Contraband runners in the family?

20th July 2021 0 By admin

About 10 years ago I came across this line in a will of a Capt. John Bennett RN 1670-1717, an extremely rich naval captain for the times:

it stated: Mr Bryan Wheelock Steward to Earl Shaftesbury the sum of          110  In today’s money is worth £11,542 (about 1222 days in today’s wages) and why would he give it to someone other than the family?

This started a quest for answers and a 10 year riddle, Who was John Bennett and more importantly who was Bryan Wheelock? what was the connection?

What we know is as follows:

John Bennett’s naval career featured intermittent ‘hard convoy work’, related to war, but he was not involved in fighting. He became a captain in 1695 at the age of 25 and sailed to Virginia, Hamburg, Archangel in Russia, St Helena, Cape Town and the West Indies during his naval career. He seems not to have distinguished himself in the service and most of his commissions were for less than a year. He was on eight ships of ever increasing sizes, according to the National Maritime Museum, finishing with HMS Lennox, a 70 gun 1,100-ton vessel that he captained in 1712 on a trip to St Helena and the Cape. Naval work was intermittent at the time and we think that this applied to his career. While he must have had other interests it is not clear what these were and it is not known how he filled his time between naval assignments.

Captain Bennett became an extremely wealthy man during his lifetime, far wealthier than his modest navy career allowed. He left the equivalent in today’s terms of several million pounds to his beneficiaries; including a charity for poor people in Poole still in evidence today; and several items, such as his metal chest, the contents of which he swore his beneficiaries to secrecy about. The greater part of his bequest was left to his cousins in Poole, who according to Gutteridge were “well known in local smuggling circles”.

Even though he was never arrested or tried Captain Bennett built a reputation as smuggler when he was not in the service of his majesty’s navy. still how did the Earl’s steward fit into the story?

One theory that has been put forward is that Captain Bennett left £110 to Mr Bryan Wheelock, as he was complicit in movements of contraband past the Shaftesbury estate. This did not tally with the steward’s reputation as an effective and able administrator of the Shaftesbury Estate.

I took the point that he was the steward at face value. However, a new mystery appears, around the same time his name is on the records of The Board of Trade and Plantations, This was created as a committee of the Privy Council following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and King William’s War in North America with the French. King William III needed a central body that would improve England’s domestic industry and would foster production in and supervise the government of the colonies. In May of 1696, King William sets up such a body. The Board consisted of seven ex officio officers from the Privy Council and eight members who did not hold a high position in the government.

The records show he was appointed on the 6th of August 1700 as a clerk on an initial salary of £80 (in 1700 that was the equivalent wage of 888 Days) a further entry reveals he was promoted to Deputy secretary of the board in 1714 with a annual salary of £200 per annum. until his death in 1735.

The dates of appointment do not add up to the accepted story, so why leave that money to Bryan Wheelock? Another nugget in the National archives was found: A set of letters signed by John Wheelock, these letters are part of the family papers of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and his successors in class PRO 30/24 at TNA. They relate to the accounts of the 3rd & 4th Earls and cover the period from 1704 to 1719, when John Wheelock was Steward. who was the brother of Bryan Wheelock, so Bryan was NOT the steward

The lack of documentation on the relationship between Bennet and Wheelock is not unusual but certainly telling that nothing can link the two or one that I have found as of yet. The only common thread is John Wheelock who managed the estate and Bennett’s goods had to pass through.

What we do know is as follows:

Captain John Bennett, who nominated Bryan Wheelock as one of the executors of his will of 1716 and also made him beneficiary.

Bryan Wheelock was Deputy Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations from 1700 until 1735 (his death).

His brother John Wheelock who was steward to the Earls of Shaftesbury from 1704 to 1719 (his death).

There is the possibility of Lord Shaftesbury having an investment in one or more of the Poole-owned privateers of the day, of which Bennett’s ship “Coronation” could have been one. The Navy hired it in 1695, retaining Bennett as Captain – and he would have need a Sponsor to have got the commission.

All this is conjecture but it seems since the Bennett family were merchants with relatives and reliable friends (‘Cousins’) in both Barking and Poole who had for at least three generations run smuggled goods into Dorset and London from their own ships and coastal vessels. It needed a competent landside organisation and paperwork in Poole and the London area to do this profitably. Hence able to move goods via the Shaftesbury estate which is a mere 21.5 miles as the crow flies and would have needed someone like John Wheelock to facilitate the movement of such goods.

Further, Abraham Edlin was the Bennetts’ principal London agent, Others probably ventured money with them. Indeed, Bryan Wheelock as part of the board of trade would have helped facilitate movement of goods the only reason that can be concluded for him being name executor and beneficiary in the will.

Still searching for any documentation as to what the connection was between the two but so far it has eluded me.

Bryan Wheelock’s Appointment:


Clerks 1696-1782

In 1696 provision was made for four Clerks, three with salaries of £80 and one with a salary of £60. The total number of Clerks was raised to five in 1700 and to six in 1701, slight alterations being made in their salaries from time to time. In 1708 the establishment was fixed at seven Clerks, one at £80, one at £70, one at £60, two at £50 and two at £40. This arrangement remained unaltered until 1764 when a new establishment was authorised consisting of nine Clerks with salaries of £100, £90, £80, £70, £60, £55, £50, £45 and £40.  At the time of the suppression of the Board in 1782 the number of Clerks had fallen to seven due to the fact that the vacancies which had occurred in 1777 and 1781 had not been filled.


1696 Barker, W.
1696 Skynner, C.
1696 Whitworth, C.
1697 25 March Carroll, M.
1700 6 Aug. Drift, A.
1700 6 Aug. Wheelock, B.

Correspondence of John Wheelock

Correspondence of Bryan Wheelock