active members of All Saints. The house still stands and is on the National Historic Register, in part due to Mrs. Benson's importance as a social reformer in Jersey City. A fountain in the park was subsequently unveiled to her memory and the park itself was renamed Mary Benson Park. She was survived by her son, Robert S. Hudspeth, who was born in Coburg, Ontario, in 1853. As a Democratic Senator and founding father of Hudspeth & Carey, Senator Hudspeth became one of the most prominent figures in New Jersey. His wife was the widow of Robert Beggs, one of Jersey's best known lawyers.

[See APPENDIX at bottom of page, as well as Mary Hudspeth Benson's obituary in Trenton Times, December 5th 1904. With thanks to the Rev. Victoria Geer McGrath, Rector of All Saints' Church, Millington].

Dr J.R. Benson (1834-1885) - The Australian Politician

HWB's younger son, Dr. John Robinson Benson, was born in Ontario in 1834. He studied at Queen's University, Ontario, obtaining his BA in 1853 and an MD five years later in 1858. It is not known exactly why or when he moved to Australia but the Irishman was born with travelling genes.

On Christmas Eve 1866, he was married at St Paul's Church of England, Rockhampton, Queensland. His wife was Bertha D'Arcy (d. 1921), fourth daughter of William Francis D'Arcy of Newton Abbot, Devon, England. Her brother was the powerful oil and gold magnate, William Knox D'Arcy. Bertha would become a shareholder in the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company on its formation in 1886.

Shortly after the marriage, Dr. John Benson, Ch.M, MD, set up a medical practice in Rockhampton. In April 1870 he was nominated to represent Clermont, a small gold town in North Queensland. Despite squatter opposition he was elected to the Legislative Assembly by this small electorate of under two hundred voters with a majority of twenty-one. "Dr. Benson", commented the Brisbane Courier, "appears to be a favourite of the townspeople". In his maiden speech he declared his belief that he was "the first to secure the return of a member to represent the working class in the House, and now he himself had been returned by the same class of men". Insistent that a government should represent more than one interest, Dr. Benson sat on the Opposition benches facing the squatter-dominated government of Sir Charles Lilley. He proposed that crown lands, then largely held by squatters under lease, should be thrown open for free selection which, he thought, would attract immigrants with some capital.

During his time in Canada, Dr. Benson had seen railways built cheaply to open vast tracts of land for the small selector. He now advocated the same policy for Queensland. Believing North Queensland would receive no justice until it was separated from South Queensland, Dr. Benson quickly roused the ire of squatting interests in the Darling Downs and Moreton Bay Districts who dominated parliament. He was defeated by a squatter, Oscar de Satgé, in the September 1870 elections after a carefully organized campaign against him. Two months later, he was appointed government medical officer at Gympie at a salary of £30. His varied activities in the district indicated his wide interests and sympathies and he built up a large private practice. Appointed a Commissioner of the Peace in 1876, he acted as returning officer for Gympie in the 1877 elections. When an Agricultural Society was formed at Gympie the Brisbane Courier, 21 April 1877, commented, "Dr. Benson who, like Oliver Goldsmith, is overflowing, not with vanity, but with energy and perseverance, was elected president of the society". He resigned from government service in 1884 and left for Melbourne. He died at St Kilda on 25 July 1885, apparently as a result of a riding accident. He was 51 years old. His probate was sworn at £6800. He left a widow, seven sons and two daughters.

Bertha's Return

Financially buoyed by the flotation of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company, the Doctor's widow Bertha Benson subsequently returned to England with her brood of nine and settled at Primley Park at Torquy in South Devon. (6) The house burned down during this time - "must have been a good party", suggests her grandson, Captain Ian Benson - and Bertha later went to live in Bath. Bertha was small, not unlike Wendy, but perfectly able to handle her seven sons. She would belt them with whatever she had. When she got really mad, one of them would pick her up and not put her down again until she quietened. Then the others would run off and he would drop her and then he would run off too. At any rate, the seven brothers secured seven brides - in fact, two had two wives. 'It all seems a long time ago now', recalled her great-granddaughter Wendy in 2006 who has miniatures of many of them. 'They were all very familiar to us once. We knew all these people but they become history when you get to the generation after". Bertha Benson died in 1921.

* The farm where they initially lived was later home to the Whitley family. Herbert Whitley converted the demesne into the Paignton Zoo Environmental Park.

Dr. D'Arcy Benson (1867 - 1926)

Dr. John and Bertha Benson's eldest son was Dr. Henry Porter D'Arcy Benson, MD, Ch.M, FRCS, FRCP Edin. He had "a lot of rather imposing letters after his name', observes his granddaughter Wendy Benson. He was born in Australia on 19th November 1867. His father died when he was 18 years old, after which he returned to Great Britain with his mother and brothers and enrolled at Edinburgh University.

On 5th October 1892, he married Mary ('May') Louisa Hawkes, only daughter of Samuel Hawkes Gabriel, of Carne in Wiltshire. He practiced first at Grosmont, Hereford.

On Saturday, Oct 20, 1894, The Times listed a number of partnerships dissolved that year. Amongst these was Benson & Head, described as a partnership between "H.P. D'Arcy Benson and J.H. Head, medical practitioners, Grosmont, Monmoutshire, and Ewyes Harold, Herefordshire". Dr. D'Arcy Benson subsequently had a large practice at St. Peter's Port in Guernsey. He was a keen yachtsman and, as owner of the 20-ton cutter, May, he made many cruises along the French and English coasts. One imagines that his ship might have passed that of Erskine Childers during the night.

In 1911 he was obliged to retire from active medical practice when seriously infected by a patient whom he was operating on. For a time he was physician to the Farnham House Mental Home in Finglas, Co. Dublin, but the state of his health made it necessary for him to move on. During World War One he served with the rank of temporary Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Dr. Benson appears to have separated from his wife during this time, an unhappy break up that led to the loss of many family heirlooms. There were suggestions that they had divorced but an item in Personals page of The Times on May 07, 1936 refers to his widow and indicates that she was still based at Farnham House.

Dr. Benson is said to have returned to Australia after the separation although Burke's maintains that it was South Africa. He died aged 59 in Kimberley, South Africa, on 6th October 1926. The cause of his death was "broncho-pneumonia". His widow survived him until 5th December 1940. His eldest son D'Arcy Benson was by then a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy. His second son Geoffrey was a Captain in the Royal Ulster Rifles and both John and Wilfrid, also Great War veterans, had set themselves up as doctors.

Dr. John Benson & Beryl Fulton

At the time of his death in 1926, Dr. H.P. D'Arcy Benson left four sons - (Patrick) D'Arcy, Eric John, Wilfrid and Geoffrey.

A fifth son Arthur Vivyan Benson was born in 1902 but died in 1906, aged four, from enteritis. Mary Lofts found his grave at La Foulon cemetery in 2014.

D'Arcy Benson, the eldest, was born in 1894, became a naval officer, fathered Wendy Benson and to him we will return. His three brothers are also dealt with below.


The second brother (Eric) John Benson was born in the summer of 1895 and served as a lieutenant with the Royal Army Service Corps during the First World War. He obtained a licence from both the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians and, like his father and grandfather, ran a medical practice. Thanks to Sid Barker who unearthed this one:

HMS Crocus Log Book - 6 December 1923 - Place Lat 26.5, Long 55.1

Cautioned Surgeon Lieutenant EJ Benson for disobedience in exceeding his Wine Bill on the 2nd 3rd and
4th of December contrary to my standing orders: he having been previously cautioned

On 5th November 1925 he married Beryl Helen, youngest daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Carre Fulton of the Durham Light Infantry. They lived for a time at Prestbury, 12 Cliveden Mead, Maidenhead, but he later moved to Ovingdean, Sussex. They have descendents living today, including Mary Lofts and Brita Benson. Colonel Fulton is buried at La Foulon cemetery. Beryl's brother Cecil John Fulton served with the Guernsey Light infantry and died in the Great War in 1916 aged 20; he is buried in France.

Wilfrid Benson

The third son, Wilfrid Benson, was apparently a doctor but seems to have been written out of the family records, possibly owing to 'Uncle Bill's" alcoholic dependency. He should not be confused with Wilfrid Benson, the international diplomat from Essex who was operating at this time also.

Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Benson (1897-1970)

The youngest son, Geoffrey Benson, DSO, OBE, was born ten days before Christmas 1897. He joined the army on his 18th birthday and served in France and Belgium. After the war, he was educated at Elizabeth College in Guernsey where his father lived. He went on to Trinity College Dublin and then to the Royal Military College of Sandhurst.

On 17th August 1929 he married Dorothy Herbert Douglas. She was the sister of his elder brother's wife, Margerie, and the youngest daughter of an Australian surgeon, Dr. Alfred W Douglas, MD, of Cootamundra, and his Dublin-born wife.

Geoffrey duly joined the Royal Ulster Rifles, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was awarded the OBE in 1939. During the Second World War, he again saw action in France and Belgium, commanding the 2nd Ethiopian Battalion. He was present at Dunkirk, where he was badly shot up, and was later mentioned in despatches. He subsequently served in Sudan and Eritrea with the Sudan Defence Force. He and his wife lived near the small village of Pembridge in Herefordshire. He died on July 14th 1970 at Kington in Herefordshire.


1. Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiq and Arch Soc
2. Click for more on the Stronge family
3. On 22nd November 1776, William and Frances Benson's daughter Jane (1757 - 1826) married the Rt Rev Charles Agar, DD, 1st Earl of Normanton. Agar began life as a younger son of a country squire from Gowran, Co. Kilkenny. By the time of his marriage to Jane, he was Bishop of Cloyne. Three years later he became Archbishop of Cashel and in 1801 he became Archbishop of Dublin. Malcolmson had described him as "the Church's leading spokesman in its efforts to resist the progressive dismantling of the Penal Laws against Irish Roman Catholics". He was "the leading defender of a Church Establishment under frequent political attack from anti-clerical or greedy Anglicans in the Irish House of Commons, as well as from Roman Catholics, who remained outside parliament until twenty years after his death, but were restored to the parliamentary franchise in 1793". He was created Baron Somerton in 1795, Viscount Somerton in 1800, and Earl of Normanton in 1806, and died possessed of an estate which yielded annual rents £10,000 and comprised approximately £350,000 in investments. Lord Normanton died on 14th July 1809.
4. Early 19th century estate maps show this house to have been on the site of the present day Downshire Hotel. We cannot be sure whether the present house was built in Hill Benson's time - no records have as yet turned up among the Downshire papers as to the precise date for the building. Kathy Trant believes it dated to the end of the 18th century when the 1st Marquis revamped the town but the national inventory of architectural heritage gives c1820 - which would predate Hill Bensons time.
5. Senator James Rea Benson was born at Fintona in 1811 and came to America when he was 5. In 1836, he married Marianne Ingersoll of Ingersoll Town in Oxford County where he had a grist mill. He died at Ottawa on Mar. 18, 1885 and he and his wife are buried at Victoria Lawn Cemetery, St. Catharines. His son was Sir Frederick Benson whose Service Biography reads as follows: Volunteer, Fenian raids in Canada 1866; joined 21 Hussars 1869; transferred to 12 Royal Lancers 1876; Staff College 1880; Capt, 5 Dragoon Guards 1880; transferred to 17 Lancers 1881; Aide-de-camp to Lt Governor, North West Frontier, India 1877; Bde Maj, Poona, India 1882-1884; Garrison Instructor, Bengal, India 1884-1890; Commander, Egyptian Cavalry 1892-1894; Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (Instruction) Dublin, Ireland 1895-1898; Assistant Adjutant General, Chief Staff Officer, South Eastern District 1898-1900; Assistant Adjutant General 6 Div, South African Field Force 1900-1901; Inspector General of Remounts 1903-1904; Director of Transport and Remounts 1904-1907; Maj Gen in charge of Administration 1907-1909; retired 1909
5B. As to Captain Thomas and Alice Benson's twelve children: 'The eldest daughter is the wife of Thomas R. Merritt, of Rodman Hall, St. Catharines; the eldest son, James Binley Benson, died in 1876 at Hamilton, Bermuda, whither he had gone to recruit his health; and three other daughters and three sons are still living. One daughter is unmarried; she is the wife of Calvin Brown, of St. Catharines, and the other is the wife of Thomas Richard Fuller, of Toronto, son of the Lord Bishop of Niagara. The eldest surviving son is Thomas Moore Benson, Barrister-at-law, Port Hope, a Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario, and one of the leading men in his profession in the County of Durham. His first wife was Mary Edith, eldest daughter of Rev. John McCaul, LL.D., President of University College, Toronto, and his present wife is Laura A., daughter of the Lord Bishop of Niagara. The other surviving sons are Richard Lowe Benson, LL.B., Deputy Sheriff of Northumberland and Durham; and Lieut. Col. Frederic Albert Benson, of the 46th Battalion Volunteer Militia, Port Hope'. Further details on this branch of the family can be found by clicking on this site - Thomas Benson Family.
5C. Much of this is taken from 'The Canadian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men', Ontario Volume, 1880
5D. Daniel Lee, father of a large family, a sawyer employed at J. R. Benson's Mills drowned in the Otonabee River, Peterborough Co., on July 24th 1838.
5E. On November 16th 1838, the government of Upper Canada raised an Embodied Militia Force, Seventh Provisional Battalion at Peterborough consisting of six companies of fifty men under the command of Col. Alexander McDonell and duties in great part carried out by Maj. Cowall. Captain John R. Benson was one of three men so appointed. "Backwoodsman and Peterborough Sentinel" Jan. 11, 1839 cited after Poole (1867). A Sketch of the Early Settlement of Peterborough, p 34.
5F. Poole (1867). A Sketch of the Early Settlement of Peterborough, p 17
6. Jacqueline Bell, 'Benson, John Robinson (1836 - 1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, Melbourne University Press, 1969, p. 144.
7. "John Benson of Heathcote Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire" is listed in The Times of Jan 12, 1952 as one of the 23 people killed when an Aer Lingus Dakota crashed into Snowdonia the night before.
8. A training college with a Church Foundation Trust was established in Cheltenham in 1847. Separate Schools of Art and Science were established in the middle of the nineteenth century in both Cheltenham and Gloucester. By the time of Percy's graduation, mergers had brought these two disciplines together. Colleges of Cookery and Domestic Science were established in 1890and a technical college and colleges of art and design soon after. The teacher training college established in Cheltenham became two separate colleges in the 1920s called St Paul's College of Education and St Mary's College of Education. In 1992 the College was given the right to award its own first and taught postgraduate degrees and in 1998 it was given research degree awarding powers. In 2001 it became the University of Gloucestershire.

Appendix A - Mary Hudspeth Benson & the Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial

"John Wilkes Booth having entered into this conspiracy in Canada, as has been shown, as early as October, he is next found in the city of New York, on the 11th day, as I claim, of November, in disguise, in conversation with another, the conversation disclosing to the witness, Mrs. Hudspeth, that they had some matter of personal interest between them; that upon one of them the lot had fallen to go to Washington; upon the other to go to Newbern. This witness, upon being shown the photograph of Booth, swears "that the face is the same " as that of one of those men, who, she says, was a young man of education and culture, as disappeared by his conversation, and who had a sear, like a bite, near the jaw-bone. It is a fact proved here by the Surgeon-General, that Booth had such a scar on the side of his neck. Mrs. Hudspeth heard him say he would leave for Washington the day after to-morrow. His companion appeared angry because it had not fallen on him to go to Washington. This took place after the Presidential election in November. She can not fix the precise date, but says she was told that General Butler left New York on that day. The testimony discloses that General Butler's army was, on the 11th of November, leaving New York. The register of the National Hotel shows that Booth left Washington on the early morning train, November 11, and that he returned to this city on the l4th. Chester testifies positively to Booth's presence in New York early in November. This testimony shows most conclusively that Booth was in New York on the 11th of November. The early morning train on which he left Washington would reach New York early in the afternoon of that day. Chester saw him there early in November, and Mrs. Hudspeth not only identifies his picture, but describes his person. The sear upon his neck, near his jaw, was peculiar, and is well described by the witness as like a bite. On that day Booth had a letter in his possession which he accidentally dropped in the street car in the presence of Mrs. Hudspeth, the witness, who delivered it to Major-General Dix the same day, and by whom, as his letter on file before this Court shows, the same was transmitted to the War Department, November 17, 1864. That letter contains these words :

"DEAR LOUIS: The time has at last come that we have all so wished for, and upon you every thing depends. As it was decided, before you left, we were to cast lots; we accordingly did so, and you tire to be the Charlotte Corday of the 19th century. When you remember the fearful, solemn vow that was taken bv us, you will feel there is no drawback. Abe must die, and now. You can choose your weapons-the cup, the knife, the bullet. The cup failed us once, and might again. Johnson, who will give this, has been like an enraged demon since the meeting, because it has not fallen upon him to rid the world of the monster. * * * You know where to find your friends. Your disguises are so perfect and complete, that, without one knew your face, no police telegraphic dispatch would catch you. The English gentleman, Harcourt, must not act hastily. Remember he has ten days. Strike for your home, strike for your country; bide your time,but strike sure. Get introduced; congratulate him; listen to his stories (no, many more will the brute tell to earthly friends); do anything but fail, and meet us at the appointed place within the fortnight. You will probably bear from me in Washington. 'Sanders is doing us no good in Canada. "CHAS. SELBY."

The learned gentleman (Mr. Cox), in his very able and carefully considered argument in defense of O'Laughlin and Arnold, attached importance to this letter, and, doubtless, very clearly saw its bearing upon the case, and, therefore, undertook to show that the witness, Mrs. Hudspeth, must be mistaken as to the person of Booth. The gentleman assumes that the letter of General Dix, of the 17th of November last, transmitting this letter to the War Department, reads that the party who dropped the letter was heard to say that he would start to Washington on Friday night next, although the word "next" is not in the letter; neither is it in the quotation which the gentleman makes, for he quotes it fairly; yet he concludes that this would be the l8th of November.

Now, the fact is, the 11th of November last was Friday, and the register of the National Hotel bears witness that Mrs. Hudspeth is not mistaken; because her language is, that Booth said he would leave for Washington day after to-morrow, which would be Sunday, the 13th, and if in the evening, would bring him to Washington on Monday, the l4th of November, the day on which, the register shows, he did return to the National Hotel. As to the improbability which the gentleman raises, on the conversation happening in a streetcar, crowded with people, there was nothing that transpired. Although the conversation was earnest, which enabled the witness, or could have enabled any one, in the absence of this letter, or of the subsequent conduct of Booth, to form the least; idea of the subject-matter of their conversation. The gentleman does not deal altogether fairly in his remarks touching the letter of General Dix ; because, upon a careful examination of the letter, it will be found that he did not form any such judgment as that it was a hoax for the Sunday Mercury, but he took care to forward it to the Department, and asked attention to it; when, as appears by the testimony of the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Dana, the letter was delivered to Mr. Lincoln, who considered it important enough to indorse it with the word "Assassination," and file it in his office, where it was found after the commission of this crime, and brought into this Court to bear witness against his assassins.

With thanks to Adam Green, Ian Benson, Wendy Benson, Chris Heath, Julia Elcock, Carrie Lee-Baker, Harriet D'arcy-Kent, Piers John D'Arcy-Kent, Caroline Esposito, Elizabeth Lewis, Rev. Victoria Geer McGrath, Mary Lofts, Charlotte Benson and Sue Squirrell.

For Benson Part 2, click here.