Tonson family papers

Scope and Content

The Tonson family papers consist of 8 boxes and 7 volumes, including:

- Boxes 1 to 8 (formerly MS 129) - Legal documents, including deeds, leases and wills, and accounts, financial records and correspondence relating to property owned by the Tonson family. Box 1 contains material concerning the Kit Cat Club portraits (NPG 3193-3235), this includes bills and receipts for picture frames and cleaning of portraits, list of subscribers to the Kat Cat Club 15 May 1702, toasts for the years 1712 and 1714, account of the Kit Cat Club, documents relating to the portrait of John Duke of Marlborough, plan of the hang of Kit Cat pictures in Barn Elms and bill for food and drink for the Kit Cat Club.

- Copy of the will of Jacob Tonson the younger (formerly MS 130) - Copy assumed to have been made after Jacob Tonson the younger's death in 1735, includes 5 loose pages which appear to relate to the estate of Richard Tonson and date from c. 1776.

- Account book (formerly MS 131) - Contains records of receipts and payments in connection with property, including servants' wages, building maintenance, rents and mortgages. 1767-1771

- Executor book (formerly MS 132) - Contains receipts, pasted to the leaves of the volume, relating to the settlement of legacies from the will of Jacob Tonson (1714-1767) by his brother and executor Richard Tonson (1717-1772), 1767-1772

- An account of securities and personalities found in the house of Richard Tonson Esq in his dwelling house at Water Oakley this 19th day of Oct 1772 (formerly MS 133) - Contains records of notes of hand, assignments of leases, mortgages, bonds, and cash found in the house, together with a loose leaf at the front of the volume inscribed 'Copy of Mr Mosely's will', c. 1772

- Heirs of Richard Tonson (formerly MS 134) - Account book maintained by William Baker relating to the estate of Richard Tonson, 1772-1774

- Account William Baker with heirs of Richard Tonson (formerly MS 135) - Includes a loose leaf summary of Tonson's accounts, 1772-1776

- Estate of Richard Tonson Esq deceased, October 9th 1772, William Baker, Administrator (formerly MS 136) - Includes copy of Richard Tonson's will and accounts relating to his estate compiled by William Baker, some loose pages are contained within the volume concerning monies received, 1772-1777

Administrative / Biographical History

Jacob Tonson, the elder, (1655/6-1736) was born in London the son of Jacob Tonson and Elizabeth Walbancke; he had an elder brother Richard. He was apprenticed to the stationer Thomas Basset on 6 June 1670 and on completion of his apprenticeship on 7 January 1678 he set up his own publishing firm. Amongst the authors he published were John Milton and John Dryden.

From the 1680s, Tonson was closely involved with the leading Whigs and was a founding member of the Kit-Cat Club, which included virtually all the most powerful Whig politicians from 1688 to 1710. The club quickly became the best known of the exclusive men's clubs, with much gossip circulating about its members and their doings. The group originally met in Christopher Cat's tavern but by 1703 the group had grown too large to meet there, shortly after Tonson used the member's dues to build a special clubroom at his house Barn Elms in Surrey. Tonson commissioned Sir Godfrey Kneller to paint portraits of 48 of the Kit-Cat members, 43 of which are now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Around 1700 Tonson's nephew Jacob Tonson the younger (1682-1735) began working for him. Over the next 15 years the younger Jacob increasingly took over the daily affairs of the Tonson business before Tonson retired in around 1718. The younger Jacob hoped he would inherit his uncle's fortune and when Tonson returned from a two year trip to France in 1720 he gave his Barn Elms estate to his nephew. Tonson moved to The Hazels in Ledbury in 1722 where he entertained many of his old Kit-Cat and publishing associates. The younger Jacob meanwhile built a room at Barn Elms for the storage and display of the Kit-Cat portraits he had taken custody of, his inheritance hopes however came to nothing as he predeceased his uncle on 25 November 1735 leaving a fortune of £100,000. Tonson himself died shortly after on 18 March 1736 and was buried at St Mary-le-Strand, London on 1 April 1736.

Before he died, the younger Tonson had left detailed instructions concerning the future of the portraits. They were to remain at Barn Elms for the time being and were to pass after his uncle's death to each of his sons in turn and in the absence of male heirs to his daughter Mary. The pictures duly passed to the younger Tonson's eldest son by his wife Mary Hoole, Jacob Tonson (1714-1767) who appears to have kept them together in his house at Ditton. On his death in 1767 they passed to his brother Richard Tonson (1717-1772), who was MP for Windsor, he built a special room for the portraits at his house Down Place at Water Oakley. When he died in 1772 the portraits passed to the family of his sister Mary who had married William Baker in 1742 and had died in 1753, she left two sons William (1743-1824) and Samuel (c. 1745-1804). Samuel Baker had charge of the portraits in a house called Hartingfordbury from the time of Richard Tonson's death until his own death in 1804. The portraits then passed to his elder brother William Baker who lived at a house called Bayfordbury at Bayford, he built a room for the portraits at Bayfordbury in c. 1812. The portraits remained within William Baker's family at Bayfordbury until the 20th century.

This biographical description is partially based on Raymond N. MacKenzie, 'Tonson, Jacob, the elder', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, January 2008 [ , accessed 28 Mar 2018]

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.