Sir Thomas Robinson, 1st Baronet

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Sir Thomas Robinson, 1st Baronet (1703–1777) was an English politician, architect and collector. With an extravagant character, his life attracted numerous anecdotes.

Early life

He was eldest son and heir of William Robinson (bapt. Rokeby, Yorkshire, 23 September 1675, d. 24 February 1720), who married, in 1699, Anne, daughter and heiress of Robert Walters of Cundall in Yorkshire; she died on 26 July 1730, aged 53, and was buried in the centre of the south aisle of Merton church, Surrey, where a marble monument was placed to her memory. Sir Thomas, her son, also erected on the old Roman highway, near Rokeby, an obelisk in her honour. Another son, Richard Robinson, 1st Baron Rokeby was primate of Ireland.[1]

After finishing his education, Robinson went on the Grand Tour, paying attention to architecture in Greece and Italy, and the school of Palladio. On returning to England he purchased a commission in the army, but resigned it in favour of his brother Septimus.[1]

Politics and architecture

At the general election of 1727 he was returned to parliament, through the influence of George Bowes, for the borough of Morpeth. He was a government supporter, and sought a seat in Cornwall, but without success. He made some long speeches.[2] They included one which, according to Horace Walpole, he was supposed to have found among the papers of his wife's first husband.[1]

Rokeby Hall

Robinson was created a baronet on 10 March 1731, with remainder to his brothers and to Matthew Robinson, and from November 1735 to February 1742 he was a commissioner of excise.[1] He became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1735.[3]

Robinson's expenditure was extravagant. He rebuilt Rokeby Hall at Rokeby Park, the name of which he changed from Rookby.[2] He enclosed the park with a stone wall (1725–30), and planted many forest trees (1730). These acts were recorded in 1737, in two Latin inscriptions on two marble tables, fixed in the two stone piers at the entrance to the park from Greta Bridge. He practically made the place of which Sir Walter Scott wrote in his poem Rokeby, and built the great bridge which spans the River Tees there.[1]

In London Robinson threw balls aimed at the people in power and in fashion; and ruined himself. Horace Walpole gave an account of his ball for a daughter of the Duke of Richmond in October 1741. There were two hundred guests invited. A second ball was given by him on 2 December 1741, when six hundred persons were invited and two hundred attended.[1]

In Barbados

The state of Robinson's finances brought about his expatriation. Lord Lincoln coveted his house at Whitehall, and secured for him in January 1742 the post of governor of Barbados.[1]

Arriving in Barbados on 8 August 1742, Robinson had trouble with his assembly, who raised difficulties about voting his salary. Without consulting the house, he ordered changes in his residence at Pilgrim, and he undertook the construction of an armoury and arsenal. He had to pay most of the charges out of his own pocket.[1]

Another quarrel was over the command of the forces in the island. Eventually a petition was sent home which resulted in Robinson's recall on 14 April 1747.[1]

Later life

On his return to England Robinson again gave balls and breakfasts, and among the breakfasts was one to the Princess of Wales. In a note to William Mason's Epistle to Shebbeare he is dubbed "the Petronius of the present age", referencing the Satyricon.[1] He became a member of the Royal Society of Arts in 1755, and was active there in recruitment and administration.[3]

Robinson acquired shares in Ranelagh Gardens, and became the director of the entertainments; his knowledge of the fashionable world then proved of use. He built for himself a house called Prospect Place, adjoining the gardens, and gave magnificent feasts. At the coronation of George III, on 22 September 1761, the last occasion on which the dukes of Normandy and Aquitaine were represented by deputy as doing homage to the king of England, Robinson acted as Normandy, walking "in proper mantle" next to the archbishop of Canterbury.[1]

Robinson was forced in 1769 to dispose of Rokeby, which had been in the possession of his family since 1610, to John Sawrey Morritt, the father of John Bacon Sawrey Morritt. Anna Eliza Bray wrote of his fondness for "books, the fine arts, music, and refined society", and mentions the weakness of his eyes. At last he became blind, and her father used to read to him.[1]

Death and reputation

Robinson died at his house at Chelsea on 3 March 1777, aged 76, without leaving legitimate issue, and was buried in the south-east corner of the chancel of Merton church, a monument being placed there to his memory. A second monument was erected for him in Westminster Abbey, about 1778, with two portrait busts by John Walsh, commemorating also his first wife.[1][4][5]

Robinson's reputation was as a "specious, empty man", with a talent for flattery. He was tall and thin, while his contemporary of the same name Thomas Robinson, 1st Baron Grantham was short and fat. "I can't imagine", said the witty Lady Townshend, "why one is preferred to the other. The one is as broad as the other is long".[1]


Castle Howard, 19th century engraving, view from the north-west with the Palladian west wing prominent

Robinson designed for his wife's brother the west wing of Castle Howard. Later in life he and Welbore Ellis persuaded Sir William Stanhope to "improve" Alexander Pope's garden.[1]

Gateway at Auckland Castle, design of Thomas Robinson for Richard Trevor

Among Robinson's other works are parts of Ember Court, Surrey, then the residence of the Onslows, the new parish church at Glynde in Sussex, and the Gothic gateway at Bishop Auckland in Durham.[1][6] He worked also on Claydon House, for Ralph Verney, 2nd Earl Verney, a business associate through Ranelagh Gardens.[7]

Robinson left his brother William his title but not his estates. His brother Richard had his books, including those on architecture and antiquities.[8]

Robinson and Lord Chesterfield maintained a correspondence for fifty years, and he kept all the letters and copies. At his death he left them to an apothecary who had married his natural daughter, with instructions to publish; but Robinson's brother Richard stopped the publication. Sir John Hawkins recorded in his Life of Johnson that when Chesterfield wanted to appease Samuel Johnson, he employed Robinson as his mediator.[1]


On 25 October 1728 Robinson married, at Belfrey's, York, Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, and widow of Nicholas Lechmere, 1st Baron Lechmere. His first wife died at Bath, Somerset on 10 April 1739, and was buried in the family vault under the new church of Rokeby. He married at Barbados a second wife, whose maiden name was Booth; she was the widow of Samuel Salmon, a rich ironmonger. She declined to follow Robinson back to England.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Robinson, Thomas (1700?-1777)". Dictionary of National Biography. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1, Robinson, Thomas (?1702-77), of Rokeby, Yorks.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value). (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. Rupert Gunnis (c. 1965). Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660–1851. The Abbey Library. p. 412.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5., Sir Thomas Robinson.
  6. Sussex Archaeological Collections Relating to the History and Antiquities of the County. Sussex Archaeological Society. 1868. p. 78. Retrieved 11 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. John Broad (2004). Transforming English Rural Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 204–6. ISBN 978-1-139-45188-8. Retrieved 11 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. The London Gazette: no. 6966. p. 1. 2 March 1730. Retrieved 8 May 2009.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Robinson, Thomas (1700?-1777)". Dictionary of National Biography. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Government offices
Preceded by
James Dotin, acting
Governor of Barbados
Succeeded by
Henry Grenville
Baronetage of Great Britain
New creation Baronet of Rokeby
Succeeded by
William Robinson