Thomas Pitt

For other uses, see Thomas Pitt (disambiguation).
Thomas Pitt
President of Fort St George (Madras)
In office
7 July 1698  18 September 1709
Preceded by Nathaniel Higginson
Succeeded by Gulston Addison
Personal details
Born 5 July 1653
Blandford Forum, Dorset, England
Died 28 April 1726 (1726-04-29) (aged 72)

Thomas Pitt (5 July 1653 – 28 April 1726), born at Blandford Forum, Dorset, to the Reverend John Pitt, a Church of England cleric, and rector of Blandford St Mary, and Sarah Jay, was an English merchant involved in trade with India.

In the Mughal Empire

These native governors (Subedars and Nawabs) have the knack of tramping upon us and extorting what they please of our estate from us...they will never forbid doing so till we have made them sensible of our power.

Thomas Pitt, (1699)[1]

In 1674, Pitt went to India with the East India Company, however he soon began trading for himself as an 'interloper' in defiance of the East India Company's legal monopoly on Indian trade. Upon his return to England he was fined £400 for his actions, although by that time Pitt was already very wealthy and could easily afford the fine. He then proceeded to buy the manor of Stratford and its surrounding borough Old Sarum. With that acquisition he gained a seat in the House of Commons, as that was a rotten borough, although his first seat was as the member for Salisbury in the Convention Parliament of 1689. The purchase of Old Sarum would have a significant effect on English history, as the seat would pass to Pitt's rather influential descendants. Pitt returned to India, and eventually was hired by the East India Company.

In August 1698, Pitt arrived at Madras as the President of the East India Company and was entrusted to negotiate an end to the Child's War with the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Soon in August 1699 he had been appointed as the Governor of Fort St. George, in the year 1702 when the fort itself was besieged by Daud Khan of the Carnatic the Mughal Empire's local Subedar (lieutenant),[2] Thomas Pitt was instructed to vie for peace. He later bought out some of the Carnatic region, he began garrisoning East India Company forts by raising regiments of local Sepoys by hiring from Hindu warrior castes, he armed them with the latest weapons and positioned them under the command of English officers to save Madras, his base of operations from further Mughal harassment.[1]

As the President of Madras

Thomas Pitt became the President of Madras on 7 July 1698, negotiations with the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the Red Fort were entrusted to none other than Thomas Pitt, he ended the Child's War by persuading the Mughal Grand Vizier Asad Khan to put an end to the hostilities that had begun and thus remained in his post till 1709.[1]

In 1698, a new company called English Company Trading to the East Indies was floated by English merchants with Tory affiliations with a capital of 2 million pound sterling. In August 1699, one John Pitt arrived at Madras and claimed that he had been appointed as the Governor of Fort St George by the new Company on behalf of the Stuarts. However, the Government in England passed a stern order that the authorities were to receive orders from no one save those appointed by King William III of Orange.

On 4 December 1700, the Government of Fort St George banned cock-fighting and other traditional games regarding it as the foremost reason for the poverty of the inhabitants of Madras.

His term of office is known as the 'Golden Age of Madras'. He fortified the walls of Black town and organised an accurate survey of the city. Pitt is best known for the acquisition of the Five New Towns: Tiruvatiyoor, Kathiwakam, Nungambakkam, Vyasarpady and Sathangadu.


Pitt married, on 1 January 1679/80, Jane Innes, daughter of James and Sarah (Vincent) Innes[3] and niece of Matthias Vincent, his one time business associate.[4] He had at least four sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Robert, was father of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, often called "Pitt the Elder", who was twice Prime Minister. His second sons were twins, based on an entry to the baptismal records of St. Lawrence, Stratford sub Castle, Salisbury, Wilts records, Thomas Pitt, later 1st Earl of Londonderry and William. No other record of William can be found so he probably died in infancy. His third son John was a distinguished soldier. His second daughter, Lucy married James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope. Thomas Pitt also had a grandson, by his older son Robert, named Thomas Pitt but perhaps Thomas Pitt's most famous descendant was his great-grandson (through William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham) – William Pitt the Younger, who went on to himself become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the early 19th century.

Pitt's diamond

Main article: Regent Diamond

Pitt is best known for his purchase of a 410 carat (82 g) uncut diamond acquired from an Indian merchant named Jamchand in Madras in 1701. The merchant had purchased the diamond from an English sea captain, who had, in fact, stolen the diamond from a servant of Abul Hasan Qutb Shah. According to another version the servant found the diamond in one of the Golkonda mines on the Krishna River and had concealed it inside a large wound in his leg, which he had suffered from as he fled the Siege of Golconda.

Pitt bought the diamond for 48,000 pagodas or £20,400, and sent it back to England in 1702 concealed inside his eldest son Robert's shoe.[5] For two years from 1704–1706, the jeweller Harris laboured in London to hew a 141 carat (28.2 g) cushion brilliant from the rough stone. Several secondary stones were produced from the cut that were sold to Peter the Great of Russia. After many attempts to sell it to various European royals, including Louis XIV of France, Pitt and his sons went with the diamond to Calais in 1717. With John Law acting as agent, it was sold that year to the French regent, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, for £135,000, becoming one of the crown jewels of France. Today, "Le Régent", as it came to be known, remains in the French Royal Treasury at the Louvre, where it has been on display since 1887.

Pitt owned a piece of land called a copyhold, and the lord of this land was entitled to Pitt's most valuable possession after his death. If he had not sold the diamond, it would have been confiscated as a heriot, a form of death duty.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thomas Pitt.

With the money received for his famous diamond, he now began to consolidate his properties. Besides Mawarden Court at Stratford Sub Castle and the Down at Blandford, he acquired Boconnoc in Cornwall from Lord Mohun's widow in 1717, and subsequently Kynaston in Dorset, Bradock, Treskillard and Brannell in Cornwall, Woodyates on the border of Dorset and Wiltshire, Abbot's Ann in Hampshire (where he rebuilt the church) and, subsequently his favourite residence, Swallowfield Park in Berkshire, where he died in 1726.



  1. 1 2 3 Video on YouTube
  3. Edward J. Davies, "Jane Innes, Wife of Governor Thomas Pitt", Notes and Queries, 253(2008):301-03.
  4. "VINCENT, Sir Matthias (c.1645-87), of , Islington, Mdx.". UK Parliament. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  5. Edward Pearce (2010). Pitt the Elder: Man of War. Random House. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-4090-8908-7.
Parliament of England
Preceded by
Thomas Hoby
Giles Eyre
Member of Parliament for Salisbury
With: Thomas Hoby
Succeeded by
Thomas Hoby
Sir Thomas Mompesson
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Robert Pitt
William Harvey
Member of Parliament for Old Sarum
With: William Harvey 1710–13
Robert Pitt 1713–16
Succeeded by
Robert Pitt
Sir William Strickland
Preceded by
Ralph Bell
Thomas Frankland
Member of Parliament for Thirsk
With: Thomas Frankland
Succeeded by
Thomas Frankland
William St Quintin
Preceded by
Robert Pitt
Sir William Strickland
Member of Parliament for Old Sarum
With: Robert Pitt 1722
George Morton Pitt 1722–24
John Pitt 1724–26
Succeeded by
John Pitt
George Pitt
Political offices
Preceded by
Nathaniel Higginson
President of Madras
7 July 1698 – 18 September 1709
Succeeded by
Gulston Addison
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