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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Mr. John Bennet, Surgeon


This gentleman was born in Edinburgh, where his father, who originally came from Fifeshire, carried on the business of a brewer. His mother was a daughter of the Rev. Mr. Taylor, one of the ministers of the city. After completing his studies at the Umversity, Mr. Bennet obtained the appointment of Surgeon to the Sutherland Fencibles, which were embodied in 1779. With this corps he continued until it was disbanded in 1783, when he returned to Edinburgh, and entered into partnership with Mr. Law, of Elvingston, a medical gentleman in good practice.

(The late James Law, Esq., of Elvingston, East Lothian—descended from a family of some antiquity in Fife—died at his house in York Place, on the 3rd June, 1830. He was a member of the Royal College of Physicians, much distinguished for his professional skill, and not less respected for his virtues and benevolence in the domestic relations of life. An engraving, from a portrait of Mr. Law by Sir Henry Rae-burn, was given to the public, in 183G, by the publisher of this work.)

Soon after he began business, a circumstance occurred, which not only tended to increase Mr. Bennet's professional fame, but proved the origin of no less an incident in his domestic history than that of "setting up a carriage." One day Mr. Dempster, jeweller in the Parliament Square, after a fit of hard drinking, threatened, in the company of some of his cronies, to cut his own throat. One of the individuals present (Mr. Hamilton of Wishaw), a gentleman of very convivial habits, jocularly said—"I will save you that trouble;" and, suiting the action to the word, advanced with a knife in a threatening attitude towards the jeweller, and very nearly converted jest into earnest, by accidentally making a severe incision. Hamilton, in a state of great alarm, instantly sent for Mr. Bennet, who closed up the wound, and afterwards effected a rapid cure of his patient. Mr. Hamilton was so much satisfied with the important service rendered on this occasion, that he presented Mr. Bennet with an elegant chariot.

Mr. Bennet possessed the polish and pleasant manners of a well-bred gentleman, and was accustomed to mix in the best society. With the late Duke of Gordon (then Marquis of Huntly), Maule of Panmure (now Lord Panmure), and many other persons of family, he was on terms of intimacy. He is accused of having occasionally indulged in those excesses and frolics, which, some thirty years ago, were deemed extremely fashionable. On one occasion, having lost a sporting bet for "dinner and drink," Mr. Bennet entertained his friends in a house of good cheer at Leith. It had been a condition of the wager that the party should be taken to the theatre at night at the expense of the loser. After dinner Mr. Bennet caused the wine, as well as a more stimulating beverage, to be pretty freely circulated; so that the was-sailers were soon, according to the notions of the Indians, in a "state of perfect happiness." At the hour appointed, instead of the common hackney conveyances, a number of mourning coaches drew up, in which the revellers seated themselves, and were driven to the theatre in slow time, amid the wonderment of a numerous crowd, who were no less astonished at the mirth of the mourners than amazed at the place where the procession halted.

These and other unprofessional frolics did not injure Mr. Bennet in his career; on the contrary, they rather tended to increase his celebrity. He was appointed Surgeon to the Garrison of Edinburgh Castle in 1791 ; and elected President of the Boyal College of Surgeons in 1803. And such was his status among the citizens in 1805, that when the Volunteer corps, called the "Royal Edinburgh Spearmen" were embodied, he held the honourable commission of Lieut.-Colonel Commandant of the regiment.

This band of citizen warriors had their stand of colours delivered to them on the 12th of August, in Heriot's Hospital Green. We quote the following brief account of it:—"The colours were presented by Mrs. Bennet, the Colonel's lady, and Miss Scott, of Logie, with an appropriate speech from each; and consecrated by the Bev. Mr. Brunton, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, their chaplain, in a most impressive prayer. The battalion was immediately after inspected by Brigadier-General Graham and Colonel Callander, who expressed themselves highly pleased with the appearance and discipline of the corps. To those pieces of ceremony succeeded the presentation of an elegant silver cup to Colonel Bennet, from the non-commissioned officers and privates of the regiment, delivered by Field-Serjeant Thomas Somers, who, upon the occasion, addressed the Colonel in a most impressive manner. This being over, the battalion marched upon a visit to the Commander-in-Chief [the Earl of Moira] at Duddingstone House, when his lordship took a view of the regiment in line; and, when formed into a hollow square, addressed them in a manner traly complimentary and striking. They immediately after returned to town, when, upon depositing the eolours in the Colonel's house, they were regaled by him in a very liberal and handsome style of hospitality."

About the same period, Mr. Bennet received another testimony of respeet, by having the freedom of the city of Londonderry conferred upon him. It was transmitted in a silver box by William Leckie, Esq., senior magistrate, to Mr. Bennet for his kindness and attention to his son—a student at the University—who fell in a duel near Dudding-stone. The following short aeeount was all that was given of this fatal affair at the time:—"Wednesday morning, July 3, 1805.—A duel was fought in the neighbourhood of Duddingstone, between Mr. Rom-ney and Mr. Leckie, students attending the medical classes in the University, when the latter received a wound in the groin, in consequence of which he died next Saturday morning. Four shots were, we understand, exchanged. Mr. Leckie received his wound by the first fire, but did not discover it. After shaking hands with his antagonist, he declared he was mortally wounded, and desired Mr. Romney, the seconds, and the surgeon who attended, to make their escape, which they accordingly did."

The personal appearance of Mr. Bennet is accurately delineated in Kay's etching; even so minute a peculiarity as the mole on his right cheek has not been overlooked by the artist. His form was exceedingly spare ; and his legs in particular were remarkable for their tenuity. Perfectly sensible how niggardly Nature had been of her gifts in this respect, Mr. Bennet used to anticipate the observations of his friends by occasional humorous allusions to the subject. One day, having called on his tailor to give a fresh order, he facetiously inquired if he could measure him for a suit of small clothes? "O yes," rejoined his friend of the iron; "hold up your stick, it will serve the purpose well enough."

There are two portraits of Mr. Bennet, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn—one is preserved by his family, and the other is in the possession of his old friend and associate Lord Panmure.

Among other amusements, Mr. Bennet was particularly partial to the sports of the field; and

"When westlin winds, and slaughtering guns,
Brought autumn's pleasant weather,"

he annually repaired to the moors with his dog and gun. On the morning of the 10th of October, 1805, he left Edinburgh, attired in his "shooting graith," with the view of enjoying a day's excursion in the kingdom of Fife. A gentleman, who crossed over with him in the morning at Queensfeny, mentions that he had seldom seen him in higher spirits. After passing the ferry, Mr. Bennet proceeded in the direction of Kinghorn, where he had been invited to dine with a friend in the evening. Before the hour of dinner arrived, however, lie was discovered in a lifeless state in a field near the gentleman's house, with his dog and the fatal instrument of death beside him. The cause of this melancholy accident has never been ascertained.

The residence of Mr. Bennet was, for many years after he commenced business, in the Old Assembly Close. He subsequently removed to that house on a line with, and next to the York Hotel, in Nicolson Street.

Mr. Bennet married Mrs. Scott, the widow of J. Scott, Esq., of Logie. This lady, whose maiden name was Auchterlony, had a daughter by her first husband, afterwards married to the late General Hope, brother of the Eight Hon. Charles Hope. By Mr. Bennet she had three sons and one daughter, the eldest of whom obtained the rank of Captain in the Navy, and married Miss Law, daughter of his father's partner. The second son was in the Army, and died in India. The third held a situation in the War Office. The daughter was married to Mr. Law. W.S.


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