Asgill, John (1659–1738), eccentric writer and politician, was born at Hanley Castle, Worcestershire, England, and baptised on 25 March 1659, son of Edward and Hester Asgill. Little is known of his early life, but in 1686 he became a student of the Middle Temple and was called to the bar in 1692. In 1695 Asgill, along with the merchant Nicholas Barbon, founded the first land bank, publicising their ideas in a pamphlet, The settlement of the land-bank. Their intention was to fund mortgages through stock composed of liquid capital. In 1696 they merged their bank with another bank controlled by a John Briscoe. This venture was not successful and the bank closed in January 1699. In 1698 Asgill published An essay on a registry, for titles of lands, which argued for the establishment of a land registry. A Dublin edition was produced in 1701 and may have influenced the establishment of the registry of deeds in 1707.
In 1699 Asgill was elected a member of the English house of commons for Bramber, Sussex, but he does not appear to have been particularly active. This was partly because of the furore caused by his next, and most famous, publication, An argument proving, that . . . man may be translated (1700). In it he sought to prove that death was not obligatory for Christians, and those who truly believed did not die but went straight to heaven. Some observers, both contemporaries and later observers, saw it as an elaborate joke, but others were outraged – including a number of prominent Church of Ireland clergy such as Edward Nicholson, who dismissed it as ‘banter and nonsense’ (Nicholson, An answer to Mr Asgill's book (1702)), and John Stearne (qv), later bishop of Clogher, who wrote Death and burial of John Asgill (1702).
Within days of its publication, Asgill left England to travel to Ireland, where he hoped to profit from the Williamite confiscation, acting on behalf of individuals affected by the 1699 resumption act. He was reasonably successful, and was able to purchase £15,000 worth of forfeited lands from the trustees of forfeited estates in 1703, as well as a life interest in the estate of the Jacobite Nicholas Browne (qv), Viscount Kenmare, purchased for £3,000. He had married Kenmare's protestant daughter Jane (d. 1708) some time before this. Asgill, however, grossly mismanaged the Browne estates, and was unable to gain the profits that he had anticipated. In the process he almost ruined the Browne family, and was involved in lengthy litigation with them, which continued until the early 1730s. Asgill also acted as an agent for the Hollow Sword Blade Company, a London corporation set up to buy Irish forfeited estates cheaply.
In an attempt to further his interests he entered the Irish house of commons in 1703, representing Enniscorthy. His Irish parliamentary career was to be short. On the first day of the session, 25 September, his pamphlet on death was discussed and voted ‘wicked and blasphemous’ and ordered to be burnt by the common hangman. Asgill was allowed to make a personal defence of his work on 11 October, but this proved insufficient; he was expelled and the commons ordered that ‘he be forever hereafter incapable of being chosen, returned or sitting a member of any succeeding parliament in this kingdom’.
He returned to England, where he continued to sit for Bramber in the English parliament until 1707, when he was expelled both for his religious views and because he was a declared bankrupt. He was already by the time of his expulsion imprisoned in the Fleet. He would spend the rest of his life imprisoned in the Fleet or within the bounds of the King's Bench. He continued to produce pamphlets, including several in favour of the Hanoverian succession – The Pretender's declaration abstracted from two anonymous pamphlets: one intitled Jus Sacrum; and the other, Memoirs of the chevalier de St George (1713), The succession of the house of Hanover vindicated (1714), and The Pretender's declaration englished with a postscript (1715) – as well as a long defence of his conduct in 1712. He died 10 November 1738, in the parish of Southwark, and was survived by his sister Martha.