Benn Papers

Personal papers of George Benn (1801-1882), historian of Belfast, and his brother, Edward Benn (1798-1874), antiquarian, philanthropist and founder of 3 Belfast hospitals, 1819-1918. Comprising correspondence, notes, essays and other papers, the collection reflects the lives and interests of these two important Ulster scholars and benefactors. The earliest document in the archive is an essay written by George Benn while a student at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution on 'the causes and consequences of the Crusades', 1819. However, a large proportion of the papers consists of notes and correspondence relating to the collection of information for his ‘History of the town of Belfast’ (1823; 1877; 1880), together with copies of the books in draft and proof form. This material relates to topics such as the topography of Belfast; the history of Presbyterianism; tenant right; trade, industry and communications; population figures; water supplies; educational institutions including the schools of the London Hibernian Society, the Belfast Royal Academy and the Belfast Royal Academical Institution; and notable individuals and families. The collection also contains correspondence of George and Edward Benn concerning their business affairs in the Ulster distilling and mining industries in Downpatrick, Co. Down, and, from 1866, Glenravel, Co. Antrim; Edward Benn’s charitable donations, mainly to the three Benn hospitals, but also to the building fund of York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church; and papers reflecting Edward Benn’s interest in archaeology, philology and natural history. The collection also includes letters by William Pinkerton about his research for a proposed sequel to George Benn’s 'History of the Town of Belfast from the Earliest Times,' and papers relating to John Frederick Hodges (1815-99), brother-in-law of George and Edward Benn, who was Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at Queen's College, Belfast and a founder of the Royal College of Chemistry in London, 1839-88. These include detailed notes and lectures on scientific subjects etc., 1839-50.


The principal strength of the collection lies in the vast amount of source material which it contains - mainly in the form of written notes and correspondence - relating to the history of Belfast before 1900 and, to a lesser degree, Ulster in general.

Physical characteristics

Approx. 900 items, 1819-1918, comprising a range of documents, volumes, files, folders and newspaper cuttings occupying 11 PRONI boxes.

Description or Catalogue

See PRONI reference D/3113 for catalogue of the papers. The catalogue is available for consultation in PRONI's Public Search Room.



See also: Pinkerton Manuscripts available in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland under the reference number D/2930/6.

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Added by PRONI | Last updated on: 09 February 2018