John Asgill, eccentric English writer and newly elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Enniscorthy, is expelled from the Irish parliament on October 11, 1703, on account of a pamphlet he published in Dublin in 1698, arguing that man may pass into eternal life without dying. The pamphlet is burned by the common hangman and he spends much of the rest of his life in prison in England for blasphemy or for matters arising from land speculation in Ireland.
John Asgill is born at Hanley Castle, Worcestershire, England, on March 25, 1659, the son of Edward and Hester Asgill. Little is known of his early life but in 1686 he becomes a student at the Middle Temple and is called to the bar in 1692. He founds the first land bank in 1695 with Nicholas Barbon, which, after proving to be a profitable venture, merges with the land bank of John Briscoe in 1696. However, after profits drop, the bank closes in 1699. He is then elected that year as Member of Parliament for Bramber.
In 1700 Asgill publishes An Argument Proving, that … Man may be Translated, a pamphlet aiming to prove that death is not obligatory upon Christians. Within days of its publication, he leaves England to travel to Ireland, where he hopes to profit from the Williamite confiscation, acting on behalf of individuals affected by the 1699 resumption act. He is reasonably successful but is unable to gain the profits that he had anticipated. He becomes involved in lengthy litigation with the estate of the Jacobite Nicholas Browne, which continues until the early 1730s.
In an attempt to further his interests Asgill enters the Irish House of Commons in 1703, representing Enniscorthy. His Irish parliamentary career is to be short. On September 25, the first day of the session, his pamphlet on death is discussed and voted “wicked and blasphemous” and ordered to be burned by the common hangman. He is allowed to make a personal defence of his work on October 11, but this proves insufficient. He is expelled and the Commons order that “he be forever hereafter incapable of being chosen, returned or sitting a member of any succeeding parliament in this kingdom.”
While in Ireland Asgill is re-elected to the English House of Commons for Bramber in 1702 and so returns to England. On June 12, 1707 he is arrested and imprisoned at Fleet Prison for debt. He claims parliamentary immunity as a member of a current parliament despite the confusion whether the last English parliament and the first Parliament of Great Britain are the same body, and in December the House of Commons agrees. Nevertheless, two days after ordering his release from prison, he is expelled from the Commons both for his religious views and because he is a declared bankrupt.
Asgill falls on hard times and spends the rest of his life imprisoned in the Fleet or within the bounds of the King’s Bench but his zeal as a pamphleteer continues unabated.
Asgill dies on November 10, 1738, in the parish of Southwark, and is survived by his sister Martha.