Thomas Hervey Baber was born in Slingsby, Yorkshire, in 1777. His father was a solicitor. His family moved to Lincolnshire in 1780 and then to London in 1782. After early schooling Thomas went to Haileybury College and in 1796 he petitioned to join the East India Company, sailing to India in August of that year. He was first in Mumbai, where he was an assistant to the Secretary in the Public Department. He married in 1798 to Helen, a recent widow, but only 18 years old and they both moved to Calicut. Their first son was born in 1802 at Tellicherry.
Thomas, though employed by the East Indian Company, became an advocate for the abolition of slavery in Malabar area after discovering of its existence when approached to buy two children. He bought them and then cared for them in his household. He became the sub-collector for Tellicherry in 1805, and later, the English magistrate in the region. Baber, aided by his deputy, Kalpally Karunakara Menon, was instrumental in the removal from power of Pazhassi Raja in 1805. He was also approached in 1809 by the Rajahs of Travancore and Cochin who had been ousted from power, by an official supported by the East India Company. This official had them begun to persecute many of the inhabitants of Cochin and the surrounding districts. They somehow learned that Thomas Baber was an EIC official who was sympathetic to the plight of the Indians and an appeal was made for his help. He organised an expedition to remove the official from power.
In 1813, after witnessing a local famine, he became interested in finding alternative cash and food crops for the region, including silk production. In 1824, Thomas Baber was moved away from Tellichery and into the South Mahratta Country to Dharwar where he became Principal Collector and Political Agent. Here he found himself responsible for the running of a large prison containing several hundred Mahratta prisoners. He instituted prison reform including teaching the prisoners a trade. He created looms after asking his brother, Henry Baber, Keeper of the Printed Books at the British Museum, to send 1/5th scale models of the most efficient looms available in Britain at the time.
Baber's experience as a planter and an agriculturist made him acutely aware of the tremendous negative impact of colonial policies in India. After his return to England in 1838, he emerged as a pioneer in reform movements focused on India, associated with launching the first of such organisations, the British India Society, in London a few months later, in July 1839.