Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bambridge, Thomas

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BAMBRIDGE, THOMAS (fl. 1729), warden of the Fleet prison, is notorious for atrocious cruelties to the prisoners under his charge. By profession Bambridge was an attorney. In August 1728 John Huggins sold the office of warden of the Fleet to Bambridge and Dougal Cuthbert for 5,000l. A committee was appointed by the House of Commons on the motion of James Oglethorpe on 25 Feb. 1728-9 to inquire into the state of the gaols of the kingdom, which had been for a long time a disgrace to the country'. On the 28th the chairman reported to the house that Bambridge had treated the order of its committee with contempt, and it was thereupon ordered that he should be taken into custody. On 20 March the report of the committee was read, and it was resolved by the house, 'That Thomas Bambridge, the acting warden of the prison of the Fleet, hath wilfully permitted several debtors of the crown in great sums of money, as well as debtors to divers of his majesty's subjects, to escape; hath been guilty of the most notorious breaches of his trust, great extortions, and the highest crimes and misdemeanours in the execution of his said office and hath arbitrarily and unlawfully loaded with irons, put into dungeons, and destroyed prisoners for debt, under his charge, treating them in the most barbarous and cruel manner, in high violation and contempt of the laws of this kingdom,' At the same time it was resolved to petition the king to direct the prosecution of Bambridge, and ordered that he should be forthwith committed to Newgate. An act was also passed (2 Geo. II, cap. 32) to enable the king to grant the office of warden to some other person and to incapacitate Bambridge from enjoying that office or any other whatever. On 22 May 1729 Bambridge was tried at the Old Bailey for the murder of Robert Castell (one of the Fleet prisoners), but was acquitted. He continued in prison until 25 Oct., when he was admitted to bail. In the following year he was tried on appeal for the murder of Robert Castell, but was again acquitted. He was afterwards prosecuted in several actions at the suit of John Huggins, the former warden, and was imprisoned in the Fleet himself for some little time. Some twenty years after this it is said that he committed suicide. Hogarth made the examination of Bambridge before the committee of the House of Commons the subject of one of his early pictures. The faces are said to be all portraits, and no doubt the painter had unusual facilities for making this picture, as Sir James Thornhill was a member of the committee.

[Hansard's Parliamentary History, viii. 706-764; Historical Register, 1729, xiv. 157-175; Political State of Great Britain, 1729, xxxvii. 203, 359-77, 459, 463-5, 484-6, xxxviii. 80-1; Howells State Trials (1813), xvii. 297-310, 383-462; Chambers's Book of Days (1864), i. 466-7; Knight's London (1843), iv. 42-8; Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth (1785), pp. 18-19.]

G. F. R. B.