Benjamin Archer Kent M.D. – April 2006
Benjamin Archer Kent was born in Abingdon in 1808. He studied at Edinburgh University to become a Doctor of Medicine, graduating in 1831. Three days later he married Marjory Redman Bonar.
He first practiced medicine in Walsall and then London, but in 1839 he became ill and was advised for the sake of his health to give up medical practice. That year he decided to purchase a brick-making machine and take it and his family to Australia where he hoped to start a new life and make a living.
In November 1839 Kent and his family left England; after a difficult trip they finally reached Port Adelaide in Australia in April 1840.
Kent had many problems in Australia: his brick-making enterprise failed and he was persuaded to convert the machinery to mill grain instead. Unfortunately this business also failed and he ended up in the Insolvency Court in 1843. He realised he had no alternative but to again earn his living as a physician.
He was a popular and successful doctor and was able to pay off his debts in three years. In 1847 the first anaesthetic in that part of Australia was administered; it was given by Dr Kent for an operation carried out by his partner Dr Bayer. The operation was a mastectomy and the patient recovered sufficiently to be able to go to the sea-side for recuperation.
Dr Kent was considered a leading physician in Adelaide respected by all who knew him. So much so that part of the city of Adelaide, Kent Town, was named after him.
In 1854 news arrived that his father was ill and he decided to return to England temporarily. In December 1854, Dr Kent, his wife, and three of his four children left Adelaide for England arriving in Liverpool in April 1855.
The next few years of Dr Kent’s life are a mystery. However it is clear that in 1857 he intended to return to Australia to live. Unfortunately his wife was ill and was unable to travel. By this time Dr Kent could afford to retire, so he took two of the children back to Australia, settled his affairs there and returned to his ailing wife as soon as possible. He was back in Adelaide by March 1858 and once his affairs were completed, he returned to London by July 1858. His wife, Marjory, was very seriously ill and she died in January 1859; later that year his father also died.
Josephine Newman, the daughter of an old friend of Dr Kent’s from Australia was in England at finishing school in Brighton, but she was not happy at school and it is assumed that she spent any free time she had with the Kent family. In the latter part of 1859 her life suddenly changed when Dr Kent asked her to become his wife; he was 52 and she was 23.
The wedding took place on 1st February 1860 and within two months Josephine was pregnant and they decided to move away from London to the Isle of Wight. In October 1860 their son, Frederick was born, he was premature and died a few months later and is buried in Ryde cemetery.
When the Kent’s first moved to the Island it is believed that they lived in a property called Somerset House on Dover Street.
On 11 October 1860 Dr Kent entered into formal arrangements with Sir John Simeon for a lease of 1000 years on a piece of land at St John’s Park. The lease carried the requirement that Benjamin must build a house there within two years. The house was known as 12 St John’s Park and a coach house was also build adjacent to the property. Both properties are still visible today in East Hill Road; 12 St John’s Park is now called Vista Marina and has been converted into flats, and the coach house is now known as Tempest Tower and is a separate private residence. The monogram of BAK can be seen on the Tower of the coach house.
For the Kent family, life in Ryde must have been very happy; they had a daughter, Josephine Amy, in 1862 and a son, Charles, in 1864. Their pleasure was short lived; Dr Kent’s vision was failing and he needed an operation to remove cataracts. The operation was conducted in London in November 1864 but Dr Kent died a few days later. Josephine was pregnant with their fourth child when Benjamin died. His body was brought back to the Island and he is buried in Ryde cemetery. His grave is a large marble obelisk just to the south of the main path and near to the central chapels.
On 10th May 1865 a baby girl was born she was christened Edith Mabel at St John’s Church Ryde on 11th June. Mrs Kent later remarried and moved away from the Island.
With thanks to Peter Schurr (Dr Kent’s great grandson) for donating a copy of his book “Benjamin’s Son”, the biography of Dr Kent, to RSHG. Thanks also to Trish Lovell of the RSHG, and Richard and Sara Button of Tempest Tower for supplying additional information for this article.