George Benn

The first great historian of Belfast

Born in Tandragee, educated at the Royal Academy and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, George Benn was the first great historian of Belfast.

He showed an early aptitude for history in a school essay in 1819, which was published by the News Letter editor James McKnight.

In spite of this early promise, Benn spent most of his life working as a distiller in Downpatrick, and working his farm in Glenravel, near Ballymena.

With his brother Edward, Benn was successful enough in these enterprises to sponsor the opening of three hospitals in Belfast, namely the Samaritan Hospital, the Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, and the Benn Ulster Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.

In the late 1860s, Benn was asked to create a fuller version of his essay but recommended William Pinkerton for the project. However, when Pinkerton and Edward Benn died within a few years of each other, George Benn decided to return to Belfast to write the proposed history.

The result was A History of the Town of Belfast from the Earliest Times to the Close of the Eighteenth Century (1877).

It took Benn three years to write, and is still a revered source of anecdotes and evidence of the life of the city of Belfast. Benn completed a second volume of the history of the first ten years of the nineteenth century, and died in January 1882.