Benjamin Hawes - Member of Parliament

Member of Parliament

Hawes became a magistrate for Surrey in 1828 and was elected as a Member of Parliament for Lambeth at the 1832 general election. As a member of parliament he proposed radical changes in several areas, promoted technical advances, and was the instigator in 1841, and an initial member of, the Royal Fine Art Commission. Though not a member of the Anti-Corn Law League, he was an advocate of the repeal of the Corn Laws. He worked on behalf of the penny postage system; he was a supporter of the Thames tunnel scheme; and interested himself in the battle of the gauges. He was a proponent of the electric telegraph, and made the first arrangement for the partnership between Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1837. When Robert Peel announced in parliament the removal of support for the difference engine, in 1842, Hawes was the only MP to speak in its support.

Having engineered an inquiry in 1835 into the running of the British Museum, Hawes put the case for scientists having a voice among its trustees, a line supported by witnesses Robert Edmond Grant and Nicholas Vigors. Opposition came from Robert Harry Inglis. The zoologists Grant and Vigors were concerned that the Museum should become a research institution, with systematic across the field of natural history, and should implement current views on taxonomy; they had support from James Scott Bowerbank, but they were resisted successfully by Philip Grey Egerton and John George Children, who backed the more conservative views of Richard Owen. There were other issues, such as public access, and Edward Edwards addressed proposals about that to Hawes in 1836.

Hawes joined the Church Rates Abolition Society founded in 1836 by Charles Lushington, with the MPs Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, William Ewart, Daniel Whittle Harvey, and Joseph Hume. He was one of a small group of MPs showing sympathy with Chartist agitation in 1837; though he backed away from close involvement. He was also one of a group of radicals in parliament attempting to regulate the medical profession. With Hume, Thomas Wakley and Henry Warburton he tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce legislation for medical reform.

Under the government of John Russell, 1st Earl Russell he was made Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies rather than a full cabinet minister in an attempt to appease Henry Grey, the Secretary of State. When it was revealed Grey would prefer Charles Buller Hawes offered to resign. Grey being in the House of Lords, Hawes had to answer on Colonial Office business in the Commons; and managed to make his own opinions known, though a deputy. Hawes encouraged James FitzGerald, introduced by Anthony Panizzi of the British Museum, in his initial scheme of 1847 for a colony on Vancouver Island, closely based on the ideas of Edward Gibbon Wakefield; when there was serious criticism in the Commons, particularly from William Ewart Gladstone, of Grey and the Hudson's Bay Company as Fitzgerald's scheme foundered, Hawes defended the Colonial Office position in lukewarm fashion.

Charles Pearson stood successfully, and Hawes was defeated, in Lambeth at the 1847 general election and was instead elected for the corrupt seat of Kinsale by only three votes. He resigned on 25 October 1851 by appointment as Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, and was appointed to the unelected position of Deputy Secretary at War, a position he held till 1857.

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