Bennett, Richard Newton (1769–1836), lawyer, was born 28 October 1769 into a protestant family in Co. Wexford, eldest son of Richard Bennett, gentleman, and Hanagh Bennett (née Pearson). He graduated BA from TCD in 1791 and was called to the Irish bar in 1796. While keeping terms in Gray's Inn in London in 1795, he shared lodgings with Daniel O'Connell (qv) and they became close friends. The two often engaged in riotous behaviour, with Bennett once being arrested after a particularly boisterous altercation. An advanced liberal, he was a strong supporter of catholic emancipation and, according to O'Connell, in 1797 was an ‘adjunct to the directory of the United Irishmen’ (Luby, 111); O'Connell may have been persuaded to join the United Irishmen by Bennett. An informant claimed that Bennett proposed to seize the cannon of the lawyer's yeomanry corps for the United Irishmen in late 1797 and that he had repeatedly heard Bennett ‘make use of seditious aspersions against his majesty’ (Reb. papers, 620/38/28). A noted duellist, he acted as second to O'Connell in his fatal duel with John Norcot D'Esterre (the pistols used were Bennett's), and in his intended duel with Sir Robert Peel (qv). During the campaign for catholic emancipation in the 1820s, Bennett became one of O'Connell's main lieutenants, and was often used as a go-between, notably in 1827 in negotiations with the duke of Clarence, heir to George IV, and with William Lamb (qv), Irish chief secretary during Canning's administration. Bennett often acted as counsel for Ribbonmen in the 1820s, but found it difficult to support his family from his earnings at the bar, and was anxious to secure an official appointment, preferably a judicial seat in the colonies. O'Connell repeatedly requested such a position for him. In 1830–31 he acted as an intermediary between O'Connell and the whigs in negotiations on suspending repeal agitation in return for reforms in Ireland. O'Connell criticised his compliance towards the government in these exchanges, but regarded his poverty and desperation to obtain an official appointment as mitigating factors. He was eventually appointed chief justice of Tobago in 1832, but was suspended from his post because of his heavy drinking in 1833. He died in Tobago 16 February 1836. He married (1798) Sophia Hart, and they had several children.
‘Examination of Robert Hobert’, 2 June 1798 (NAI, Rebellion papers, 620/38/28); C. M. O'Keeffe, Life and times of Daniel O'Connell (2 vols, 1864), ii, 224–34; T. C. Luby, The life of Daniel O'Connell (1880); Alumni Dubl. (1935); Sean O'Faolain, King of the beggars (1938); O'Connell corr., i, 21; iii, 56, 321, 333; iv, 247, 264, 269, 286; King's Inns admission papers (1982), 33; Fergus O'Ferrall, Catholic emancipation: Daniel O'Connell and the birth of Irish democracy 1820–30 (1985); Hereward Senior, Orangeism in Ireland and Britain, 1795–1836 (1966), 211; Oliver MacDonagh, O'Connell (1991)