Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, John (1696-1781)

THOMAS, JOHN (1696–1781), successively bishop of Peterborough, Salisbury, and Winchester, was the son of Stremer Thomas, a colonel in the guards; he was born on 17 Aug. 1696 at Westminster, and educated at Charterhouse school (Foster, Alumni Oxon.) He matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 28 March 1713, and took the degrees of B.A. 1716, M.A. 1719, B.D. 1727, and D.D. 1731. In 1720 he was elected fellow of All Souls' College, and, having been disappointed of a living promised to him by a friend of his father, took a curacy in London. Here his preaching attracted attention; in 1731 he was given a prebend in St. Paul's, and was presented by the dean and chapter in 1733 to the rectory of St. Bene't and St. Peter, Paul's Wharf, which he retained till 1757; in 1742 he succeeded to a canonry of St. Paul's, and held it till 1748. In 1742 he had been made one of George II's chaplains, and preached the Boyle lectures, which he did not publish; and, having secured the favour of the king when Prince of Wales, he was at last ‘popped into’ the bishopric of Peterborough, and consecrated at Lambeth on 4 Oct. 1747.

In 1752 he was selected to succeed Thomas Hayter [q. v.], bishop of Norwich, as preceptor to the young Prince of Wales, afterwards George III, Lord Waldegrave being governor; these appointments were directed against the influence of the princess dowager. In 1757 he followed John Gilbert [q. v.], as bishop of Salisbury and also as clerk of the closet, and in 1761 was translated to Winchester in succession to Benjamin Hoadly (1676–1761) [q. v.] He seems to have been a useful bishop as well as a good preacher, though Hurd (Kilvert, Life of Hurd, p. 119) speaks rather contemptuously of ‘Honest Tom's’ laxity about patronage.

He died at Winchester House, Chelsea, on 1 May 1781, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. He married Susan, daughter of Thomas Mulso of Twywell, Northamptonshire; her brother Thomas married the bishop's sister, and their daughter, Mrs. Hester Chapone [q. v.], spent much of her time after her husband's death with her uncle and aunt at Farnham Castle. Mrs. Thomas died on 19 Nov. 1778, leaving three daughters, who married respectively Newton Ogle, dean of Winchester; William Buller, afterwards bishop of Exeter; and Rear-admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle.

There are portraits of the bishop at the palaces of Salisbury and Lambeth, and a fine mezzotint engraving (three-quarter length in robes of the Garter) by R. Sayer from a picture by Benjamin Wilson, published on 24 Jan. 1771. Richardson the novelist, in a letter to Miss Mulso, alludes to ‘the benign countenance of my good lord of Peterborough,’ a phrase which is borne out by the portraits.

John Thomas published ten or eleven separate discourses, chiefly spital, fast, or charity sermons. He is credited with some scholarship, and with taste in letter-writing.

[Cassan's Bishops of Salisbury, iii. 281–283, and Bishops of Winchester, ii. 270–77; Le Neve's Fasti, ed. Hardy; Abbey's English Church and its Bishops, ii. 75; Life and Works of Mrs. Chapone; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

H. E. D. B.