Hawes, Benjamin (DNB00)

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HAWES, Sir BENJAMIN (1797–1862), under-secretary for war, was born in London in 1797. His father, Benjamin Hawes of the New Barge House, Lambeth, soap-boiler, was elected F.S.A., and died in Russell Square, London, in 1861. His mother's maiden name was Feltham. Benjamin was educated at Dr. Carmalt's school at Putney, and when of age entered into partnership with his father and uncle. He first held office as a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant for Surrey. He took an active part in the quarter sessions, and after the Reform Bill passed was elected for the newly created borough of Lambeth. This seat he held from 12 Dec. 1832 to the general election of 1847. He represented Kinsale from 11 March 1848 until his retirement in 1852. In his earlier career he meddled with many affairs which he did not understand, and exposed himself to ridicule, but with experience gained the respectful attention of the House of Commons. His oratorical powers were above mediocrity. Though not a member of the league, he was a strenuous advocate of the repeal of the corn laws. He worked hard in behalf of the penny postage system. It was owing to a motion of his in 1841 that the Fine Arts commission was appointed, and to him it is due that the British Museum was opened to the public on holidays. He was a supporter of the Thames tunnel scheme, and interested himself in the battle of the gauges. He was an early advocate of the electric telegraph, and made the first arrangement for the partnership between Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Sir C. Wheatstone in 1837. He had theories upon ventilation, and patronised Babbage's calculating machine. When the whigs came into office, he was appointed under-secretary of state for the colonies on 6 July 1846. He was transferred to the war department, and became the deputy-secretary on 31 Oct. 1851. In the following year he gave up his seat in parliament and turned his full attention to the duties of his office, in which he earned a reputation for ability and zeal. General Jonathan Peel stated that the adoption of the Armstrong gun was largely due to Hawes. When the experience of the Crimean war led to the remodelling of the war office, he took in 1857 the post of permanent under-secretary. For his services during the war he was created a K.C.B. on 5 Feb. 1856. He held office till his death, which took place at 9 Queen Square (now 26 Queen Anne's Gate), Westminster, on 15 May 1862.

In 1820 he married Sophia Macnamara, daughter of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel. She died on 17 Jan. 1878.

Hawes was the author of: 1. ‘A Narrative of an Ascent of Mont Blanc during the Summer of 1827 by Mr. W. Hawes and Mr. C. Fellows,’ 1828. 2. ‘The Abolition of Arrest and Imprisonment for Debt considered in Six Letters,’ 1836. 3. ‘Speech of B. Hawes, jun., in opposition to the second reading of the Bank of England Charter Bill,’ 1844. He also wrote a paper in the ‘Transactions of the Central Society of Education,’ 1838.

[Times, 16 May 1862 p. 9, 21 May p. 5; Francis's Orators of the Age, 1847, pp. 345–50; Gent. Mag. 1862, pt. ii. pp. 101–3.]

G. C. B.