Thomas Pitt

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Thomas Pitt
President of Fort St George (Madras)
In office
7 July 1698 – 18 September 1709
Preceded byNathaniel Higginson
Succeeded byGulston Addison
Personal details
Born5 July 1653 (1653-07-05)
Blandford Forum, Dorset, England
Died28 April 1726 (1726-04-29) (aged 72)
Arms of Pitt: Sable, a fesse chequy argent and azure between three bezants

Thomas "Diamond" Pitt (5 July 1653 – 28 April 1726) of Stratford in Wiltshire and of Boconnoc in Cornwall,[1] was an English merchant involved in trade with India who served as President of Madras and six times as a Member of Parliament. He was the grandfather of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham ("Pitt the Elder") and was great-grandfather of Pitt the Younger, both prime ministers of Great Britain.


Pitt was born at Blandford Forum, Dorset, the second son of Rev. John Pitt (1610-1672), Rector of Blandford St Mary (whose mural monument survives in that church[2]), by his wife Sarah Jay.[3] His second cousin was the poet Rev. Christopher Pitt (1699-1748) whose mural monument survives in the church of St Peter and St Paul, Blandford Forum, displaying the arms of Pitt: Sable, a fesse chequy argent and azure between three bezants. The earliest prominent ancestor of his family was John Pitt (d.1602) a mercer from Blandford Forum and Clerk of the Exchequer who received a grant of arms,[4] from whose younger son, Thomas Pitt of Blandford (father of Rev. John Pitt), the Pitts of Boconnoc were descended. The eldest son of John Pitt (d.1602) was Sir William Pitt (c.1559-1636),[5] MP for Wareham, who founded the senior line of Pitt of Stratfield Saye in Hampshire, many of whose descendants served as an MP for Wareham and in 1776 acquired the title Baron Rivers.

In the Mughal Empire[edit]

In 1674, Pitt went to India with the East India Company, and 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 he was already very wealthy and could easily afford the fine. He then proceeded to buy the manor of Stratford, Wiltshire and its surrounding borough of Old Sarum. With that acquisition he gained a seat in the House of Commons, as it 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.[citation needed]

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. In August 1699, he had been appointed as the Governor of Fort St. George. In 1702, when the fort was besieged by Daud Khan of the Carnatic, the Mughal Empire's local subedar (lieutenant),[6] Pitt was instructed to seek 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, arming them with the latest weapons and deploying them under the command of English officers to save Madras, his base of operations, from further Mughal harassment.[citation needed]

President of Madras[edit]

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)

Pitt became the President of Madras on 7 July 1698 and remained in his post till 1709.[citation needed]

In 1698, a new company called English Company Trading to the East Indies was floated by English merchants with Whiggish affiliations with a capital of £2 million. 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 an order that the authorities were to receive orders from no-one save those appointed by King William III.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Pitt's 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.[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

In need of money after making gifts to his family, he gave up his seat in parliament in 1716 in favour of the position of Governor of Jamaica. However, his finances were restored by the sale of a large diamond (later known as the Regent diamond) and he resigned the position the following year without ever going there. He was soon re-elected to parliament to represent Thirsk, and thereafter Old Sarum for the last time, finally quitting parliament in 1726.[7]

Marriage and children[edit]

On 1 January 1679/80 Pitt married Jane Innes, a daughter of James Innes of Reid Hall, Moray, by his wife Sarah Vincent.[8] Jane was a niece of Matthias Vincent, one of Pitt's business associates.[9] By his wife he had at least four sons and two daughters, including:

Pitt's diamond[edit]

The Regent diamond, now on display in the Louvre

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 as he fled the Siege of Golconda.[citation needed]

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.[11] 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.[citation needed]

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.

His association with the jewel earned him the nickname "Diamond" Pitt.[12]



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.[citation needed]


  • Moore, Gloria. The Anglo-Indian Vision, 1986.
  • Palmer, R.R., et al. A History of the Modern World, 2004.


  1. ^ Romney R. Sedgwick
  2. ^ see image [1], see transcript in Collins
  3. ^ Arthur Collins, Collins's Peerage of England, Volume 7, London, 1812, pp.485-6 [2]
  4. ^ Collins
  5. ^
  6. ^ Blackburn, Terence R. (2007). A Miscellany of Mutinies and Massacres in India. APH Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 9788131301692.
  7. ^ "PITT, Thomas (1653-1726), of Stratford, Wilts. and Boconnoc, Cornw". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  8. ^ Edward J. Davies, "Jane Innes, Wife of Governor Thomas Pitt", Notes and Queries, 253(2008):301-03.
  9. ^ "VINCENT, Sir Matthias (c.1645-87), of, Islington, Mdx". UK Parliament. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  10. ^ Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003.
  11. ^ Edward Pearce (2010). Pitt the Elder: Man of War. Random House. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-4090-8908-7.
  12. ^ Pearce, Edward (26 January 2010). Pitt the Elder: Man of War. Random House. p. 6. ISBN 9781409089087.

External links[edit]

Media related to Thomas Pitt at Wikimedia Commons

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
Government offices
Preceded by
Lord Archibald Hamilton
Governor of Jamaica
Succeeded by
Peter Heywood