Thomas Perronet Thompson, the son of Thomas Thompson and Philothea Perronet Briggs was born in Hull on 15th March 1783. His father worked for Wilberforce, Smith & Company Bank and became a prominent Methodist preacher and a close friend of of William Wilberforce. His mother was the granddaughter of Vincent Perronet, vicar of Shoreham and associate of John Wesley.
Perronet Thompson was educated at Hull Grammar School and in 1798 he went up to Queens' College. Thompson gained the BA degree in 1802, and was elected to a fellowship of his college in 1804. He joined the navy as midshipman but transferred to the army three years later. He was commissioned as second lieutenant in 1806.
In 1807 his father, Thomas Thompson, became MP for Midhurst. The following year Perronet Thompson became the first crown-appointed governor of Sierra Leone. The colony had been established in 1787 by William Wilberforce and the Clapham Set. According to Michael J. Turner, the colony was formed "as a place where free black people would cultivate the land, carry on profitable trade, and demonstrate to the world that they were not peculiarly suited to slavery, despite the claims of slave traders". When the Clapham Sect transferred Sierra Leone to the crown, the British government accepted Wilberforce's suggestion that Perronet Thompson would be a suitable governor.
As governor Perronet Thompson introduced an extensive range of reforms and made serious allegations against the colony's former administrators. Stephen Tomkins, the author of William Wilberforce (2007) has argued: "He (Perronet Thompson) single-handedly abolished apprenticeship and freed the slaves. He filed scandalised reports to the colonial office. Wilberforce told him he was being rash and hasty, and he and his colleagues voted unanimously for his dismissal. Wilberforce advised him to go quietly for the sake of his career."
In 1811 Perronet Thompson married Anne Elizabeth Barker (1793–1871) of York. They had three sons and three daughters. He continued to make progress in the army and was promoted to major in 1825, and lieutenant-colonel in 1829, at which time he retired from military service.
Perronet Thompson was now free to engage in political and literary activities. He became a close friend of John Bowring, who introduced him to Jeremy Bentham and his circle of philosophical radicals. In 1826 he published his True Theory of Rent. This supported the idea, put forward by Adam Smith, that rent levels were determined by demand for agricultural products, and rejected the principle advanced by David Ricardo and James Mill that rent was dependent on production costs.
Perronet Thompson also became involved in the campaign against the Corn Laws. In 1827 he published his famous pamphlet, the Catechism on the Corn Laws. According to Michael J. Turner: "This persuasive argument for repeal proved extremely influential, went into eighteen editions by 1834, and prompted Thompson's election as fellow of the Royal Society in 1828. As well as his political and economic writing in subsequent years, he published works on enharmonic principles, just intonation, geometry, and the theory of parallels."
The death of his father, Thomas Thompson, in 1828 brought him wealth, and he began to devote himself to radical causes. In 1829 he became part owner and co-editor of the Westminster Review. Over the next few years he contributed many articles on parliamentary reform, Catholic emancipation, free trade and utilitarianism.
In January 1835, Perronet Thompson entered the House of Commons after winning Kingston upon Hull. He did not contest the seat at the 1837 general election, but stood instead at Maidstone, where he came bottom of the poll. He was then an unsuccessful candidate in several elections before his victory in Bradford at the 1847 General Election. In parliament he was a consistent supporter of radical reform and free trade. This included Chartism and the Anti-Corn League.
His biographer, Michael J. Turner, has pointed out: "Thompson was a short man, stout and physically strong, with a large nose and high forehead. His hair turned grey relatively early, and he lost teeth as a result of illness in Sierra Leone. Known for simple and abstemious habits, he never seemed concerned about physical comforts and preferred to devote money and attention to politics. For much of his adult life he was vegetarian and teetotal, which suited his austere disposition and, he believed, prolonged good health. Thompson spoke with a slight northern accent and habitual solecisms.... He was slow to forgive a slight, and in his public activity proved not to be effective as part of a team. Headstrong and independent, he was sometimes too abrasive and blunt even for close associates."
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