The Bennee family of Devonport
Gyles Benne arrived in Colchester in the mid 1500’s. The family prospered, they were bay and say merchants*, and can be traced initially via the Dutch Church records and subsequently by parish records. The first indication of a move to Devon was the inheritance of a parchment confirming that John Bennee of Plymouth, mariner, had, on 29th March 1764, been admitted as a freeburgess of Colchester in ‘right of birth’. The last phrase indicates that it was granted because an ancestor was a freeburgess. In this case, as the records in the Essex Record Office show, it was his grandfather.
John Bennee married a widow Margaret Burn at St Andrew, Plymouth on 18 February 1761. They had 3 children, Mary (who married Joseph Jordan), Hannnah (who married Christopher Bartlett) and Edward bpt 5 Jan 1764. He was a shipwright employed in the Devonport Dockyard and married Susanna Cousins at Stoke Damerel church on 13 November 1785. They lived in Devonport and had 9 children, 4 of them died in infancy. The surviving children married as follows:-
Mary (1784) married Walter Knight in 1815
Edward (1785) married Lois Clifton Stear in 1826
Hannah (1800) married John Silas Ball in 1827
Eliza (1804) married James Lake in 1826
Donnison (1807) married Elizabeth Spry in 1827
Correspondence handed down from the early 1820’s included letter between Donnison, who had moved to London, and his father. There were also letters to Edward senior from his aunt Hannah in Newark. Subsequently, as Edward was one of her executors, there were letters concerning her Will. These, together with the Freedom document, have all been deposited with the Plymouth and West Devon Record office for safe-keeping, as well as various other documents and title deeds for properties owned by later members of the family. (Listing of the deposited documents.)
Edward (1785) started as a shipwright in the Dockyard in 1817 and was shown as such on the birth certificate of his 7th child (of 10) Albert in 1840. However in 1841 he was living in Duke Street, Devonport and described as a butcher. An 1845 street directory shows him living at 60 Duke Street, a pork butcher. He died in 1858 and his estate was valued at £336..18s. The house was held on a 99 year lease from 1828. A family bible records the births and deaths of his children.
Two of Edward’s sons, Edward & John, followed in his footsteps becoming butchers. Neither seems to have featured in public life, although John was declared bankrupt in Truro in 1861. His children emigrated to South Africa and Canada. Edward married and had 6 daughters and 1 son, Reginald, who joined the merchant navy and subsequently died in London in 1950.
Edward’s other sons, George and Albert were active in public life, becoming councillors in Devonport and mentioned in the local newspapers on numerous occasions. George was a baker and obviously prospered, as on his death in 1910 he held 12 properties mainly in Ker Street, Duke Street, and James Street, Devonport. George had 4 children, 2 of whom died in childhood. His only surviving son, Albert married Mabel Wilkes born in Clunes, Victoria, Australia and they subsequently moved to Kingsand, Cornwall. [In researching the family I discovered that Mabel’s father had been born in Stonehouse and travelled to the Goldfields where he too prospered] Upon the death of Albert’s daughter Bridget in 2011 the Bennee name no longer appears in the Plymouth area.
George’s brother Albert remained a bachelor and he too prospered. In 1861 and 1871 he was described as a Commercial Traveller. In 1881 he was described as a Councillor with income from land, houses and dividends. He died in 1817.
* See Historical Textiles Technology, from the National Trust.