PITT, Thomas (1653-1726), of Stratford, Wilts. and Boconnoc, Cornw.
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Family and Education
bap. 5 July 1653, 2nd s. of Rev. John Pitt, rector of Blandford St. Mary, Dorset by Sarah, da. of John Jay of Hemswood. m. c.1678/9, Jane, da. of James Innes of Reid Hall, Moray, 3 surv. s. 2. surv. da., one of whom m. James Stanhope and the other Charles Cholmondeley.
Gov. Fort St. George, Madras 1697-1709; commr. for building 50 new churches in and around London 1715; gov. Jamaica 1716-17.
A younger son, of a junior branch of the Pitts of Strathfieldsaye, Thomas Pitt, the founder of the Pitts of Boconnoc, went as a youth to India, where he made a great fortune, which he invested in estates scattered over half a dozen counties, carrying considerable electoral influence. In 1715 he was re-elected for Old Sarum, the site of which he had bought from the trustees of the Earl of Salisbury in 1691 for £1,000.1 A member of the secret committee set up that year to enquire into the negotiation of the treaty of Utrecht, Governor Pitt, as he was known, supported the Government, one of whose heads was his son-in-law, James Stanhope. In 1716 he vacated his seat by accepting the governorship of Jamaica to retrieve his finances, which had been impaired by gifts to his children amounting to upwards of £90,000; but next year he resigned the post without going there on selling the Pitt diamond to the Regent of France for £125,000, with which he bought the estate of Boconnoc in Cornwall for £53,000.2 Re-entering Parliament for Thirsk, he acted with the Opposition during the split in the Whig party, voting in January 1719 against the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts. Put down as to be approached through Stanhope on the peerage bill, he spoke and voted against it in December of that year, taxing its authors with ‘mean tenderness to foreigners and designs against the liberties of their countrymen’. In March 1720 he moved the rejection of a bill providing for appeals from the Irish to the English House of Lords, describing it as ‘calculated for no other purpose than to increase the power of the peers, which was already much too great’. At the opening of Parliament in December he took a leading part in opposing the Government’s attempts to avert an inquiry into the South Sea scandal, moving that the House should order the immediate attendance of the directors, with ‘their myrmidons’.3
At the general election of 1722 Pitt returned himself and his three sons, quarrelling bitterly with the eldest, Robert, about his election bill4 and with the youngest, John, for refusing to return an estate conveyed to him to qualify him for Parliament.5 ‘The misfortune that all my sons have brought on me’, he wrote in 1723, ‘will very speedily carry my grey hairs to my grave, and I care not how soon it is, for I am surrounded with the plagues and troubles of this world’. He died 28 Apr. 1726, leaving everything to his eldest son, subject to a number of legacies, including £200 a year to his grandson, William, whom he pronounced ‘a hopeful lad’.6
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. VCH Wilts. vi. 66, 206; HMC Fortescue, i. 89.
- 2. HMC Fortescue, i. 59, 61-62, 89, 90-92.
- 3. Coxe, Walpole, ii. 203.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, i. 67.
- 5. ‘Family Characters and Anecdotes’, by the 1st Ld. Camelford, Fortescue mss at Boconnoc.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, i. 69, 73, 76; Diary of Wm. Hedges, ed. H. Yule (Hakluyt Soc. lxxviii), iii. p. clxv.