Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thicknesse, Philip

THICKNESSE, PHILIP (1719–1792), lieutenant-governor of Landguard Fort, seventh son of John Thicknesse, rector of Farthinghoe, Northamptonshire, who was a younger son of Ralph Thicknesse of Balterley Hall, Staffordshire, was born at his father's rectory on 10 Aug. 1719. His mother, Joyce Blencowe, was niece of Sir John Blencowe [q. v.] George Thicknesse [q. v.] was his elder brother. Another brother, Ralph (d. 1742), was an assistant master at Eton College, and published an edition of ‘Phædrus, with English Notes’ (1741). He died suddenly at Bath on 11 Oct. 1742, while performing a musical piece of his own composition (cf. his epitaph in Gent. Mag. 1790, i. 521).

Another Ralph Thicknesse (1719–1790), cousin to Philip, born at Barthomley, Cheshire, was M.A. of King's College, Cambridge, and M.D., and practised as a medical man at Wigan, where he died on 12 Feb. 1790, aged 71. He wrote a ‘Treatise on Foreign Vegetables’ (1749), chiefly taken from Geoffroy's ‘Materia Medica’ (ib. 1790, i. 185, 272, 399; Journal of Botany, 1890, p. 375).

Philip, after going to Aynhoe school, was admitted a ‘gratis’ scholar at Westminster school. He left that school in a short time to be placed with an apothecary named Marmaduke Tisdall; but he soon tired of that calling, and in 1735, when he was only sixteen, went out to Georgia with General Oglethorpe. Returning to England in 1737, he was employed by the trustees of the colony until he lost Oglethorpe's favour by speaking too plainly of the management of affairs in Georgia. He afterwards obtained a lieutenancy in an independent company at Jamaica, where for some time he was engaged in desultory warfare with the runaway negroes in the mountains. He returned home at the end of 1740 after a disagreement with his brother officers, and in the following January became captain-lieutenant in Brigadier Jeffries's regiment of marines. Early in 1744–5 he was sent to the Mediterranean under Admiral Medley, and passed through a terrible gale near Land's End on 27 Feb. In February 1753 he procured by purchase the lieutenant-governorship of Landguard Fort, Suffolk, an appointment which he held till 1766. He had a dispute in 1762 with Francis Vernon (afterwards Lord Orwell and Earl of Shipbrooke), then colonel of the Suffolk militia; and, having sent the colonel the ludicrous present of a wooden gun, was involved in an action for libel, with the result that he was confined for three months in the king's bench prison and fined 300l. In 1754 he met with Thomas Gainsborough near Landguard Point, and for the next twenty years constituted himself the patron of the artist, of whose genius he considered himself the discoverer. He induced Gainsborough to move to Bath from Ipswich; but in 1774 their friendship was broken by a wretched squabble. About 1766 he settled at Welwyn, Hertfordshire, removing thence to Monmouthshire, and in 1768 to Bath, where he purchased a house in the Crescent, and built another house which he called St. Catherine's Hermitage. His long-cherished hopes of succeeding to 12,000l. from the family of his first wife were destroyed by a decree against him in chancery and by an unsuccessful appeal to the House of Lords. Three letters, in which this decision of the House of Lords was vehemently denounced, appeared in an opposition newspaper, ‘The Crisis,’ on 18 Feb., 25 March, and 12 Aug. 1775 respectively. The first two were signed ‘Junius,’ and appeared while Thicknesse was still in England. The last letter, which had been promised in the second, and was issued after Thicknesse had quitted the country, bore his own name. All were doubtless by Thicknesse, and the use of Junius's name was in all probability an intentional mystification. Thicknesse many years later (1789) issued a pamphlet, ‘Junius Discovered,’ in which he professed to discover Junius in Horne Tooke; but the identification cannot be seriously entertained (information kindly supplied by A. Hall, esq.).

After the House of Lords finally pronounced against Thicknesse in 1775, he, regarding himself as ‘driven out of his own country,’ fixed upon Spain as a place of residence. He returned, however, to Bath at the end of 1776. In 1784 he erected in his private grounds at the Hermitage the first monument raised in this country to Chatterton's memory. Five years later he purchased a barn at Sandgate, near Hythe, and converted it into a dwelling-house, whence he could contemplate the shores of France, into which country he made an excursion in 1791, and was in Paris during an early period of the revolution. In the following year he was once more at Bath, which he finally left in the autumn for the continent, and on 19 Nov. 1792 he suddenly died in a coach near Boulogne, while on his way to Paris with his wife. He was buried in the protestant cemetery at Boulogne, where a monument was erected to his memory by his widow (Ipswich Journal, 30 March 1793).

Thicknesse is described by John Nichols (Lit. Anecd. ix. 288) as ‘a man of probity and honour, whose heart and purse were always open to the unfortunate.’ Another writer (Fulcher) says ‘he had in a remarkable degree the faculty of lessening the number of his friends and increasing the number of his enemies. He was perpetually imagining insult, and would sniff an injury from afar.’ It is thought that Graves pictured Thicknesse in the character of Graham in the ‘Spiritual Quixote;’ and he is one of the authors pilloried in Mathias's ‘Pursuits of Literature’ (8th edit. p. 71).

He married thrice: first, in 1742, Maria, only daughter of John Lanove of Southampton, a French refugee; she died early in 1749; and on 10 Nov. in the same year he married Elizabeth Touchet, eldest daughter of the Earl of Castlehaven. She died on 28 March 1762, leaving three sons and three daughters. The eldest son succeeded to the barony of Audley. The terms on which Thicknesse lived with this son may be gathered from the title of his ‘Memoirs’ (No. 24, below) and from a clause in his will, wherein he desires his right hand to be cut off and sent to Lord Audley, ‘to remind him of his duty to God, after having so long abandoned the duty he owed to his father.’ His third wife was Anne (1737–1824) [q. v.], daughter of Thomas Ford, whom he married on 27 Sept. 1762. She is separately noticed.

As an author Thicknesse was voluminous and often interesting, especially in his notices of his experiences in Georgia and Jamaica, and on the continent of Europe. His first pieces were contributions to the ‘Museum Rusticum’ (1763). These were followed by: 1. ‘A Letter to a Young Lady,’ 1764, 4to. 2. ‘Man-Midwifery Analysed,’ 1764, 4to. 3. ‘Proceedings of a Court Martial,’ 1765, 4to. 4. ‘Narrative of what passed with Sir Harry Erskine,’ 1766, 8vo. 5. ‘Observations on the Customs and Manners of the French Nation,’ 1766, 8vo; 2nd and 3rd edit. 1779 and 1789. 6. ‘Useful Hints to those who make the Tour of France,’ 1768, 8vo. 7. ‘Account of four Persons starved to Death at Detchworth, Herts,’ 1769, 4to. 8. ‘Sketches and Characters of the most Eminent and most Singular Persons now living,’ 1770, 12mo. 9. ‘A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering and Writing in Cypher, with an Harmonic Alphabet,’ 1772, 8vo. 10. ‘A Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain,’ 1777, 8vo, 2 vols.; 2nd and 3rd edit. 1778 and 1789 (cf. Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. v. 737). 11. ‘New Prose Bath Guide for the Year 1778,’ 8vo. 12. ‘The Valetudinarian's Bath Guide; or the Means of obtaining Long Life and Health,’ 1780, 8vo. 13. ‘Letters to Dr. Falconer of Bath,’ 1782. 14. ‘Queries to Lord Audley,’ 1782, 8vo. 15. ‘Père Pascal, a Monk of Montserrat, vindicated,’ 1783. 16. ‘The Speaking Figure, and the Automaton Chess Player exposed and detected,’ 1784 (anon.) 17. ‘A Year's Journey through the Pais Bas, and Austrian Netherlands,’ 1784, 8vo; 2nd edit., with additions, 1786. 18. ‘An Extraordinary Case and Perfect Cure of the Gout … as related by … Abbe Man, from the French,’ 1784. 19. ‘A farther Account of l'Abbe Man's Case,’ 1785. 20. ‘A Letter to the Earl of Coventry,’ 1785, 8vo. 21. ‘Letter to Dr. James Makittrick Adair’ [q. v.], 1787, 8vo. 22. ‘A Sketch of the Life and Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough,’ 1788, 8vo. 23. ‘Junius Discovered’ (in the person of Horne Tooke), 1789, 8vo. 24. ‘Memoirs and Anecdotes of Philip Thicknesse, late Lieutenant-governor of Languard Fort, and unfortunately father to George Touchet, Baron Audley,’ 1788–91, 3 vols. 8vo. The third volume contains a portrait. His old enemy Dr. Adair (see No. 21) published ‘Curious Facts and Anecdotes not contained in the Memoirs of Philip Thicknesse,’ 1790, with a caricature portrait by Gillray, who also satirised Thicknesse in a caricature entitled ‘Lieut.-governor Gall-stone, &c.’ (cf. Wright and Grego, James Gillray, pp. 116, 119).

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 256; Gent. Mag. 1809 ii. 1012, 1816 ii. 105 (view of Thicknesse's house, Felixstowe Cottage); Monkland's Literature and Literati of Bath, 1854, p. 22; Cheshire Notes and Queries, 1885, v. 49; Fulcher's Life of Gainsborough, 1856, p. 42; Brock-Arnold's Gainsborough, 1881; Hinchliffe's Barthomley, p. 174; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, i. 201; Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 19166 ff. 409–13, 19170 ff. 207–9, 19174 ff. 702–3.]

C. W. S.