Thomas Pennington

The following information has been extracted from a number of sources in adition to those referenced, including Alumni Cantabrigienses, the Clergy of the Church of England Database, The History of the King's Messengers by Vincent Wheeler-Holohan and Volume 7 of The War Illustrated Album de Luxe; The Story of the Great European War Told By Camera, Pen and Pencil, Edited by John Alexander Hammerton.

Thomas Pennington was born in Deal, Kent on 16 February 1761. He was the son of Thomas Pennington (c1728 - 26 November 1802), Rector of both Tunstall and Kingsdown in Kent, and one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral, and his wife Margaret (17 October 1725 - 18 February 1798), the younger daughter of Nicolas Carter (1688 - 24 October 1774), Perpetual Curate of St George's Chapel, Deal, and his first wife, Margaret, the daughter of Richard Swayne, of Bere, Dorset. Nicolas belonged to an old Bedfordshire family that had settled in Higham, a village bordering the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, in the reign of Edward IV. His wife, Margaret, was descended through the Dorsetshire family of Trenchard from Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I, by her marriage with Humphrey de Bohun, fourth Earl of Hereford, third Earl of Essex and Constable of England.

Thomas's younger brother Montagu (1762- 15 April 1849) was to become well known as the biographer of
Elizabeth Carter (16 December 1717- 19 February 1806), the celebrated poet, translator and member of the 'bluestockings' literary group. She was the elder daughter of Nicolas and Margaret, and hence Montagu's and Thomas's aunt.

Thomas  entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1775 and was awarded the degree of B.A in 1780. He then migrated to Clare where he was elected a Fellow and was awarded the degree of M.A. in 1783.

In 1782 Thomas embarked on the first of a series of three continental excursions. He was ordained Deacon on 16 March 1783 and Priest on 22 May 1785. On 31 November 1784 Thomas was appointed Curate of St Andrew's, Tilmanstone, a village near Eastry in Kent, and on 18 May 1786 succeeded his father as Rector of St Catherine's, Kingsdown in Kent. The medieval church of St Catherine had been an appendage to the manor until being sold in 1782 to Thomas's father, then the Rector, who thereby became the patron of the living. It was to be replaced by a new church designed by Edward Welby Pugin that was completed in 1877, and built at the expense of Thomas Pemberton Leigh, the first and only Lord Kingsdown. It is now the only surviving Anglican church to have been designed by Pugin and, having been declared redundant, is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

On 13 February 1789, Thomas married Mary Sarah, the daughter of William Michel Sale and his wife Martha (née Pennington), Thomas's paternal aunt. William Sale was the the son of the orientalist George Sale (1697 - 1736), well known for his English translation of the Koran.
Accompanied by his new wife, Thomas immediately embarked on his third continental excursion. His three visits to Europe were the subject of Continental Excursions (Vol 1, Vol 2), belatedly published in 1809.

On 1 July 1791, Thomas was additionally licensed as Curate of both the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Downe and St Katharine's, Knockholt, villages near Orpington in Kent.

Thomas and Mary had one surviving child, a daughter, Theodora Louisa, who was born on 23 April 1797.
Thomas was collated Rector of Thorley on 7 February 1798, the benefice having been given to Elizabeth Carter as a gift for her nephew by Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London. Thomas held the benefice in addition to that of Kingsdown of which he became the patron on his father's death in 1802. He became chaplain to the first Countess of Bath, Henrietta Laura Pulteney, who was a regular corespondent with Elizabeth Carter and is said to have had the affection for her almost as of a daughter, and later to Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough, the Lord of the Manor of Thorley.

Thomas was an extremely active promoter of vaccination at a time when Edward Jenner was widely ridiculed for claiming that inoculating with cowpox gave immunity to smallpox, with the clergy in particular saying that it was repulsive and ungodly to give someone material from a diseased animal.  A play entitled The Cow Doctor that was performed in London in 1810 was dedicated by the author to Thomas with the words “You, sir, ever since Vaccination has been introduced into this country, have uniformly stood forth as its advocate, and have combatted the prejudices of mankind by resisting the fallacious arguments brought against it, -- and not only that, by introducing it into your own parish, and inducing all your old and young in it to submit to the operation, have shewn the safety and comfort of it, and the futility of any arguments brought against it". In its opening, the play advocates that the clergy should play a role in the promotion of vaccination and has a prologue in the form of a poem that is said to have been written by Thomas that eulogises Edward Jenner as the saviour of mankind.  In the book “Social Histories of Disability and Deformity: Bodies, Images and Experiences” that was edited by David M. Turner and Kevin Stagg and published in 2006, the play is descibed as “a blatant piece of vaccination propaganda”. The book goes on to say that “Through its rather tortuous plot the play charts the conversion of Crimp, an unscrupulous apothecary of doubtful morals, from variolation [inoculation with smallpox virus] to vaccination [inoculation with cowpox], after which he embraced a Christian life, enjoyed increased income and domestic bliss.”

In 1816,Thomas's daughter, Theodora, married Captain Robert George Sparrow (born 22 April 1788), the son of George Sparrow who had been killed in Sicily in 1807 whilst carrying British Government documents as a King's Messenger. Robert had been given a commission in the British army by Prince Frederick, Duke of York, the second son of King George III, in recognition of his father's most heroic defence of his dispatches, and had fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. Theodora and Robert ran away to Gretna Green, where they were married on 27 July 1816. A few weeks later, on 20 August 1816, they were married again, this time with Thomas's consent at St Margaret's Westminster. Theodora and Robert had twelve children, Thomas Sale born in 1817, Montague Pennington Florentio Romulus born in 1819, Robert Pennington Remus born in 1820, George Waterloo Pennington born in 1821, Charles Henry Carter born in 1822 but who died when only eleven weeks old, Mary Sarah born in 1823, William Cunningham Fairlie born in 1826, Theodora Louisa born in 1828, Eliza Jemima Lucas born in 1830, Sigismunda Elizabeth Cecilia born in 1833, Christiana Georgiana Julia Emma born in 1835 and John James Horatio Septimus born in 1837. In 1818, Thomas, accompanied by his wife Mary, his daughter Theodora, her husband Robert and infant grandson Thomas Sale, set off on a journey through Europe that lasted over three years, and during which he baptised Montague, Robert and George after their respective births in Florence, Rome and Brussels. Thomas described this time in Journeys into Various Part of Europe (Vol 1, Vol 2) published in 1825.

Thomas and his wife, Mary Sarah, adopted their eldest grandson, Thomas Sale. On reaching the age of 21 in 1838, and in compliance with the wishes of his grandfather, he took the name Pennington instead of Sparrow.
Thomas's son-in-law, Robert George Sparrow, died on 25 June 1844. Thomas's wife, Mary Sarah, died in 1847, aged 87, in Amiens, France, as recorded in the following entry in the town's records;

"L'an mil huit cent quarante sept le vingt trois décembre à midi, par devant nous adjoint délégué au Maire de la ville d'Amiens faisant les fonctions d'Officier de l'Etat Civil, sont comparus Ambroise Raymond BENOIT, âgé de 42 ans, maître d'hôtel, demeurant à Amiens, petite rue de Beauvais numéro 11, et Maxime DEMAREST, âgé de 33 ans, louager, demeurant à Amiens, même rue numéro vingt trois bis, tous deux voisins de la défunte. Lesquels nous ont déclaré que le vingt de ce mois, à quatre heures du matin, est décédée en la maison du premier comparant sise à Amiens petite rue de Beauvais au numéro 11, Marie Sarah SALE, âgée de 87 ans, née à Londres (Angleterre), rentière, fille des feus Wilham Mitchel SALE et Marthe PENNINGTON, épouse de Thomas PENNINGTON, âgé de 86 ans, ministre protestant. Après lecture, les comparants ont signé avec nous."

("In the year eighteen forty seven the twenty third of December at midday, before us assistant deputy Mayor of the town of Amiens acting as the officer of the Registry Office, appeared Ambroise Raymond BENOIT, aged 42 years, butler, living in Amiens, petite rue de Beauvais number 11, and Maxime DEMAREST, aged 33 years, landlord, living in Amiens, same street number twenty three a, both neighbours of the deceased. Who told us that on the twentieth of this month, at four o'clock in the morning, had died in the house of the first person appearing in Amiens petite rue de Beauvais number 11, Mary Sarah SALE, aged 87 years, born in London (England), a person of independent means, daughter of the late William Mitchel SALE and Martha PENNINGTON, wife of Thomas PENNINGTON, aged 86 years, protestant minister. After reading, the persons appearing signed with us.")

Mary Sarah is buried in the Le Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

In 1852, Thomas's granddaughter Theodora Louisa married Marie Jacques Auguste Ange Nivelle, who at that time was a colonel in the French army and whom she had met whilst studying the French language in Paris. Their second son, Robert George Nivelle, born in Tulle, France in 1856, became a leading French general, and was commander-in-chief of the French armies on the Western Front during the First World War from December 1916 to May 1917. General Nivelle was equally at home in French and English society. His lucid presentation of tactics so impressed David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the wartime coalition government from December 1916, that he gave serious consideration to putting him over General Haig, and reducing the latter to an adjunct-general with responsibility only for personnel and discipline.

Thomas remained Rector of both Thorley and Kingsdown until his death, aged 91, on 21 December 1852. He is buried in a family vault at St George's, Deal, together with his granddaughter, Mary Sarah, who died on 11 September 1861, his daughter, who died on 16 January 1869, and her husband.

In 1886, Thomas's youngest grandson, John James Horatio Septimus, assumed the surname Pennington in lieu of Sparrow. Having entered Clare College Cambridge in 1856, he had been awarded the degree of B.A. in 1860 and that of M.A. in 1864. Following ordination as Deacon in 1861 and Priest the following year, he had embarked on a career in the church, that ultimately led to his collation as the Revd Septimus Pennington as Rector of St Clement Danes in London in 1889. His daughter, Georgina Louisa, married the Revd William Bickford in 1907. In 1910, on the death of his father-in-law, he was appointed as William Pennington-Bickford to succeed him as Rector of St. Clement Danes. William and his wife 'Louie' became well-known for their devotion to their parish. Having restored the bells and returned the carillon to use playing the tune of Oranges and Lemons, they instituted in 1920 the annual tradition of gifts of oranges and lemons to local school children. Sadly, both died as a result of the trauma they experienced when their Church was almost completely destroyed by an incendiary bomb on 10 May 1941. After the war, the church was restored and re-consecrated on 19 October 1958 as the Central Church of the Royal Air Force.

Philip Hargrave
January 2013
Updated in respect of vaccination November 2020

Return to St James' Rectors

The Pennington Files, Part One