Ralph Bernal

2nd Oct 1783 - 26th Aug 1854

Claimant or beneficiary


Slave-owner in Jamaica, politician and art collector. Born in Crutched Friars, a street near Tower Hill in London, into a Sephardic Jewish family of Spanish descent, though not brought up as a Jew: baptized 1805. The only son of Jacob Israel Bernal (d. 1811), a merchant trading with the West Indies, and his wife, Lea da Silva.

  1. Educ.: Revd John Hewlett's school, Shacklewell, Hackney; Christ's College, Cambridge 1802-1806 (11th wrangler; MA 1809). Bernal married (1), 10 April 1806, to Anne Elizabeth, only daughter of Richard Samuel White of New Ormond Street, London. Anne died from burns 10 July 1823. Ralph Bernal Osborne (1808?–1882), liberal politician, was their eldest son. Another, Charles Bernal (1812–1869), became a Church of England clergyman. Married (2) 3 August 1824 Clara Christiana (1798/9–1889), daughter of Dr John White RN, the surgeon of Chatham Dockyard, with whom he had at least one child. 1810: called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn. Inherited a large estate in the West Indies & abandoned law for politics; spent £66,000 (!) on contesting elections (for Lincoln, Rochester and Weymouth. [see Political legacies for more details.] Originally identified as a radical supporter of Sir Francis Burdett, a prominent whig, and chaired various parliamentary committees from 1833-1841,1847-1852. Spoke against the immediate prohibition of slavery early in his career in the House of Commons; speech of 19 May 1826 was published as a pamphlet. According to History of Parliament Online, 'It was a calm and cogent assessment of the rights of the slave owners, the ‘silent and unostentatious’ but ‘certain and beneficial’ progress of amelioration in Jamaica, and his belief in the need for the long-term educational and religious improvement of the slaves prior to any attempted emancipation.' He also contributed to other publications, both political and antiquarian. President of the British Archaeological Society in 1853 and a noted collector, whose china and porcelain and other objets formed part of the foundation of the collections of the V & A [see Cultural legacies for details].

  2. His son, Ralph Bernal Osborne, was an advanced liberal MP for Wycombe (1841-1847); Middlesex (1847-1857); Dover (1857-1859); Liskeard (1859-1865); Nottingham (1866-1868); Waterford (1870-1874).


Helen Davies, ‘Bernal, Ralph (1783–1854)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004); online edn, May 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2233, accessed 12/08/2012].

  1. 'Bernal, Ralph (1783-1854)' in History of Parliament Online available at http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/bernal-ralph-1783-1854 [accessed 07/01/2013].

  2. Derek Beales, ‘Osborne, Ralph Bernal (1808?–1882)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007

We are grateful to Robert Hodgson for his assistance in compiling this entry.

Further Information

(1) 10 April 1806, to Anne Elizabeth White (?-1823); (2) 3 August 1824 Clara Christiana (1798/9–1889)
Including Ralph Bernal Osborne (1808?–1882), Charles Bernal (1812–1869)
Revd John Hewlett's school, Shacklewell, Hackney
Christ's College, Cambridge [1802-1806 (11th wrangler; MA 1809) ]
Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Claims (3)

£5,154 5s 8d
Awardee (Owner-in-fee)
£1,525 18s 3d
Awardee (Owner-in-fee)
£4,779 17s 3d

Associated Estates (3)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1811 [SY] - 1834 [LA] → Owner
1811 [SY] - 1834 [LA] → Owner
1811 [SY] - 1834 [LA] → Owner

Legacies Summary

Cultural (1)

Collector of glass, plate, ceramics, and... 
notes →
According to Helen Davies, entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 'After his death ... the Society of Arts tried to persuade the government to buy the collection en...

Historical (1)

Substance of the Speech of R. Bernal ... on the 19th May, 1826, upon Mr. Brougham’s motion ... touching the condition of... 1826 
notes →
Full title: Substance of the Speech of R. Bernal, Esq. in the debate in the House of Commons, on the 19th May, 1826, upon Mr. Brougham’s motion "for taking into...

Political (1)

Whig-Liberal / West India interest 
election →
Lincoln Lincolnshire
1818 - 1820
election →
Rochester Kent
1820 - 1841
election →
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Dorset
1842 - 1847
election →
Rochester Kent
1847 - 1852
parliamentary notes →
Emancipation of slaves
House of Commons 27/02/1833

Relationships (1)

Son → Father

Addresses (1)

93 Eaton Square, London, Middlesex, London, England