BOWLBY, Thomas (1721-95), of Park St., London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - Jan. 1783

Family and Education

bap. 2 May 1721, 1st s. of Thomas Bowlby of Durham by his w. Mary Burrell of Durham.  educ. Trinity Hall, Camb. 1740; M. Temple 1739.  m. 20 June 1754, Lady Mary, da. of George Brudenell, 3rd Earl of Cardigan, wid. of Richard Powis of Hintlesham Hall, Suff., d.s.p.

Offices Held

Commr. of Excise 1762-76; jt. comptroller of army accounts 1776-80; commissary gen. of musters 1780- d.


As a young man Bowlby spent some time in Italy, and in 1752 was buying Italian paintings for Lord Northumberland.1 His marriage introduced him to court circles, and in 1762 Newcastle, when recommending him for a vacancy at the Excise, noted ‘how much the King approved’.2 On 3 Oct. 1776 Robinson suggested Bowlby to the King for a comptroller of army accounts: ‘The Duke of Montagu, Lord Ailesbury, Mr. Bowlby and the Brudenell family have long and most earnestly solicited this office, and Lord North would wish to oblige them.’3 But the change of office reduced Bowlby’s salary by 200 a year which in January 1780 was made up by a secret service pension.4 He seems to have been an able administrator, and according to his successor, Sir John Dick, much more vigorous and efficient than any of his immediate predecessors.5 In May 1780 North proposed him as one of the commissioners to inquire into public accounts, describing him in the House as ‘a man of as upright a heart, as clear a head, and as honest a mind as anyone living ... whose talents, as well as the many recommendations he had received from various quarters, pointed him out as a very fit person to be a commissioner’. But Fox, though ‘no man in that House, or out of it had a better opinion’ of Bowlby than he had, condemned the attempt to introduce a placeman since placemen were specifically excluded by the bill; and the nomination was rejected by the House.6

On 4 September 1780 North wrote to Christopher D’Oyly, commissary general of musters, who meant to retire from Parliament:7

Mr. Bowlby is resolved to undertake a parliamentary life, and will be recommended by the Duke of Northumberland to one of his boroughs in the West. As you are changing your political situation, I do not see why you should not change places at the same time. The place he now fills is not tenable with a seat in the House of Commons, your place ought always to be held by a Member of Parliament.

The change of places was gazetted on the 6th, and a few days later Bowlby was returned on Northumberland’s interest at Launceston. In Parliament he naturally supported Administration. His one reported speech in the House was in a debate on army accounts, 31 May 1781. In April 1782 North, in his observations on John Robinson’s list of pensions, noted that Bowlby, ‘who will be very grateful for the continuance in Lady Mary’s name, does not wish to be continued in the list in his own name’;8 and a pension of £200 was still being paid to Lady Mary Bowlby in August 1782.9 In 1783 Bowlby vacated his seat; his reasons for doing so have not been ascertained.

He died in October 1795.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Mann to Walpole, 11 Aug. 1752.
  • 2. Add. 32938, f. 365.
  • 3. Add. 38833, f. 67.
  • 4. 37836, f. 67.
  • 5. Binney, British Public Finance Administration, 12.
  • 6. Almon xvii. 609, 622.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. 1829, i. 506.
  • 8. Fortescue, v. 469.
  • 9. Secret service accounts, Royal archives, Windsor.