TONKIN, Thomas (1678-1742), of Trevance, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



12 Apr. 1714 - 1715

Family and Education

b. 20 Sept. 1678, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Hugh Tonkin of Trevance by 1st w. Frances, da. of Walter Vincent*.  educ. Exeter sch.; Queen’s, Oxf. 1694; L. Inn 1695; privately (Francis Thompson) aft. 1695.  m. 1699, Elizabeth (d. 1739), da. and event. h. of James Kempe of Penryn, Cornw., 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da.  suc. fa. 1711.

Offices Held

Stannator, Tywarnhaile 1710.


Tonkin’s grandfather, ‘a firm friend’ to Charles I in the Civil War, was active in the Penruddock rising and suffered financial losses as a result. His father was vice-warden of the Stannaries under Lord Radnor (Charles Bodville Robartes†) in 1701. Tonkin himself was educated at a school in Exeter run by Dr Sauxay, a French minister at the local congregation of St. Olave’s, at Oxford under Dr John Waugh, later bishop of Carlisle, and, having been called home in 1695, by a private tutor from Queen’s, Oxford. His father’s second wife had extravagant tastes, and the rebuilding of Trevance on a grand scale, together with the construction of a quay at great expense for the local harbour, overstretched the family’s resources to the extent that when Tonkin’s father-in-law died, £3,000 of his estate had already been applied to the debts of Tonkin’s father. In 1710 Tonkin took an active part in the convocation of tinners, supporting the stand of Sir Richard Vyvyan, 3rd Bt.*, and Sir Nicholas Morice, 2nd Bt.*, in insisting on better terms for the pre-emption contract for the purchase of tin by the crown than the terms offered by Hugh Boscawen II* as lord warden of the Stannaries. He also advocated that copper should be smelted in Cornwall instead of being taken to Bristol and to Wales, and that it should be brought within the stannary laws.1

On his father’s death Tonkin inherited estates mortgaged to Samuel Enys (son of Samuel Enys†), and an attempt was made to foreclose on him in 1712. Tonkin defeated Enys at the Helston by-election of 1714 but on 30 Apr. Enys petitioned against the return, alleging that Tonkin was without a qualification when elected, Trevance having passed out of his possession (see HELSTON, Cornw.). Enys also complained that Tonkin, since his election, had insisted on his parliamentary privilege in the lawsuit between them. Tonkin left no record of any significant parliamentary activity, but was classed in the Worsley list as a Tory. At this time he and his cousin Henry Vincent II* petitioned for a reversionary lease of the toll of all the tin in the duchy lands for two lives but their hopes were dashed by the death of Queen Anne. As an historian of Cornwall and an expert in stannary law Tonkin deplored the demise of the Cornish parliaments under George I and the spectacle of ‘our laws and liberties trampled under, and our customs in a manner obliterated’. He had got himself deeper into debt by continuing his construction work on the harbour and quay at Trevance, and was finally ruined by a series of lawsuits brought against him by Enys, ‘carried on by him with the greatest cruelty and oppression both to myself and tenants’. When the case came before Chancery in 1719 Tonkin acknowledged a debt to Enys of £9,104 12s. 6d., and on 28 Dec. that year Enys took possession of Trevance. In 1736 Tonkin claimed that Enys had seized assets of £8,538 to which he was not entitled, these not having been named in the original mortgage, but he was unable to reclaim these losses. From 1720 he lived at Trevalan, Cornwall, until the death of his cousin Nicholas Vincent† in 1726 when he moved to Polgorran in the parish of Gorran, a small estate he had by right of his wife. Tonkin died there in January 1742, and was buried on the 4th. He had been an active antiquarian since 1700, and his parochial history of Cornwall, dedicated to Sir William Carew, 5th Bt.*, and Sir John Aubyn, 3rd Bt.†, is the most useful source for Cornish Members in the early 18th century.2

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


Unless otherwise stated, this biography is based on H. L. Douch, ‘Thomas Tonkin: An appreciation of a neglected historian’, Jnl. R. Inst. Cornw. n.s. iv. 145-80; and DNB.

  • 1. Jnl. R. Inst. Cornw. ser. 1, i. 165; ii. 244–60.
  • 2. M. Delany, Autobiog. and Corresp. i. 46; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 215; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 277; Jnl. R. Inst. Cornw. i. 136–7; Add. 28554, f. 18.