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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials


by Richard Harris


Henry Beeke was born on January 6th 1751, the son of The Reverend Christopher Beeke, vicar of Kingsteignton, and his wife Mary. His family was well connected, his mother Mary having links to the Yardes of Whiteway and the Swetes of Modbury.


The young Henry proved to be an outstanding scholar and he entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford in May 1769 where he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1773. His studies continued at Oriel College where he was rewarded with a Master of Arts degree in 1776.


Whilst in based in Oxford he was nominated to the post of vicar of St Mary’s the Virgin in October 1782. In 1784 he became Junior Proctor of the University, gaining a Bachelor of Divinity in 1785. Oriel College presented him with the rectory of Ufton Norcot, Berkshire in 1789. His insatiable thirst for knowledge led to him furthering his studies to gain a Doctorate of Divinity in 1800. A year later he accepted the post of Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford and, at the insistence of Prime Minister Henry Addington, delivered what is believed to be the first lecture in political economy at the university.


Beeke’s interests were wide and not just confined to theological matters. Following the publication of his Observations on the Produce of the Income Tax, and on its Proportion to the Whole Income of Great Britain in 1799, which was expanded and reprinted in 1800, he gained a reputation as an economics expert. He has been credited with the idea of persuading William Pitt to introduce income tax in 1799 as a temporary measure to help pay for the French wars. This was a time when Britain was in an almost permanent state of war with France. It was expected that the tax would net some £10 million in the first year. When it actually realised less than £6 million, Beeke explained that the any shortfall in revenue was due to the government getting its calculations wrong. Beeke considered that errors had been made in underestimating the rate of growth of the country’s rapidly expanding manufacturing industry and the level of private investment. He also drew attention to the fact that it had used woefully inaccurate maps in estimating the amount of cultivated agricultural acreage in the country when he stated that “the exact number cannot be ascertained with mathematical precision, till the present very excellent trigonometrical survey has been completed”.  His calls for improved maps for estimating the wealth of the country gained the support of the military which saw the need for improved maps as vital to the defence of the realm.


First page of Henry Beeke's
Frontispiece of the 1800 edition of Henry Beeke's great work on Income Tax


Nevertheless, the money raised by the new tax was seen as vital to the war effort and a precedent had been set for it to be levied in the future. The peace of Amiens in 1802 enabled the tax to be repealed for a short period but renewed fighting saw its reintroduction in 1803 by Addington’s government. Between 1793 and 1816 there was only a fourteen-month respite from war. The cost of the war had seen national debt increase from £238 million in 1793 to £902 million in 1816.


Britain was experiencing a rapid growth in population at the time and the writings of the Reverend Malthus made the fear of famine yet another grave concern for the government. Sir Nicholas Vansittart, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and related to Beeke by marriage, was one of several people who sought Beeke’s advice on economic matters. Vansittart was Chancellor when Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815. Twelve months later it was seen fit to repeal income tax once again, a decision that met with great applause in Parliament



The text on this page is the copyright property of Richard Harris



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