Newenham, Richard (1705–59), merchant and manufacturer, was born into a quaker family on 31 December 1705 in Cork, the eldest of seven children of John Newenham, a clothier of Cork city, and his wife Elizabeth (née Wight). His maternal grandfather, Thomas Wight, wrote the first history of the quakers in Ireland. He may have been descended from a brother of John Newenham, who settled in Cork during the Cromwellian period and was sheriff (1665) and mayor (1671) of the city. By the early 1700s there were several collateral branches of the Newenham family living in and around Cork city, including William Newenham (goldsmith) and William Newenham of Coolmore (landowner).
Working throughout his life within the environs of Cork city, Richard Newenham built up a highly lucrative textile business, as a thriving yarn spinning industry developed in south Munster with most of the output being exported to England through Cork. By the late 1740s he was, according to the topographer Charles Smith (qv), ‘the largest dealer in Ireland in the worsted trade, and employs some thousands in different parts of this country in spinning bay yarn, which he exports to Bristol’ (Antient and present state, i, 352). In 1753 the permitting of direct shipments from south Munster to London and east Anglia played into the hands of Newenham and a handful of other big Cork city merchants who were able to squeeze out the smaller dealers and monopolise the trade. Newenham may also have been involved with the manufacture of sailcloth; hundreds of sailcloth spinners, weavers, and bleachers worked near his home in Douglas.
In 1754 he went into partnership with five other Cork businessmen to carry on the trade of ‘sugar making and sugar boiling’ in an area known as Red Abbey in the southern suburbs of Cork city. Within a relatively short period he had propelled himself into the ranks of the minor gentry of Cork and was among the wealthiest quakers in Ireland. The trappings of wealth and status included a fine country house, called Maryborough (built c.1750), which was adorned with a cupola and surrounded by tree plantations. In 1738 a quaker who visited Cork to attend the marriage of ‘Richard Newenham and Sarah Devonshire’ noted that the ‘crowd and throng of people was so great she had little service amongst them’ (Friends Historical Society Journal, x, 239). In 1753 Joshua Wright, another quaker visitor to Maryborough, recorded that Newenham, then in middle to old age, ‘was in ye gout’. He died on 1 April 1759. His business was carried on by his only child John Newenham (1739–85).
His nephew George Newenham (1753–1821), businessman and patron of the arts was born 10 September 1753 in North Abbey, Cork, only son of two surviving children of George Newenham, a merchant of Cork, and his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of John Pim of Edenderry, King’s County. He joined the family yarn export business, selling large quantities of worsted to George Gurney of Norwich. (Quakers then controlled the trade in woollen and worsted yarn in Ireland.) The Gurneys, who were quakers also, were among the most important clothing manufacturers in East Anglia. In the early 1770s the Newenhams were able to benefit from a temporary shortage in woollen stuffs and sold at relatively high prices. They became one of the richest merchants in Ireland.
In 1778 George was sent to London by his father with a view to marrying a Miss Pim, the (presumably quaker) daughter of a banker. Instead, he fell in love there with Sarah Meade of Aldenham, Hertfordshire, who he met by chance. She was not a quaker and they were married in a non-quaker ceremony, for which he was formally disowned at a meeting of the Cork quakers on 27 September 1778. His father took a more understanding view and settled the newlyweds in a comfortable home at Summerhill, a country house near Cork city. He was readmitted to the quakers and disowned again on 7 February 1793, this time for ‘paying priests wages and church rates’, the relevant document also noting that ‘endeavours have long been used to reclaim him, they have proven ineffectual’. His father died five days later, bequeathing him his business and a large fortune.
On 3 April 1800 he established a bank – known as Newenham's Bank – in Cork city, and was joined as partners in the bank on 1 January 1801 by his son George junior and John Lecky (qv). From the start it would appear that Newenham was a silent partner and that Lecky took care of the day-to-day running of the business. Within a few years the bank was situated on Patrick Street in a building that was valued in 1809 at £85. It was a relatively small operation and prudently managed, mainly issuing notes in small denominations, which enabled it to survive the 1820 banking crisis. The bank was wound down in 1821 with all the creditors being paid.
Much of George Newenham's time and energy was taken up pursuing artistic and scientific interests. In 1774 George Gurney wrote to his son: ‘George Newenham is a very clever young fellow and if tho [sic] hast a mind to divert thyself with contemplating the starry regions, he will be an agreeable companion for thee, as he has made astronomy his great study’ (Friends Hist. Soc. Jn., xx, 77). Newenham reputedly built a telescope to his own design so that he could view the stars from his country seat. Summerhill became an important focal point for artistic activity in Cork. As a child Daniel McAleese (qv) was a frequent visitor and was quite taken with the large picture gallery, with many works by the Irish painters Nathaniel Grogan (qv) and John Butts. Newenham took the young Maclise under his wing and even gave him a job in his bank, which he endured for just a year. The sculptor John Hogan (qv) was another to benefit from Newenham's generosity. In 1816 Newenham lent part of his collection to an exhibition organised by the Cork Society of Arts. He had an unusually hands-on approach to patronage and would give artists working space within his own home. Maclise's biographer mentions that ‘colours, canvas and the easel, the model stand and clay were familiar objects’ at Newenham's home (O'Driscoll, Memoir, 18–20).
Newenham died near Cork, most likely at Summerhill, on 21 October 1821, apparently from catching a cold while clay modelling. Despite being disowned twice by the society, he was interred in a quaker burial ground outside Cork. He was survived by four daughters and a son. His bank was re-established by George Newenham junior in 1824 but sustained heavy losses before closing for good in 1825; the creditors were paid in full. George junior was described by an early twentieth-century descendent as having dissipated a fortune of £80,000.