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

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THOMASSON, THOMAS (1808–1876), manufacturer and political economist, born at Turton, near Bolton, on 6 Dec. 1808, came of a quaker family which settled in Westmoreland in 1672. His grandfather owned a small landed estate at Edgeworth, near Bolton, and built a house there known as ‘Thomasson's Fold.’ He gave the site for the Friends' meeting-house and burial-ground at Edgeworth. The father, John Thomasson (1776–1837), was manager and share-owner of the Old Mill, Eagley Bridge, Bolton, and subsequently became a cotton-spinner at Bolton on his own account.

Thomas Thomasson at an early age joined his father's business, and, soon taking control of it, greatly extended it. In 1841, at a time of great depression in trade and distress in the town, he erected a new No. 1 mill in Bolton, and the prime minister (Sir R. Peel) called the attention of the House of Commons to Thomasson's action as proof that capital was still applied to the further extension of the cotton trade, notwithstanding its depressed condition. With great business aptitude Thomasson combined a sagacious interest in municipal and public affairs and a practical philanthropy. Although he did not closely adhere to quaker customs, his political views were largely influenced by quaker principles, which were mainly identical with the enlightened radicalism of the period. His aim in public life was, he said, to seek to ‘extend to every man, rich or poor, whatever privilege, political or mental, he claimed for himself.’ He was a good speaker, and rapidly gained a pre-eminent influence in the affairs of his native town. He actively supported the movement for securing the incorporation of Bolton, and was elected to the first council at the head of the poll. He remained a member of the council over eighteen years, but steadfastly declined any other public office. Throughout his life he worked hard for the material, moral, and intellectual welfare of his fellowtownsmen. He strenuously advocated the provision of the town with cheap gas and cheap water, and sanitary improvements. He helped to establish an industrial school, a library and museum, and a school on the plan of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

In general politics Thomasson was mainly known as the chief promoter of the anti-corn law agitation, and as the largest subscriber to its funds. John Bright liberally acknowledged his indebtedness to his counsels, and Cobden owed to Thomasson much pecuniary assistance at critical periods in his public career. When the great subscription was raised for Cobden in 1845, Thomasson was the first to put down 1,000l. When it was proposed to make some national gift to Cobden, Thomasson gave 5,000l. He subsequently gave 5,000l. to a second subscription for Cobden, and, at an even larger expenditure of money, he twice privately freed Cobden from pressing pecuniary embarrassments. After Thomasson's death there was found among his papers a memorandum of his advances to Cobden containing these magnanimous words: ‘I lament that the greatest benefactor of mankind since the invention of printing was placed in a position where his public usefulness was compromised and impeded by sordid personal cares, but I have done something as my share of what is due to him from his countrymen to set him free for further efforts in the cause of human progress.’ Thomasson was similarly generous in aiding those who were engaged in agitating for the repeal of the taxes on knowledge and the freedom of reasoned opinion, and he was always careful to make his philanthropic gifts as unostentatiously as possible.

Thomasson died at his residence, High Bank, Haulgh, near Bolton, on 8 March 1876. He married a daughter of John Pennington of Hindley, a Liverpool merchant. His wife was a churchwoman, and, though he was brought up a member of the Society of Friends, Thomasson attended the Bolton parish church from the date of his marriage until 1855, when disgust at a sermon justifying the Crimean war led him to absent himself thenceforth. A son, John Pennington Thomasson, was M.P. for Bolton from 1880 to 1885, and his son, Franklin Thomasson, was M.P. for Leicester from 1906.

[Manchester Examiner, 10 March 1876; Morley's Life of Cobden, 1881.]

G. J. H.