Source: Sir Lesley Stephen & Sir Sidney Lee (eds.), Dictionary of National Biography: from the earliest times to 1900 (London, Oxford University Press, 1949). Added by Marjie Bloy, Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore
ohn Thomas Becher, a clergyman and writer on social economy, was born in 1770, and received his early education at Westminster School, which he entered at fourteen. In 1788 he went up to Oxford; in 1795 he took his M.A. In 1799 he was presented to the perpetual curacies of Thurgarton and Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire. He devoted himself actively to the work of local administration, and it was as one of the visiting justices for his division of Nottinghamshire that he wrote what was printed in 1806 as A Report concerning the House of Correction at Southwell, in his immediate neighbourhood. In this he urged that prison discipline should be made reformatory as well as penal. About 1816 he was made chairman of the quarter sessions of the Newark division of Nottinghamshire, an office which he held for thirty years. In 1802 he had been appointed vicar of Rumpton, Nottinghamshire, and of Midsomer Norton in 1802. He became a friend of Byron when the poet was staying at Southwell during his Cambridge vacations; and at his advice Byron suppressed his first privately printed volume. In 1818 he became a prebendary of Southwell, and was vicar-general of that collegiate church, the provost and chapter of which presented him in 1830 to the rectory of Barnborough, Yorkshire. He took a warm interest in everything connected with the social condition of the people, and, whether he was its founder or not, zealously promoted the establishment of a friendly society at Southwell. In 1824 he published
- The Constitution of Friendly Societies upon Legal and Scientific Principles exemplified by the Rules and Tables of Calculations adopted for the Government of the Friendly Institute at Southwell (3rd edition, 1826);
followed in 1825 by
- Tables showing the single and monthly contributions to be paid, the allowances to be granted, and the method of calculating, at every period of life, the value of assurances effected by members of Friendly Societies, together with a system of Bookkeeping recommended for the use of such institutions.
In 1826 appeared his
- Observations upon the Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Laws respecting Friendly Societies, exemplifying and vindicating the principles of Life Assurance adopted in calculating the Southwell Tables, together with the heads of a Bill for improving the constitution and management of such institutions.
The vindication was of Becher's contention that sick allowances could be calculated on a scientific basis, and that the Northampton tables of mortality afforded the best data for life assurance and cognate calculations, both of which positions had been contested before the committee by Mr. Finlaison, the actuary of the national debt. In 1828 Becher published The Anti-Pauper System, exemplifying the positive and practical good realised by the relievers and the relieved under the frugal, beneficent, and careful administration of the poor laws prevailing at Southwell and in the neighbouring district,&c.
The erection of a workhouse at Southwell, the substitution of indoor for outdoor relief, and the making the former as repulsive as possible to able-bodied paupers, had caused considerable reduction in the rates at Southwell, and the system in operation there had been copied with similar results in various parishes throughout the country. The select committee of the House of Commons on agriculture in its report pointed attention to the value of Becher's system, which was also favourably mentioned by the Quarterly Review. In 1834, during the official investigation which resulted in the new poor law, Becher issued a second edition of this work, with a new introduction. In 1837, he apparently converted, on at least one point, Finlaison, his former antagonist, and there appeared Rules of the Northampton Equitable Friendly Institution, and tables calculated from actual returns of sickness, old age, and death, by the Rev. J. T. Becher, M.A., and J. Finlaison, Esq., Actuary of the National Debt.
Becher died at Hill House, Southwell, on 3 January 1848, aged 78
Last modified 31 October 2002