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

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POSTLETHWAITE, THOMAS (1731–1798), master of Trinity College, Cambridge, born in 1731, was son of Richard Postlethwaite of Crooklands, Lancashire. He was educated at St. Bees School, and entered at Trinity College as a subsizar on 19 June 1749, æt. 18. He was elected scholar on 24 April 1752, sizars at that time not being allowed to sit for scholarships until their third year. He proceeded B.A. in 1753, when he was placed third in the mathematical tripos, with the reputation, which he retained through life, of being one of the best mathematicians in the university. The dates of his other degrees are M.A. 1756, B.D. 1768, and D.D. (by royal mandate) 1789. He was elected fellow in 1755, held the usual college lectureships, and from 1763 to 1776 was tutor. He was steward 1764–6, and junior dean 1767–8. In 1782 he became a senior fellow.

He must have been popular in college, for it is recorded that when, on Bishop Hinchliffe's resignation of the mastership in 1789, Pitt consulted Dr. Farmer as to his successor, Farmer replied, ‘If you wish to oblige the society, appoint Postlethwaite.’ As master he is said to have ‘soon discovered that, if he was alert, he and the seniors should be at variance, according to antient usage;’ and to have preferred quiet and the society of Dr. Craven, master of St. John's, to activity in the discharge of his duties (Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. vi. 737). During his tenure of the mastership a public examination for fellowships and an annual examination of undergraduates of the first and second year were established. It is, however, uncertain how far these reforms were due to his initiative. The old and vicious system of private examination for fellowships had been practically abolished by his predecessor; and the examination of undergraduates was established by an order of the master and seniors on 24 Feb. 1790. On the other hand, ‘his conduct in passing over Richard Porson [q. v.] for the lay fellowship, which had been promised to him, and bestowing it on a relative of his own, John Heys, a young man seven years junior to Porson, has left a stigma on his memory’ (Luard in the Trident, i. 12).

He died at Bath on 4 May 1798, and was buried in the abbey church, where there is a monument to his memory (in the north aisle). There is a portrait of him, in oils, in Trinity College Lodge. He published one sermon, on Isaiah vii. 14–16, preached before the university on 24 Dec. 1780, 4to, Cambridge, 1781.

[Gent. Mag. 1728, p. 447; Nichols's Illustrations of Lit. vi. 737; Alumni Westm. ed. 1852, p. 34; Watson's Life of Porson, pp. 93, 386; Luard in Cambridge Essays, 1857, p. 144; Monk's Life of Bentley, ed. 1833, p. 424; Conclusion Book of Trinity College.]

J. W. C-k.