Benn, George (1801–82), businessman and historian of Belfast, was born on 1 January 1801 at Tandragee, Co. Armagh, the youngest son in the family of four sons and five daughters of John Benn (1767–1853), a Belfast brewer, and his wife Elizabeth (d. 1859), daughter of James Craig of Tandragee. John Benn's father, also John (1721–79), came to Ireland from Cumberland in 1760 to work as an engineer on the Newry Canal. George Benn was educated at the Belfast Academy before entering the collegiate classes at the Belfast Academical Institution where he obtained a gold medal for an essay, ‘The history of the parish of Belfast’ (1819). When aged 22 he published anonymously The history of the town of Belfast (1823), a substantial, valuable work illustrated by John Thomson. He maintained his interest in history and contributed to the Ulster Journal of Archaeology. But for all his working life he was best known as a businessman in partnership with his brother Edward Benn (qv), also an antiquary. They ran a distillery at Downpatrick, Co. Down, and prospered sufficiently to be able to develop an estate at Glenravel, near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, apparently purchased by their father c.1835 and where they succeeded in distilling from potatoes.
After his retirement George Benn brought out a second edition of his book, A history of the town of Belfast from the earliest times to the close of the eighteenth century (1877). With 770 pages, maps and illustrations it was much larger and was not only Benn's magnum opus but the prototype of a series of histories of that Ulster town, a salient feature of which was emphasis on its trade and industry. His failing eyesight hampered work on a second volume, intended to cover the nineteenth century, which he had to publish uncompleted (1880). George and Edward Benn, whilst avoiding public life, were benefactors to several Belfast hospitals. To their agricultural tenants at Glenravel, however, they were not so generous. Unmarried, George Benn died 8 January 1882 at his house (purchased in 1875) at Fitzwilliam Park, Belfast.
He was survived by four sisters, one of them, Elizabeth, a hymn-writer and the wife of John Frederick Hodges (qv) (1815–99), professor of agricultural chemistry at Queen's College, Belfast. His eldest brother, James Benn (1788?–1866), was a wine merchant and distiller in Belfast and grandfather of Arthur Shirley Benn (1856–1937), businessman and MP, who was created Lord Glenravel in 1936. George and Edward Benn, like the Hodgeses, belonged to the Second Presbyterian (non-subscribing) congregation in Belfast. A portrait of George Benn by Richard Moore is in the Ulster Museum.