Papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson

Scope and Content

The private and family papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson are catalogued in seven sections, the first two relating to different (and peculiarly controversial) periods in T.P. Thompson's career for which quite a number of papers survive. U DTH/1 is papers relating to his brief spell 1808-10 as governor of Sierra Leone and U DTH/2 contains papers from a later period, 1818-21, when he was on active service in the army in the Persian Gulf and India. The remainder of the collection comprises various papers relating to his career in the army, in parliament and as a writer, reformer and political activist. U DTH/4 and U DTH/5 are the biographical papers collected by his son, Charles William Thompson, and granddaughter, Edith Thompson, both of whom wrote biographies of T. P. Thompson that were subsequently not published. Within these sections are many copies of letters to and from T. P. Thompson from 1830.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Perronet Thompson was born in Kingston upon Hull on 15 March 1783. His father, Thomas Thompson, was working in the mercantile house of William Wilberforce (grandfather of the anti-slavery campaigner) when his eldest son was born. His father had a very successful career as a merchant and banker and was able to build, from the proceeds, a vast castellated gothic Georgian house, known locally as 'Cottingham castle'. Thomas Thompson entered parliament in 1807 as Tory MP for Midhurst in Sussex and worked closely with William Wilberforce (the younger) to get the African slave trade banned by act of parliament later that year.

The Thompson family was Methodist. T. P. Thompson's mother, Philothea Perronet Thompson nee Briggs had received letters from John Wesley as a child because both her parents, William Briggs and Elizabeth Briggs nee Perronet, and her maternal grandfather, Vincent Perronet, were friendly with John Wesley. Thomas Thompson, himself a Methodist preacher, was advised by Wesley to marry Philothea (Johnson, pp.10-11).

T.P. Thompson went to Hull Grammar School from 1796 where he became friendly with George Pryme (later the first professor of political economy at Cambridge University). This was a friendship which lasted throughout his life until Pryme predeceased him by just over one year. Their friendship became inspired by a mutual interest in economics. Thompson completed his education by taking a degree in mathematics at Queen's College, Cambridge in 1802. Between 1802 and 1808 Thompson joined first the navy, seeing action against the French, and then the army in the 95th Rifles. In the latter capacity he was sent on an unsuccessful expeditionary force to Buenos Aires, was captured by the Spanish, imprisoned for a short while and then returned to England where he found himself at a loose end.

Four things in Thompson's early career shaped the rest of his life. His connections through his father with the Wilberforce family made him vehemently opposed to slavery. His Methodism made him both prurient and passionately attached to causes of human justice. His interest in mathematics led him to theorize causes of human justice in terms of economics in his later publications. Finally, his early spell in the army led to an attachment to that institution that persisted after he ceased to be actively employed on service.

On Thompson's return to England from South America he stayed with William Wilberforce and impressed him with his enthusiasm for the improvement of affairs in Africa. Wilberforce exerted his influence with the 'Clapham Circle' of Henry Thornton and Thompson, aged only 25, was almost instantly put forward as the new Governor of Sierra Leone (Johnson, pp.24-6).

Sierra Leone had been conceived as a colony for ex-slaves. It was governed by the Sierra Leone Company which had been set up by act of parliament in 1791; Henry Thornton was chairman. The colony had come under the authority of the crown in 1807 and Thompson became the first governor of Sierra Leone, the crown colony. The letter of his appointment from Lord Castlereagh dated 11 April 1808 is at U DTH/1/19. From this we learn that Thompson was immediately put on a salary of £1500 p.a., to rise to £2000 upon his taking up the appointment from the last governor, Thomas Ludlam, after the rainy season. In 1808 these were large sums, and they were probably offered because the job came with a reasonable risk of death.

Thompson's journey from Portsmouth to Freetown, Sierra Leone is recorded in a series of letters he sent to Anne Elizabeth (Nancy) Barker who was later to become his wife. These are reprinted in the only published biography of Thompson: L.G. Johnson, General T. Perronet Thompson (1957) pp.32-7. Thompson recorded finally coming ashore on 21 July 1808 after a two month voyage. However, just under two years later he was back in England, relieved of his post and in disgrace. The collection of papers in the Brynmor Jones Library, especially at U DTH/1, for the period are sizeable and help us to form a picture of how this came about.

In the collection are three papers detailing the utopian political and economic principles upon which Sierra Leone was founded (U DTH/1/6, 34, 39). They appear to have been left by Thomas Ludlam for Thompson and they bear titles about 'promoting improvement' in Africa and on the best means for its 'civilization'. These make clear that one of the objections to slavery in Africa was that it had exacerbated tribal conflict, which in turn crippled agricultural production reducing the capacity of Africa for trade with the rest of the world. Free-trade and anti-slavery concerns were interconnected. The writer of one document warned that 'if the first steps are mismanaged the opportunity [for 'civilization'] we now have may be entirely lost before the error can be retrieved' (U DTH/1/6).

The translation of those 'first steps' into practical policies can be seen by some of the documents relating to the government of Sierra Leone before Thompson arrived (e.g. U DTH/1/2 contains letters from Henry Thornton and past governors like Zachary Macauley; U DTH/1/4 is a document about the setting up of a school; U DTH/1/9 is a survey of the Sierra Leone Company's lands; an estimate of the cost of employing slaves is at U DTH/1/24 and plans for forming a Black Corps from freed slaves off American vessels are at U DTH/1/35; details about slaves released are at U DTH/1/51-3). Also from the surviving papers it is possible to see the extent to which Thompson thought those 'first steps' had already been so badly mismanaged that the colony was very far from being utopian. He kept a rough journal from the date of his landing until 17 October 1808 (U DTH/1/21) and he later wrote a 'narrative of facts' in 1811 (U DTH/1/102) which was very damning of the moral behaviour and policies of the previous government.

The colony held several very different groups of settlers and aboriginal inhabitants. The ex-slaves were largely West Indian and Nova Scotian. Thompson quickly identified with them and the tribal chiefs rather than the English governors of the colony. 'While the white inhabitants are roaring with strong drink at one end the Nova Scotians are roaring out hymns at the other' he told Nancy on 4 August 1808. His 'narrative of facts' in 1811 confirmed this initial affront to his moral and religious sensibilities - at his first dinner at government house, one of the guests became so inebriated that he slid to the floor 'where he lay roaring out those words of shame which Christian men are forbidden to repeat' (U DTH/1/102) (Johnson, p.40).

However, much more importantly, Thompson found that the system of apprenticeship in place in the colony was little short of slavery in practice. Thompson's own account was that when he raised this issue with one of the commissioners at that first dinner he received the shocking response that slavery had always been necessary to the colony (U DTH/1/102). From that time Thompson threw himself into the abolition of what he saw as the last vestige of slavery and the implementation of the utopian plans for improvement through agriculture and other means of the colony. Thomas Ludlam, acting under the old constitution of the Sierra Leone company transferred the governorship to Thompson by inserting a public order into the minutes of the council for 26 July 1808 (the copy of the minutes of council are at U DTH/1/57 but these begin 27 July and end 15 December 1808; notes of Thompson's made later give this account of the transfer - U DTH/1/92).

News of his attack on the apprentice system was received coldly by his patrons of the 'Clapham Circle'. However, details of his activities took a while to arrive in England, though when they did, he was quickly recalled, in April 1809, on the grounds that he had taken up his position before receiving his orders from the crown (U DTH/1/19). This made him angry and he redoubled his efforts at freeing slaves, building roads and settlements, and sowing seeds for cultivation. His letters to Nancy dated March to September 1809 are at U DTH/1/74 (more of them survive in Leeds University MS 277). In March, just before his recall, he was telling her idly and cheerfully that he shared his quarters with two alligators, four snakes, two iguanas and five wild cats (he sent her a shed snake skin). After his recall he began recounting to her his frenzied activity. 'The ancient regime are astonished to see me proceeding as if I had the Govt as an annuity for life', he told her. 'Since the news of going home I have manufactured the foundations of three new towns, to their exceeding great annoy' (U DTH/1/74).

Thompson's response to his dismissal can be seen as a blueprint for his later political career - he was always at his most energetic when in a position of righteous opposition! Other papers of interest for this period include details of the capture of slave-trading ships and the release of slaves (U DTH/1/5, 11, 15-16, 30-2, 41, 54-6, 70). Letters and dispatches of the period are at DTH/1/2, 14, 26-7. They include letters from William Wilberforce (U DTH/1/61), correspondence with his predecessor, Thomas Ludlam (U DTH/1/63), and the general orders for his eventual transfer of government in February 1810 (U DTH/1/47, 87).

Thus Thompson was recalled in April 1809 but had until February of the following year to throw himself into reforming the colony 'his way'. In May he had written to Nancy that he hoped 'contrary winds may keep back the Soleboy [the ship carrying his successor, Captain Columbine] till our people get their land sowed' (U DTH/1/74). His prayers were answered; the ships got caught up in the capture of Senegal in July 1809 and Columbine was forced to return to England and then catch another ship (U DTH/1/67-9). By August Thompson was able to tell Nancy 'I verily believe that in one year I have doubled the cultivation of the colony'. His rebellion against injustice gave him strength, he told her, and he flippantly added that he had heard his 'sagacious father' had disowned him too (U DTH/1/74). He was clearly unperturbed by the censure of authority and was caught up in a mission to transform Sierra Leone, much of which he financed out of his own salary (U DTH/1/97).

Thompson maintained his righteous rage after landing in England in May 1810. Calling the bluff of Lord Castlereagh, who had ordered him home to 'explain' his administration (U DTH/1/19) he now began demanding a full and public enquiry as well as his salary for his time at sea, which he worked out precisely as £319 14s 11 1/4d. To these ends he wrote to Lord Liverpool three times between 13 December 1810 and 14 January 1811, but an interview with Robert Peel made it clear that his dismissal cut short his entitlement to pay (U DTH/1/97). Thompson was left impecunious as well as angry and the enquiry does not seem to have taken place. There was a local enquiry into the administration of Ludlam (U DTH/1/94).

Correspondence (including drafts and copies of letters) for 1810 is at U DTH/1/94-6. Thompson spent much of this year and early 1811 writing post facto justifications of his own administration of Sierra Leone and these included posthumous attacks on the administration of Ludlam (U DTH/1/92, 98, 102). He also kept up a correspondence with the new governor, Columbine (U DTH/1/82, 88-9), and some material survives in the collection from Columbine's administration (U DTH/1/86, 90). Thompson's report to Treasury is at U DTH/1/100. Apart from the material already mentioned from U DTH/1, accounts of Thompson's time as governor of Sierra Leone are also to be found in the notes of one of his family biographers at U DTH/1/33. There is much more to be found in the biographical material calendared at U DTH/4 and U DTH/5 (e.g. U DTH/1/4/26). In addition, the Brynmor Jones Library has copies of the Sierra Leone 'Gazette' for the period and these make interesting reading in conjunction with the archival material held.

After he left Sierra Leone, Thompson continued to be interested in the fate of ex-slaves and he left a lasting impression on them in return. In October 1838 the Jamaican ex-slaves wrote to him, enclosing a petition they had drawn up for Queen Victoria, asking that they be returned to Jamaica (U DTH/1/101). As late as the 1860s he was contributing letters to The Anti-Slavery Reporter (U DTH/3/41-3). (U DTH/4/32 holds a copy of The Times report on the anti-slavery jubilee for 1884.) This was a pattern to be repeated in his life; Thompson did not jump from one cause to another, leaving the last behind. Instead, he spent his life accruing them.

In 1812 Thompson turned his mind to happier things. He made plans to marry Nancy, though even this did not go quite as smoothly as he might have hoped. Both fathers were against the marriage and the couple was forced to elope, Thompson collecting Nancy from her home in York in the dead of night and then picking up a post-chaise outside The Black Swan to whisk her off to London. Thompson was unemployed and remained unreconciled to his father which left him in considerable financial difficulty. Nancy returned to the home of her parents in York, where she had the first of six children, Lucy. Thompson made the decision to rejoin the army and he spent 1813 and 1814 on active service in northern-Spain and southern-France. On 12 December 1813 his brother, Charles William, was killed in action and Thompson was devastated. He made his way to the burial place and exhumed the body on 23 December to retrieve a lock of hair and a gold cross of sentimental value (Johnson, pp.71, 82-3).

On his return from Spain he was promoted to the rank of captain in the 50th Foot and then moved to the 17th Light Dragoons who were serving in India. His wife had had a second child, Thomas, but she left the two children with her parents and travelled to Bombay with her husband in mid-1815, despite being pregnant again. In November 1815, a second son was born to the Thompsons and he was named Charles William after T.P. Thompson's deceased brother. The army allowed his wife and child to come and go at different times from where Thompson was stationed. Thompson spent the time learning Arabic and on 16 November 1819 he joined Sir William Grant Keir as Arabic interpreter on an expedition to suppress the Wahabee pirates of the Persian Gulf. He was accompanied by his wife and child. A peace treaty was concluded in January 1820 and Thompson insisted on including a clause banning the slave trade (Johnson, pp.97-8).

Thompson was then made a political agent in Ras-al-Khyma and was left in the area with a force of over 1000 men. However, the camp at Ras-al-Khyma was attacked and demolished and they were forced to evacuate on 18 July 1820 to Deristan on the island of Kishme, at a time when the whole family was dangerously ill. From there a surgeon ordered the Thompson family back to Bombay, but they only got as far as Maskat before Thompson decided they were well enough to return to Kishme. In Kishme events went from bad to worse. He decided to act in co-operation with the Imam of Maskat to suppress the piratical Beni Bou Ali Arabs. The trip was a total disaster, a mere handful of men surviving and no officers, except Thompson. He was relieved of his post to await court martial in Bombay on 4 May 1821. The verdicts on four charges were a mixture of guilty and innocent and he was returned to his regiment (Johnson, pp.104-5, 108-13).

Papers concerning this catastrophic period in Thompson's life are catalogued as U DTH/2. They include Thompson's appointment as Keir's interpreter (U DTH/2/3), bundles of letters and dispatches, some of them relating to the fated expedition against the Beni Bou Ali and the subsequent court martial (U DTH/2/1-8, 11-13-17, 24, 40-3). There are also orders for the evacuation of Ras-al-Khyma, memoranda of Thompson's about the expedition at U DTH/2/19 and strength returns and casualties from the expedition, which make sad reading indeed (U DTH/2/26, 35-9).

Other papers covering these incidents in Thompson's life are scattered through the collection. U DTH/4/16 contains translated copies of letters sent to Thompson in 1820 and there are other letters February to June of that year at U DTH/4/17. His son Charles put together some notes on the expedition and these are at U DTH/4/27. Letters about the Beni Bou Ali expedition are at U DTH/4/28-9. Thompson wrote a letter to The Globe about the expedition on 18 May 1821 and this is at U DTH/6/20.

Thompson seems to have been a person of unquenchable and manic enthusiasms. Ordered home with his regiment towards the end of 1821 he decided to obtain leave and go overland with his wife and son, travelling by camel and dhou in the middle east. Both he and his son became ill, but recovered. The day he arrived home on 2 February 1823 his mother died and in May his sister, Philothea, finally succumbed to tuberculosis. No sooner had he returned home than he threw himself into a new cause, that of Radical politics. He met Jeremy Bentham in about 1823 and translated his Leading Principles into Arabic. In 1825 he was promoted to rank of major in the 65th Foot and he served for a while in Ireland. In the same year Bentham launched, with John Bowring whom Thompson almost met around 1823, the Westminster Review. Thompson's long career of political journalism began here with an article on The instrument of exchange. The two pamphlets for which he is most famous, The true theory of rent (U DTH/3/4) and Catechism on the corn laws, quickly followed in 1826 and 1827 and marked him out as a free-trade acolyte of Adam Smith who was willing to apply free-trade theories to problems of social justice. Papers reflecting these dual and interconnected interests are at U DTH/3/4, 6, 23, 26 [includes a letter of John Stuart Mill], 31 (Johnson, pp.113-16).

In 1828 Thompson's father died and he inherited the family fortune and 'Cottingham' Castle', which he promptly rented out and later sold (it burnt down in 1861, leaving one tower, now visible in the grounds of Castle Hill Hospital; a newspaper cutting about the fire is at U DTH/7/3). Having inherited some money, he started to spend it, 'carrying on in the unpractical manner of the Sierra Leone days...[investing] in Liberal and Radical causes and...[calling] his losses gains'. He withdrew from the army, purchasing an unattached lieutenant-colonelcy in 1829. He continued to take an interest in army affairs (U DTH/3/18, 28) and to rise through the ranks until he reached that of general without seeing further active service. He now threw himself fully into a career of political journalism as a Radical and, to that purpose, bought the Westminster Review in 1828. He moved into Baker Street in London and made London his permanent home (Johnson, p.142).

Unfortunately, papers relating to the period 1821-1830 are notable by their absence and so this period of Thompson's life can only be gleaned through the prism of the two unpublished family biographies and notes relating to them. Charles William Thompson's biography takes his father's life through to 1827 and is at U DTH/4/1-3, the last volume covering the 1820s. Edith Thompson's biography is at U DTH/5/1-24 and volumes 17-19 cover the period 1821 to the beginning of 1830. Edith Thompson, in particular, seems to have been most concerned to explain her grandfather's actions in Sierra Leone and the Persian Gulf. At U DTH/5/31 is her correspondence with other family members about such matters. U DTH/5/35-7 comprises over 1000 pages of her notes and biographical work covering the Sierra Leone and Persian Gulf debacles. Much of Thompson's correspondence in Hull University Archives is catalogued at U DTH/4 and U DTH/5 because Edith and Charles William Thompson (especially the latter) were very active in having his letters transcribed. Further original correspondence is to be found in the other major deposit relating to T.P. Thompson in University of Leeds MS 277, but most of the originals were destroyed in a fire in London in 1874.

From about 1830 it can be said that Thompson devoted the rest of his life to various social causes which he articulated through his Radical political activism, especially writing and parliamentary electioneering and campaigning. One cause he took up in the 1830s was that of catholic emancipation and his article the Catholic state waggon ran to 40,000 copies in circulation. Through the pages of the Westminster Review he threw his weight behind the Reform Act of 1832. However, tension quickly developed between the aims of the Radicals and the Whigs and this was undoubtedly intensified by Thompson's article Adjustment of the House of Lords. By 1838, though, Thompson was blaming Joseph Hume, whom he called 'our bungling friend Joseph', for their departure in political aims (U DTH/4/8, letter to George Pryme 28 Feb. 1838).

Possibly Thompson came to believe that the most effective way open to him to pursue his Radical politics was to gain a seat in parliament for in 1834 he allowed his name to be put forward as Radical candidate for Preston (Lancs). He failed to win the seat, but won a by-election in Hull the following year by only five votes. He now sold the Westminster Review to devote his time to constituency affairs. He was a diligent constituency MP, writing twice a week for local newspapers and he continued to do this throughout his parliamentary career. He took up causes that were brought to his attention. For example, U DTH/3/10 is a letter from 1837 asking him to bring a measure against duelling in the house and his reply and memorandum survive. Transcriptions of letters relating to 1830-5 are at U DTH/4/4-6; many of them are to his friend and political ally, John Bowring.

T.P. Thompson's parliamentary career was not smooth. In 1837 he stood for Maidstone and failed to get elected against the young Benjamin Disraeli. His expenses are detailed at U DTH/3/11 and there is a later letter about it to a newspaper at U DTH/6/33 (dated 26 December 1878). Thompson spent the next decade in the (parliamentary) political wilderness until he was finally elected as Radical candidate for Bradford in 1847. His transcribed correspondence 1835-47 is at U DTH/4/6-12 and U DTH/5/25-5 and includes more letters to and from John Bowring as well as letters to and from various family members, including to his youngest child Anne Elise (Lily) who had been born in 1833. Nancy had given birth to two other children since getting back from the Persian Gulf - John Wycliffe, born 1824, and Annie, born in Dublin in 1828. Unfortunately this fifth child died just before the sixth was born.

Thompson's political life made his family life quite chaotic and this is reflected in letters between himself and his family (there are a few original letters between himself and his children at U DTH/7/3 dated 1839-42). 'I cannot believe I am as bad as you say,' he joked with Nancy on 26 October 1838. 'What is it that can be brought against me, but that some political opponents disapprove of what I do; and who is there of whom the like cannot be said?,' he continued (U DTH/4/8). By the late 1830s the family had moved several times within London, but in 1839 they moved from Regent's Park to Blackheath, where they stayed permanently (Johnson, p.231).

Thompson's political life in the late 1830s and early 1840s was dominated by two causes; Chartism and the Anti-Corn Law League. While still an MP in 1837 he had been one of the six MPs to sign the original People's Charter calling for a wider franchise and parliamentary reform. References to Chartism can be found in some correspondence catalogued amongst Thompson's miscellaneous papers at U DTH/3/13, 15. The speech of Joseph Hume on suffrage 21 March 1839 is at U DTH/6/35. Anti-corn law material includes anti-corn law election cards 1835-42 (U DTH/3/8), a speech of his friend George Pryme on 2 April 1840 about the corn law (U DTH/6/6) and a letter in The Daily News dated 7 November 1874 which makes reference to the anti-corn law activities of Thompson (U DTH/6/32). In 1846 when the Anti-Corn Law League achieved its victory, Richard Cobden singled Thompson out for his support. Copies of letters from Thompson to Cobden are at U DTH/4/11 and U DTH/5/26-8 (Morrison, 'Thomas Perronet Thompson', p. 17).

Between 1837 and 1847 Thompson continued to fight elections to get back into parliament at the same time as pursuing his goal of reforming the parliamentary system of democratic election and process. A letter of John Childs dated 27 September 1839 talks about the suffrage campaign and makes reference to Thompson's demonstrating activities in Manchester. He stood in the Sunderland election in 1845 and speeches and newspaper cutting relating to this are at U DTH/3/17 and U DTH/6/38-46. In 1847 he had to choose between standing for Bradford and Westminster and his refusal to the electors of the latter is at U DTH/3/29. Thompson's election win, standing for Bradford in 1847, brought him out of the (parliamentary) political wilderness and he held this seat until 1852 when he lost an election by only six votes. Papers relating to the 1847 Bradford election and his term as Bradford MP are at U DTH/3/19 and U DTH/6/47-50 and include his speeches. He continued his campaigning for parliamentary reform from this new position and papers about parliamentary reform include a petition to the crown from the inhabitants of Bradford (U DTH/3/5) and Thompson's considerable correspondence with the Bradford Reform Association (U DTH/3/30-3). The Association's schedule of the true area and population of Bradford from 1831-51 can be found at U DTH/3/22. As MP for Bradford he became an even more active correspondent with his electors than he had been while MP for Hull. Some of this correspondence is at U DTH/4/14 and U DTH/5/27. Thompson also became involved in the issue of catholic emancipation and papers relating to the debate on papal aggression in 1851 are at U DTH/3/32-6. A printed pamphlet entitled The Roman catholic question dated 1850 is at U DTH/6/15. He continued his economic mission by writing an article, Catechism on the currency, which advocated an inconvertible but limited paper currency, and he presented these views to parliament in a series of resolutions which were defeated in 1852. Copies of Thompson's letters with family and friends between 1848 and through the 1850s can be found at U DTH/4/13-4 and U DTH/5/25 (Dictionary of National Biography).

Thompson spent five years out of parliament between 1852 and 1857, but kept himself busy with political pamphleteering. He spoke vehemently against the government over the opium trade, causing him to sever his friendship with John Bowring irrevocably in 1857 when he was once again returned to parliament for Bradford. In this year he began a series of letters to the Bradford Advertiser on a variety of political issues and these were later gathered into a multi-volume publication. Letters and speeches of Thompson at the time of the 1857 election can be found at U DTH/6/51-6 (Morrison, 'Thomas Perronet Thompson', p.17; Johnson, pp.278-80).

Thompson's parliamentary career came to a close with the dissolution of parliament in 1859 when he was 76 years old. He continued his career as a political journalist as can be seen from an original letter to the Bradford Advertiser entitled 'Are the Whigs giving over housekeeping?' dated 1866 in which he attacks the whigs for their treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants of Jamaica and New Zealand (U DTH/3/29). He also took up the cause of the Irish church in 1868 and his letters to newspapers about this are at U DTH/6/30-1. The Halifax Reform Association asked him to stand for election in 1864 and papers relating to this are at U DTH/3/37-40. The Brynmor Jones Library also holds copies of the Bradford Advertiser 2 April 1862 to 30 December 1865 with the letters of T.P. Thompson contained therein.

Transcriptions of Thompson's private letters through the 1860s until his death in 1869 are at U DTH/4/15 and U DTH/5/28 and the latter also contains some originals of his letters to the Bradford Advertiser. U DTH/6 contains interesting printed material for the period 1820-86, including some newspaper cuttings of Thompson's political speeches during his long career. Obituaries and small biographies can be found at U DTH/4/30 and U DTH/6/34, 57-77.

Despite Thompson's unwavering attention to social and political causes in the latter part of his life, he remained a polymath and his private letters reveal him to be a man interested in everything from natural history to music. Before falling from grace with Lord Castlereagh in 1809 he had drafted a letter to him with suggestions for a natural history of Africa (U DTH/1/14). Towards the end of his life he became very attached to his granddaughter, Edith (daughter of Thomas Perronet Edward Thompson), and wrote to her about shrimps, fish, crabs, frogs, grasshoppers, wasps, hornets, snails and comets. His varied advice by post covered everything from philately to the choice of a ball dress (Leeds MS 277). The private letters held by Hull University Archives and the University of Leeds make an interesting study of a man who was very accessible to his children and grandchildren. Edith went on to become a prolific author, chronicling the life of her ancestors (U DTH/5/34) and her grandfather, but also helping to compile entries for the Dictionary of National Biography and editing, with Eleanor Freeman, huge amounts of the Oxford English Dictionary. There is a letter from Eleanor Freeman to Edith dated 6 December 1887 at U DTH/5/33 (see U DX9 - her correspondence with Edward Augustus Freeman).

Thompson's other major interest from about the late 1840s was music and he designed for Edith an enharmonic organ which was used to open the Grand Exhibition in 1851, playing 'God save the queen'. Papers relating to this organ and its presentation to the Tonic Sol-fa Society are at U DTH/3/9, 24 and U DTH/4/15 (there is more in Leeds MS 277). His article, Just intonation, on the organ is at U DTH/3/25.

T.P. Thompson's papers in Hull University Archives offer much to the researcher interested in the formal and informal political processes of mid-nineteenth-century Britain. Thompson is, himself, a case study of a person whose long political career was broken in terms of parliamentary representation, but continuous in terms of pamphleteering and campaigning in newspapers and taverns (e.g. U DTH/4/8) for a whole hotch-potch of causes, in his case taken up bcause of his interconnected beliefs in free trade and social justice, originally given vent in his anti-slavery and anti-piracy missions in Sierra Leone and the Persian Gulf. Right at the end of his life he took up one last cause; that of women. Following on from a letter he received from Mr J.T. Dexter in 1868 complaining that women should have an equal right to the franchise and entry into training and the liberal professions, Thompson drew up a petition complaining that in the case of women designated femes sole there was 'taxation without representation' (U DTH/3/29). For the researcher interested in women's history, there is also a letter to Mrs E. Gaskell dated 25 May 1860. A final item of particular interest in the T.P. Thompson collection is a photographic reproduction of an engraving of his father, Thomas Thompson, at U DTH/7/1.


U DTH/1 Papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson relating to Sierra Leone, 1804 - 1838

U DTH/2 Papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson relating to the Persian Gulf and India, 1818 - 1875

U DTH/3 Various Papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson, 1808 - 1875

U DTH/4 Papers of Charles William Thompson, 1757 - 1894

U DTH/5 Papers of Edith Thompson, 1806 - 1893

U DTH/6 Printed Material, 1820 - 1899

U DTH/7 Various Papers, 1750 - 1933

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Other Finding Aids

Entry in Modern political papers subject guide

Custodial History

Donated by Mrs Isabel Hughes (nee Thompson), Taunton, in 1934

Related Material

Correspondence of Edith Thompson with EA Freeman [U DX9]

Papers of Lt. Gen. Napier Christie Burton [DDCV2/57]

Other repositories:

MS 277, Leeds University Library, Department of Special Collections

Letters to Richard Cobden [Add MS 43663], British Library Department of Manuscripts

Letters to HB Peacock [Eng MS 1180], John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

Letters to George Wilson, Manchester Archives and Local Studies

Correspondence [DC4 101-103], Edinburgh University Library, Department of Special Collections


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  • Morrison, John, 'Perronet Thompson, 1783-1869: a middle class radical' (York DPhil, 1994)
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  • Prentice, A., History of the Anti-Corn Law League (1853)
  • Thompson, C.W., 'Thomas Perronet Thompson', Proceedings of the Royal Society, 116 (1869)
  • Turner, Michael J, ‘Thompson, Thomas Perronet (1783–1869)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 29 June 2006]
  • Waterson, Edward F.V., 'Cottingham Castle', The Georgian Society for East Yorkshire, 13 (1986)