Ralph Bernal

MP (Whig-Liberal / West India interest)


Date of tenure beginning for Weymouth is approximate, as is Rochester 1820.

As prosperous WI planter, firm advocate of lowering sugar duties. Added to the standing committee of the West India Committee of the H of C, 12 March 1823. 'The anti-slavery movement placed him in an extremely awkward dilemma. On the one hand, he benefited from the commercial advantages of slavery and stressed the planters' prescriptive property rights, but, on the other, his undoubted humanitarian concerns led him to urge the eradication of the trade in slaves by other nations, and the amelioration of their condition in the British colonies.' (Fisher, p. 263)

Active in Whig campaigns for economical reform in the 1820s. Usually supported the maintenance of a sufficient military and naval force (no doubt because of his WI interests). Generally liberal in outlook - e.g. On religious toleration and parliamentary reform.

But spoke in defence of slavery, 15 May 1823:

'I still contend, that the slave is the property-of his master; and, I say again, that the legislature of this country is bound to give to the planter, the fullest and most adequate remuneration for any deprivation of, or change in, his right of property, and the most complete indemnity against any dangers which may result from its interference therewith.' HC Deb 15 May 1823 vol 9 col. 342

See also 15 June 1824 etc. And especially, his speech in the debate on the State of Slavery in the Colonies, 19 May 1826 (HC Deb 19 May 1826 vol 15 col. 1331-41). (This was reprinted as a pamphlet: 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 consideration ... measures ... for giving effect to the Resolution of the House of Commons of the 25th May, 1823, touching the condition of slaves.” (London, J. Moyes, 1826).)

Elections / Constituences

Lincoln Lincolnshire
1818 - 1820 
Rochester Kent
1820 - 1841 
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Dorset
1842 - 1847 
Rochester Kent
1847 - 1852 

Parliamentary Notes

Emancipation of slaves House of Commons 27/02/1833

Bernal spoke of 'that injured and unfortunate body of men, the West-India planters. If their property was originally unjustly acquired, was it the fault of the present possessors. Was not its possession sanctioned by the Legislature of the country for successive ages?'