Bewley, Samuel (1764–1837), silk merchant, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, was born 21 April 1764 into a quaker family, youngest son of Thomas Bewley (1719–95) of Mountmellick, Queen's Co. (Laois), and Susanna Bewley (née Pim). He was probably apprenticed to a silk merchant in Dublin, before establishing himself in the same trade. From 1796 to c.1804 he worked with his brother John (1754–1830), principally in cotton manufacture in ‘a partnership without articles’ (Harrison, ‘Samuel Bewley’, 263). A ship owner from 1826, he traded with the Levant, North America, and the Barbados, imported drugs and dye stuffs from Smyrna, and advertised the sale of opium, valonia, silkworm gut, liquorice paste, turkey carpets, and other exotic goods.
A key figure in the founding of the revived Dublin chamber of commerce (1820), he served as a council member and treasurer (1820–37), drafted many of its reports, and – despite the differing religious and political sympathies of its members – promoted consensus within the chamber, which provided a single voice within the merchant community and proved to be effective in promoting Irish trade. Often in contact with the chief secretary and the English chancellor of the exchequer, he represented the chamber before several parliamentary committees, including the fourth commission of inquiry into the revenue arising in Ireland (1822), and defended the interests of Irish silk merchants. He helped with the legislation which, following the ending of the East India Company's monopoly, enabled Irish merchants to import tea directly into Ireland – the Bewley-owned Hellas was the first ship freighted directly from China to Dublin (1835). A founding shareholder of the National Insurance Company (1822), he was elected one of three treasurers in 1822 and 1824; formed to protect Irish capital from English commercial interests, it was the only company undertaking marine insurance. His various business enterprises included his directorship of the Mining Company of Ireland (1824), of which he was a major shareholder.
An elder of the (Religious) Society of Friends, he was active in the administration of its affairs and served as treasurer of the relief committee established to help quakers who had lost property in the 1798 rising. He was also a committee member of the Dublin Tract Association (established 1814) to expound quaker doctrines; non-proselytising, it was careful that none of its sentiments was likely to offend other Christian denominations. Apart from his expertise in business affairs, he used his skills in many philanthropic enterprises: in 1807 he proposed the establishment of the quaker retreat at Bloomfield, Dublin, which was the first asylum in Ireland to provide gentle treatment to the mentally ill. Other projects included the Hibernian Society for Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace (1825), the Meath Hospital, the Cork Street Fever Hospital, and the Sick Poor Institution; a treasurer of the Dublin Committee for the Greek Refugees from the Isle of Scio (1823), he also subscribed to the committee for raising funds for African instruction (1824). Nicknamed the ‘Solomon of the quakers’ for his skill in arbitration, he worked in close cooperation with the anglican families La Touche and Guinness in the establishment of the non-sectarian Kildare Place schools (1811), and in the founding of the Dublin Savings Bank (1818), of which he was a trustee. He lived successively in Meath St., William St., and Rockville, Co. Dublin, and died 8 November 1837. He married (1794) Elizabeth Fayle; they had ten sons (several of whom distinguished themselves in business) and three daughters.
His eldest son Joseph Bewley (1795–1851), philanthropist, born 4 November 1795, became a partner in his father's business. He was a successful merchant; ‘his conduct was marked by a high sense of commercial integrity’ (Harrison, Biographical dictionary, 33) and generosity to all in need. Deeply religious and not wanting material concerns to gain ascendancy in his life, he retired early in order to devote his energy to religious concerns and to the Society of Friends, and was appointed an overseer (1829) and an elder (1831).
He was one of the first to open a soup kitchen in 1845 in response to the great famine, and was the inspiration behind the founding of the central relief committee of the Society of Friends (1846). Serving as one of its two secretaries and as treasurer, he was the chief administrator of the committee, which mounted a huge relief operation. To assess the situation and target areas where relief was urgently needed, the committee gathered reliable information from all over the country, was in regular correspondence with the government relief administration, and was invaluable in helping to enlighten the government and British public opinion on the state of Ireland. The committee solicited money, food, and clothing from Ireland, England, and America to the value of £200,000, which it distributed to the needy regardless of religious persuasion, and organised soup kitchens throughout the country, an example later followed by the government. The committee also campaigned for changes in the government relief system and the law, and aided farmers, fishermen, schools, and manufacturers, in the hope of long-term improvement. His brothers Samuel (1806–77) and Thomas (1810–75), were members of the committee. His health impaired by overwork, he died 15 September 1851. He married (1825) Elizabeth Pike; they had three sons and three daughters.