Thomas Coram

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Thomas Coram
William Hogarth 053.jpg
Thomas Coram
painted by William Hogarth, 1740[1]
Born (c. 1668)
Lyme Regis, Dorset,
United Kingdom
Died 29 March 1751
Nationality England English
Occupation Sea Captain,
Title Captain Thomas Hal Burken Coram
Cpt. Thomas Coram by W. Nutter, 1796
Statue of Thomas Coram, Brunswick Square, London by William McMillan, 1963

Captain Thomas Coram (c. 1668 – 29 March 1751) was a philanthropist who created the London Foundling Hospital in Lamb's Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury to look after abandoned children. It is said to be the world's first incorporated charity.

Early life[edit]

Coram was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK. He spent much of his early life at sea and in the American colonies. From 1694 to 1705, he operated a ship building business at Taunton, Massachusetts. He afterwards became a successful merchant in London. In 1717, he unsuccessfully promoted the idea of founding a colony to be called 'Georgia' in what is today Maine as a philanthropic venture. In 1732, he became a trustee of James Oglethorpe’s Georgia colony. In 1735 he sponsored a colony in Nova Scotia for unemployed artisans.

As a philanthropist Coram was appalled by the many abandoned, homeless children living in the streets of London. On 17 October 1739 he obtained a Royal Charter granted by George II establishing a "hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children."

Foundling Hospital[edit]

In 1742-1745, the Foundling Hospital was erected in Bloomsbury. William Hogarth was among the first governors of the hospital. He painted a famous portrait of himself (1740; now Foundling Museum, London; reproduced in stipple by William Nutter [1754-1802] for R. Cribb in 1796), and, together with some of his fellow artists, decorated the Governors' Court Room, which contains paintings by Francis Hayman, Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Wilson. He contributed paintings for the benefit of the Foundation, and the Foundling Hospital became the first art gallery open to the public.

George Frederic Handel allowed a concert performance of Messiah to benefit the foundation, and donated the manuscript of the Hallelujah Chorus to the hospital. He also composed an anthem specially for a performance at the Hospital, now called the Foundling Hospital Anthem.

The Foundling Hospital charity continues today and is known as Coram, still delivering services which transform children's lives from the same historic site. The original site also contains a children's play area, Coram's Fields, which refuses entry to adults unaccompanied by children.

In 2000, Jamila Gavin published a children's book called Coram Boy about the Foundling Hospital. The book was adapted into a play by Helen Edmundson, which had its world premiere at the Royal National Theatre in London in November 2005 and recently had a brief run on Broadway.


  1. ^ Waterhouse, Ellis. (1994) Painting in Britain 1530-1790. 5th edn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p. 175. ISBN 0300058330

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