Gregory Bentham was baptised on 3 July 1743 at Sheerness, the son of Gregory and Sarah Bentham. This part of the Bentham family was associated with the naval dockyards at Chatham and Sheerness. Bryan Bentham, Gregory’s great-grandfather, was Clerk of HM Ropeyard at Chatham in 1726 and, when he died in 1748, he was Clerk of the Cheque at Sheerness.
Bentham joined Cook’s Third Voyage in Discovery on 10 February 1776 as an AB, becoming Clerk on 12 March 1776.1 Charles Clerke mentioned Bentham in his second will, written just before his death off Kamchatka:
To Gregory Bentham my late clerk of the Discovery the sum which his pay of clerk shall make at the rate of fifty pounds a year during the time he was my clerk in that ship according to my agreement provided his accounts are ever as I have reason to expect they will be.2
Bentham later sailed on HMS Pandora, under Captain Edward Edwards, in the search for the Bountymutineers. He joined the ship on 10 August 1790. Pandora was wrecked in the Torres Strait on 28 August 1791. Bentham survived and collected £32 8s 11d in wages back in Britain on 3 May 1793.
Bentham joined HMS Sceptre as quartermaster but for some unknown reason went absent without leave from Portsmouth. William Barnes, the ship’s coxswain located Bentham and tried to persuade him to return to the ship but was murdered by Bentham. Bentham was tried, found guilty and hung at Winchester in 1794. The sad affair was reported in The Times:
Bentham was a quarter-master on board the Sceptre man of war, Mr. Barns was coxswain of the same ship, and fell a victim to his friendship for Bentham, who having leave to go on shore for a day; considerably outstaid his time; an officer was sent with part of the crew, to bring him on board a prisoner, who, at the solicitations of the deceased, and on his answering for Bentham’s return with him (to which the latter acceded,) left them, together: Bentham begged of Barns, that they might drink a glass of grog together, after which he had altered his mind, and refused to go on board the ship: Barns expostulated with him, and urged the necessity of keeping his word with the officer, in vain: he then declared he should go, and. attempted to force him out of the house, when Bentham drew a pistol from his pocket, and shot him dead.
Bentham was hung at the same time as a man called Powell.
These two murderers suffered March 1794, pursuant to their sentence, on the usual temporary gallows, about three quarters of a mile from Winchester.
Just at this instant, (both criminals being tied up) Bentham, (the cap being drawn over his face, and he in a very weak condition) slipped off the board that went across the cart in which they were, which obliged the executioner immediately to draw the cap over the face of Powell, when they were instantly launched into eternity…
Bentham had married Jane Aitchinson on 23 March 1768 at St. Mary Magdalene, Woolwich.
Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher and social reformer, and his brother, Samuel Bentham, the naval architect and dockyard reformer, were second cousins of Gregory Bentham. The brothers were grandsons of Jeremiah Bentham (~1683-1741), Gregory’s great-uncle.
- Cook’s Log, page 15, vol. 35, no. 4 (2012).
- Cook’s Log, page 36, vol. 33, no. 2 (2010).
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 6, volume 36, number 2 (2013).