THOMPSON, Thomas I (1767-1818), of Bentley Heath, Warws. and Goldingham Park, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 1767, 1st s. of John Thompson of Pall Mall, Mdx. educ. Marylebone; Trinity Coll. Camb. 31 Jan. 1785, aged 17; L. Inn 1785. m. Martha, s.p.

Offices Held


He was the illegitimate son of Levi the Jew, well known in the City and on the Exchange. His father had given Mr Thompson an excellent education; his genius was sprightly; and his taste in the arts, refined: but he was to be classed rather among the belle-lettres, than the well-informed men; for though he knew a little of most things, he was profound in none. Plunged, unhappily, in early manhood, into the vortex of fashionable dissipation, the most precious period of his life had been wasted in worse than idleness: and he had to lament, and frequently did he lament, that the only ‘wages’ he had earned from a wild course of lavish expenditure, were an injured fortune, and a broken constitution. The munificence of his father to him, had been princely: but, it could not keep pace with his extravagance; for play was one among the many modes, by which he ruined his finances ... He had seen and deplored his error, ere I became acquainted with him: and, I believe, nothing would have tempted him, to have touched again a card or a die. From the period of this loss, he devoted himself, as far as his shattered health would allow, to some of the higher species of literature.

This was the account of Thompson given by Rev. Richard Warner, who added that he was the illustrator of Pennant’s London. The ‘John Thompson’ described as his father on his admission to Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn was ‘deceased’ by 29 Dec. 1785.1

Thompson’s finances can scarcely have been helped by his parliamentary venture. In 1790, at the instigation of the Whig election managers, he successfully contested Evesham, retaining his seat after another contest in 1796, though he appears to have contemplated retiring then.2 He joined the Whig Club, 19 Jan. 1790, and Brooks’s sponsored by Fox, on 11 May 1791. He was one of the steadiest voters with the Foxite opposition in that Parliament and an occasional speaker on their behalf. He was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in April 1791. He was a critic of the War Office handling of contracts for the raising of independent companies of foot during the threat of war with Spain, 10 Dec. 1790, 28 Mar. 1791, and supported Grey’s motion for inquiry into the convention with Spain, 13 Dec. 1790. On 20 Feb. 1792 he again supported a motion of Grey’s, on the Russian armament. His own moment came on 13 Mar. 1792 when he indicted George Rose* for official interference in the Westminster by-election of 1788; the motion was lost by 221 votes to 84. He was teller for the Westminster petition, 8 May 1792, and against the discharge of the corrupt electors of Stockbridge, 3 May 1793. As a Friend of the People and of the Liberty of the Press, he voted for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1793. On 24 Feb. 1794 he was a spokesman for the radicals Rev. Thomas Fyshe Palmer and John Horne Tooke*, and on 24 Mar., moving unsuccessfully for returns of the foreigners to be expelled under the Aliens Act, described it as another device to halt reform and restrict civil liberty. As a member of the Society for Constitutional Information who testified before the Privy Council, he protested against the misrepresentation of its proceedings (admitted by Pitt) in the report of the secret committee on sedition, 17 May, 16 June 1794. He was a critic of the Prussian subsidy and of the suspension of habeas corpus, 5 Jan. 1795. He was one of the Friends of Freedom who celebrated the acquittal of the victims of the ‘treason’ trials at that time.3

Thompson’s attendance fell off in the Parliament of 1796, after his appearance in the minorities of 8 and 30 Dec. 1796. He was a defaulter on 3 Apr. 1797 and absent ill on Grey’s reform motion, 26 May. He had been a steward for the reform meeting at the Crown and Anchor on 18 May.4 He appeared in the minorities against Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 14 Dec. 1797 and 4 Jan. 1798, having the day before denounced it in detail as a bid to ‘destroy the morals and intellects of the rising generation’. He was one of five Members who divided against the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 20 Apr. 1798, and voted for inquiry into the conduct of the Irish government, 22 June. His only known votes thereafter were for Grey’s amendment to the address, 2 Feb., and for his censure motion of 25 Mar. 1801.

On 25 Jan. 1802 Thompson wrote to a friend from Orléans that he had come abroad for health reasons, intending to winter at Nice, but had decided to stay where he was. By March it was known that he would not contest Evesham at the general election.5 He was one of Buonaparte’s detainees at Orléans on the resumption of hostilities in 1803. He did not return home until 1815 when Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes wrote on his behalf to the Home Secretary, 26 Apr.:

I trust your lordship will pardon my zeal to serve a particular friend for whom I feel most warmly interested, Mr Thomas Thompson, lately returned from France after having been detained by Bonaparte during the whole of the last war. His conduct to his countrymen who passed as prisoners from Spain thro’ Orléans (where he resided) is the subject of general admiration ... his knowledge of the language, character and intrigues of that nation fully qualifies him for the office of superintendent of aliens ... [he is] a perfect man of business ... it was with the passport of Mr Thompson that Col. Jenkinson was enabled to quit Paris with dispatches (announcing Bonaparte’s arrival) when orders were given to refuse leave to all attached to the Embassy.6

Thompson died at Kensington Gravel Pits, 29 July 1818. Administration of his effects, valued below £1,000, was granted on 23 Sept. to Martha his widow, formerly of Portsea, lately of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: M. J. Williams / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Warner, Literary Recollections, ii. 145; L. Inn Admissions, i. 516.
  • 2. Ginter, Whig Organization, 140; True Briton, 8 Apr. 1796.
  • 3. CJ, xlix, 725; Courier, 14 Jan. 1795.
  • 4. The Substance of the Speech of ... Fox on ... 26 May 1797, p. 35; The Times, 13 May 1797.
  • 5. Northumb. RO, Swinburne mss 554/94, Thompson to Bull, 25 Jan.; The Times, 8 Mar., 12 Apr. 1802.
  • 6. Sidmouth mss.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1818), ii. 375; PCC admon. act. bk. 1818.