|Thomas Pole MD from a portrait by Edward Bird of Bristol c1812.|
© With thanks to Julian Chard for allowing me to show this picture. ©
Thomas Pole is remembered by an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Vol44 p727):-
Pole, Thomas (1753-1829), physician and Quaker minister, was born on 13 October 1753 in Philadelphia, the youngest son of John Pole (1705-1755), a native of Wiveliscombe in Somerset, and his wife, Rachel Smith, of Burlington. Thomas was brought up as a member of the Society of Friends. In 1775 he visited his relatives in England and, with the object of attending Friendsí meetings, he travelled 6650 miles through England and Wales, chiefly on horseback, during the next two or three years. In 1777 he studied medicine with the physician Joseph Rickman at Maidenhead and then continued his training at Reading. In 1780 he moved to Falmouth, on becoming assistant to Joseph Fox. He settled in London, at 45 Cannon Street, in 1781, was admitted a member of the Company of Surgeons, and received a degree of MD from St. Andrews University in 1801. On 5 May 1784 he married Elizabeth Barrett (d.1823), daughter of William and Mary Barrett of Cheltenham. The couple, who had five children, moved after their marriage to Talbot Court, Gracechurch Street, London, and in 1793 to 102 Leadenhall Street.
In 1789 Pole was made a member of the American Philosophical Society, of which Benjamin Franklin was then president. His medical practice was concentrated on obstetrics: he lectured on midwifery and, being a skilful draughtsman, recorded instructive sketches which were engraved. In 1790 he published his valuable Anatomical Instructor, which illustrated the approved methods of preparing and preserving parts of the human body for the purposes of study, with copperplates drawn by himself. In 1802 poor health forced pole to move, with his family, to St Jamesís Square, Bristol, where he soon acquired an extensive practice. There he continued his medical lectures, James Cowles Prichard being among his pupils; he also lectured on chemistry and other sciences.
Throughout his life Pole devoted much of his time to ministerial work in the Society of Friends and he took part in many philanthropic schemes. He helped William Smith, in 1812, to establish the first English schools for the adult poor and, in 1814, published a History of the Origin and Progress of Adult Schools, to which James Montgomery contributed verse. Pole was praised for his sympathy and tolerance in Devotional Verses, (1826) by the Quaker poet Bernard Barton. In addition to being a skilled medical illustrator Pole was a keen watercolourist and silhouettist. He died at Bristol on 28 September 1829 as was survived by four of his children.
Thomas is also remembered today because he created a number of hand-written books, some leather bound, in which he wrote about aspects of his life, a holiday in France, the death of his wife Elizabeth, and other topics. He illustrated several of them with small watercolour pictures. These pictures have a naive style, all his own. Several of the illustrated books have survived and are now owned by Wedmore family members (Thomas's granddaughter Rachel Pole Duck married Thomas Wedmore). A number of other un-illustrated journals are in the library at the headquarters of the Society of Friends (Quakers) at Friends' House in Euston, London.
In 1908 Edmund Tolson Wedmore (great-grandson) wrote a biography of Thomas Pole after research into the family history and with reference to family papers. Many of the finer details are taken from Thomas's notebooks. The biography was published by the Friends' Historical Society in London by Headley Brothers of 14 Bishopsgate and in Philadelphia by Herman Newman of 1010 Arch Street; costing 4s 6d [22.5 new pence] or $1.15 respectively.
Thomas's father, John, left for America in about 1727 where he settled in Burlington, New Jersey. Eventually John became a successful merchant and the family moved to Philadelphia where Thomas was born. When Thomas was only one and a half years of age, his father died and his mother Rachel was left to raise five children, though the eldest, Anna, was already eighteen. John Pole Biography
Before he was seven, Thomas's mother died too. John his eldest brother was sent to England to live with his uncle. Thomas and the others lived with one of his father's executors a family friend, William Callendar, and Anna helped with her younger siblings. When his sister Anna married James Bringhurst, Thomas was put in the care of Joseph Noble. Thomas's uncle, Thomas Pole of Milverton asked a friend T. Griffiths, who was visiting America, to report on the welfare of the family. He wrote from Philadelphia:~
"I both saw and enquired particularly concerning thy nephew, Tommy Pole, a young lad twelve years of age, bearing a good character, and remarkably inclined to be doing one nick-nack or another in wood - as little boxes, &c., and as far as I understand minds his learning . . . he told me himself that he would like to learn to be a carpenter and joiner. I went to see the two sisters and I hear nothing but well concerning them."
As a teenager Thomas was led astray by "wicked schoolfellows" and possibly by fellow apprentices in the tanning industry. But when he was eighteen he came to his senses and became a reformed character. He wrote:~
"Then did the Lord break forth in His power, bursting open the prison doors, proclaiming a glorious deliverance of my captive soul. May all the faculties of my soul bow in reverent thankfulness for this mercy, and may my life be devoted to the service of my Redeemer."
Before he was twenty he appeared in the ministry and indeed he did devote much of his time to preaching at Quaker meetings over much of England. ~ But we are running ahead of the story.
After reaching the age of twenty-one, in 1775, Thomas sailed to England to visit his uncle Thomas Pole of Milverton and to meet other family members. He set sail down the Delaware on April 30th and arrived off Dover on June 15th. He had sailed in the brig The Two Friends for which he paid ten guineas [£10.50] and had to supply his own provisions. [Perhaps £2,000 in todays money]
He was impressed by Rickman and decided to follow his profession. He signed up for an apprenticeship.
He lived at Falcon Court Lothbury moved to Grace Church Street and later to Leadenhall Street.
In 1791 Thomas Pole went on a brief trip to France 'for the good of his health'. The trip on a ship from Dover to Calais and then by barge on the the Calais to St. Omer Canal took four days. These are a few of fifteen water colours in a hand written book to describe and illustrate the trip for his wife Elizabeth.
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The Cliffs of Dover by Moonlight. Bathing in the sea only became fashionable
towards the end of the eighteenth century. In order to maintain their modesty,
especially the ladies, the well to do would change into their swimming clothes in
the bathing hut which was wheeled to the waters edge, where they could leave the
machine and enter the water un-observed. Later the machine could be winched up the beach again. The
sight of this bathing machine must therefore have been an unusual sight for Thomas, as it would be for us.
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This very unusual bridge earned the French name 'Non-Pareil', (unparalleled).
The bridge is cross-shaped formed between the four segments created where two
canals intersected. Widening of the canal and various wars mean the the bridge
was replaced long ago.
Thomas Pole started his medical profession in London circa 1781 where he worked very hard specialising in obstetrics, teaching medicine (lecturing six mornings a week) and in putting together a medical museum for his students. This punishing schedule took its toll and he suffered from vertigo and some paralysis [possibly he had a minor stroke]. For this reason he moved to Bristol to lead a more relaxed lifestyle. Here he still practised medicine and was certainly involved in adult education.
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In Bristol he leased 14 St James's Square from a Friend Sarah Fox and on her
demise he purchased the property. This is the view of the Square from the south.
Nothing remains of this square today due to wartime bonbing and post-war planning.
The site today lies beneath Avon House North near the St. James Barton roundabout.
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Thomas was fascinated by gardens and painted several pictures of this garden and
those of several meeting houses around the country. These have been of much
interest to garden historians since they show the style in vogue two hundred years
ago. This is the view from Number 14.
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This view taken from half way along the garden shows the rear of the house. The
garden was 152 feet in length and 68 feet at its widest point (46.3 x 20.7 metres)
L shaped and larger than these two pictures show. There is a hothouse to the
right of this view behind the single storey building, which is the kitchen, and
servants' area. There is more garden with lawns on the other side.
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Clearly the garden was important to this household with provision of a heated
greenhouse or hothouse for the cultivation of bedding plants and possibly plants
or flowers for indoors too. Also the picture below shows a soil sterilising room
with its urn-topped chimney stack and possibly a compost heap.
Click to see more detail
The five watercolours above were not included in any of the books known to have been written and illustrated by Thomas Pole and not signed, therefore there is no direct proof that he was the artist. Although the family have inherited these pictures over the intervening years and have always passed them on in the belief that Thomas was indeed the artist, they are of a superior quality to the other pictures known to have been painted by him. Art historians have reservations about the artist and it has been suggested that one of his daughters may have painted them. For this reason they are described as 'attributed to Thomas Pole'.
This part of the garden is not visible from the house as shown in the second
painting above and would have been to the right. The extended part of the
garden was behind the house next door. At this time formal lawns were coming
into fashion for town houses.
Almost as soon as Thomas arrived in Bristol he planned a series of weekly lectures in the evening on a day most suitable to Subscribers. The whole course cost four guineas (£4.20) ~ perhaps 800 pounds in today's money. The ticket for a single lecture was two shillings and sixpence (12½pence). A wide range of mainly science topics was covered including 'Structure of the Earth', chemistry, medical issues and astronomy. Unusually for the time, the lectures were to be open to women who "have hitherto been too much excluded from the opportunities of scientific improvement . . . in a language suited to those who have not been accustomed to technical phraseology; and where terms, to which they have not been accustomed, are unavoidable, they will be fully explained, in order to render the whole as intelligible as possible". The prospectus looked roughly as follows :~
Thomas Pole enjoyed drawing little pictures which during a fifteen month period from April 1821 he illustrated 50 pages in a red leather bound book with pages 6.25" wide by 3.875" (16cm x 9.8cm). This "Thomas Pole's Red Book" as is has been named by the family, shows enormous patience and attention to detail and even obsession with miniaturisation. Two of these pages are illustrated below.
GENERAL OECONOMY OF NATURE;
TO BE DELIVERED IN
THE CITY OF BRISTOL
By THOMAS POLE, M.D.
Practitioner in Midwifry,
Late LECTURER on the Theory and Practice of Midwifry, and
the Diseases of Women and Children, in London; now
resident in James's Square, Bristol.
Printed by J. MILLS, Augustine's Back: ---1802
Click to enlarge centre times 4
Page 37 is shown. Although screen settings will vary a little, the picture to the left is about the same size as the original drawing. Inside each of the roundels is a typical Thomas Pole scene. Scanning and enlarging by times four is necessary to reproduce the pictures with sufficient detail to be viewed on a computer.
Click to enlarge grid times 8
Page 41 is shown. The picture to the left is about one and a half times the size as the original drawing. Of course the little landscapes are very simple in nature. Inevitably the scanning and enlargement process creates a litte fuzziness in the pictures.
Twenty Landscapes in one sixteenth part of a square superficial inch, equivalent to 320 in an inch, which is 26 dozen and 8.
|Thomas Pole MD from a portrait by Nathan Cooper Branwhite 1775-1857.|
Short Biography of Elizabeth Pole
Thomas was devoted to his wife Elizabeth and was clearly distressed by her death from
breast cancer in 1823, because as a doctor he was unable to prevent her suffering.
After her death he produced a hand-written book "Life of E. Pole". The fronticepiece,
a watercolour in many shades of grey, is shown here. Very much in Thomas's style,
it was just as much about himself !
Thomas wrote about his wife in a handwritten book beautifully laid out and leather bound, he will tell the story ~ " Elizabeth Pole . . . , was the daughter of William and Mary Barrett, late of Cheltenham in the County of Gloucester. They had four sons and two Daughters exclusive of others who died in childhood. - Martha was by a former Wife; she was married to Richard Burlingham of Worcester. - Elizabeth was born the 5th of the 2nd month 1756 and was the senior of all the children by the second Wife: - she was very affectionately attached to her step-sister, Martha, and continued so until the latter was removed by death, in the year 1815." . . . "Elizabeth was educated at a Boarding School in Worcester kept by Sarah Fell who afterwards married William Squire of Chalbury [sic] in Oxfordshire. The system of education at that time was in some respects very inferior to what has generally obtained in modern times." [That was written in 1823 ~ does anything change !]
"Soon after my arrival in England, being at Cirencester with some of my relatives I accompanied them to the Quarterly Meeting of Friends for Gloucestershire, of which they were members; - the Meeting was held at Cheltenham; and this excursion first led me to an acquaintance with the family of William Barrett, altogether unapprised that this acquaintance would prove an introduction to that person to whom I should be joined in the most intimate and tender union of mind, and with whom I was to pass thirty eight years and a half; who was to be my greatest earthly comfort and blessing, and with her to share both the pleasures and trials of life."
"Some years after this, her eldest Brother settled in business in the City of Worcester and she resided with him, to attend to the necessary domestic circumstances of his family, he being at that time a single man. - This gave her another and much more favourable opportunity of cultivating a still closer acquaintance with those friends to whom she had before formed an affectionate and religious attachment, which I have reason to believe was reciprocal . . . - It was also an additional pleasure and comfort to her and her endeared sister Martha Burlingham to reside in the same City, as this circumstance afforded them opportunities of frequent social and affectionate intercourse."
" It was during her residence at Worcester, in the year 1783 and 4, that her mind was seriously exercised under considerations relative to Marriage in consequence of proposals made to her by myself, and I have reason to believe she was religiously desirous of being rightly directed therein. - "
" When the time approached for the accomplishment of those intentions, which became reciprocal she left her Brother's house, and resided with her parents at Cheltenham. - During her renewed residence in this place, her Father was removed by death, on the 8th day of the second Month 1784.
I had at that time been settled in London about three years in the practice of Medicine, and Surgery. - No other particular occurrence respecting her took place until the time of our Marriage which was on the fifth day of the 10th month in 1784, at Cheltenham; - on which occasion we had the company of several Friends in the Ministry. Henry Wilkins of Cirencester Timothy Bevington of Worcester, and Elizabeth Bevington of London; each of whom were considerably exercised in the Ministry and I well remember that I thought each of the Friends before mentioned were favoured above their ordinary degree."
If you have a Pole in a remote corner of your family tree who came from the Wiveliscombe or Milverton area, or links to or information about Thomas Pole, then please email me at -
© Geoffrey Stone, Braintree 25-12-02 Updated 26-10-05