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Colonel George Tomline


Tomline's portrait Only known photograph.


Although George Tomline was wealthy, influential and well-connected, he left a surprisingly small footprint in the historical record. This page summarises what members of OASI have established about his life and work. A well-known shadow print of Tomline is reproduced to the right, together with the only known photograph of him [1].


Tomline's grandfather, George Pretyman (1750-1827), was the son of George and Susan Pretyman, an established Suffolk family whose seat was at Bacton near Bury St Edmunds. He was born at Bury St Edmunds on 09 October 1750, and educated at Bury Grammar School and Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where he read mathematics. In 1781, he was elected a fellow of Pembroke Hall. After graduating, he became a close friend and tutor to William Pitt (the Younger) and, when the latter became Prime Minister [2], became his private secretary, holding the post from 1783 to 1787. Pretyman was created a Doctor of Divinity in 1784. He married Elizabeth Maltby in the same year and they subsequently had three sons. 0n 17 March 1785 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the citation emphasising his mathematical ability (a Gentleman highly distinguished for his mathematical knowledge). In 1787 Pitt recommended to George III that Pretyman, then around 37 years of age, be appointed Bishop of Lincoln and Dean of St Pauls. Pretyman's obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine [3] contains an amusing anecdote concerning the dialogue between the King and Pitt:

The reply of his Majesty was, “Too young, too young - Can't have it, can't have it.”
“Oh, but please your Majesty,” observed Mr. Pitt, “had it not been for Dr. P. I should not have been in the office I now hold.”
“He shall have it, Pitt - He shall have it, Pitt,” was the King's immediate decision.”

Pretyman wrote a book entitled Elements of Christian Theology, published in 1799.

Pretyman was the original family name until 1803. In that year, Marmaduke Tomline, owner of an estate at Riby Grove in Lincolnshire, near Grimsby, and entirely unrelated to the Pretymans, without any heirs, unexpectedly bequeathed his estate and fortune to Pretyman, on condition that he adopted the name Tomline. Pretyman accepted the inheritance and thereafter adopted the name Pretyman-Tomline.

Pretyman-Tomline was appointed Bishop of Winchester in 1820. During 1823 he established a claim to a Nova Scotia Baronetcy, a title that had remained unclaimed since the death of Sir Thomas Pretyman in 1749. He died on 14 November 1827 at Wimborne, Dorset.

George and Elizabeth's eldest son, William Edward (1787-1836), was born on 27 February 1787 at Riby Hall [4], on the family estate. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge. He adopted the surname Tomline. He was elected FRS in 1812 [5]. During 1826 he began his parliamentary career, representing the constituency of Truro in Cornwall until 1830, after which he held the seat for Minehead. To provide a convenient home in London while attending Parliament, he purchased a house at 1 Carlton House Terrace, overlooking The Mall. For a time, William was Honorary Colonel of the Royal Lincolnshire Militia. He married Frances Amler on 18 April 1811 and they had five children, three boys and two girls. He died on 28 May 1836.

Pretyman-Tomline_family.png The Pretyman-Tomline family.

Early Years

George, second child of William and Frances, was born at Riby Hall on 06 March 1813. He was baptised three months later, on 01 June, by the Bishop of Lincoln (his grandfather) at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster (the parish church of the House of Commons, located between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey). The certificate lists his father's address as as Great George Street (not Carlton House Terrace).

GT_baptism.gif Certificate of baptism.

SMC.png St. Margaret's Church. (Wikipedia.)

Tomline spent his early years on the Riby Hall estate, but little is known of this period of his life. He was educated at Eton, where he came to know William Ewart Gladstone, who was in the year above him. Both pupils were spoken of as "very clever boys" [6]; however, Tomline does not appear to have followed his father and grandfather to subsequently attend university. He became an enthusiastic musician and, although he never mastered an instrument, was able to read musical scores. He was well versed in the work of the English and continental composers of the early nineteenth century and often staged concerts at Riby Grove, hiring musicians and choirs to entertain his friends. One anecdote [7] paints a picture of an athletic young man:

The greater part of Colonel Tomline’s youth was spent in Lincolnshire. Riby Grove is situated close to the great fishing metropolis of Grimsby, where (writes a correspondent who knew him as a young man) the Colonel was greatly esteemed for his genial manners and kind and cheerful disposition. At this time he was somewhat of an athlete, and the following anecdote is related with reference to his extraordinary strength. Old Matthew Cunningham, a noted character in the neighbourhood of Grimsby, had taken a load of grain and flower to Riby, in sacks. As he was about to unload, the young squire appeared on the scene. "Hullo, Cunningham," was the greeting, "Do you want a man?" And not heeding the old fellow’s expostulations, the squire seized hold of sack after sack and carried them to their separate places, as though they had been 20 lbs. weight instead of 20 st.

At an early age he inherited his mother's estate in Shropshire and later, on the death of his father, inherited, jointly with his brother, William, the family estates at Riby Grove, amounting to 8439 acres. (George eventually bought William's share in 1875, after a family quarrel at Orwell Park). Thus, in his early 20s, he found himself extremely wealthy. As was the fashion among well heeled young men of the time, he undertook the Grand Tour of Europe, visiting all the major cities on the continent. He did not appear to enjoy the experience, later describing it as being driven through Europe in a gig [6]. In later life he had a reputation for being a linguist of some ability and it is possible that his interest in languages developed during this period. He entered London society and, as a wealthy bachelor, athletic, dapper and of impressive stature, would have been considered a highly eligible match. London society gossip of the day linked him romantically with Lady Flora Hastings and Lady Clementina Villiers. Gillian Bence-Jones (grand-daughter of Tomline's heir, Ernest George Pretyman) maintains [8] that Tomline fell in love with Louisa Stuart, the second daughter of his London neighbours, but her parents scotched the blossoming romance because they wanted Louisa to marry into a title (which Tomline did not posses) and they eventually arranged a match for her with Lord Waterford. Whatever the truth of the matter, Tomline never married, and instead expended his efforts on governmental, civil and scientific matters.

Soon after Tomline inherited wealth he began to receive very many begging letters, especially near Christmas. In the early years he read each letter seriously, which caused him many sleepless nights. After wrestling with his conscience over the matter, he resolved not to give money away, but instead to aid the poor by employing as many people as he could on his estates [7]:

On the library table at Riby, where I arrived in company with Colonel Tomline one Christmas season, was an enormous number of letters awaiting him. They nearly covered the table, and there must have been some hundreds. "Why," I said, "it will take you all day to read them." "Will it?" was his cynical rejoinder, "you will see." And then he slowly walked round the table, pulling them down one by one from their endways position, so that he could see the different handwritings, selecting one here and one there until he had abstracted some couple of dozen from the long rows. With these he retired to an easy chair, and after receiving my permission, commenced to open and read them. While thus engaged, a servant entered the room and was calmly bidden to burn the rest, which he did, with all the method which had evidently come from long usage. I could not conceal that I was shocked, so when the servant had retired, the Colonel said, "I am afraid you think it rather hard lines for the writers." I admitted that I did, and added by way of apology for apparent meddling, "I was also thinking that perhaps there are cheques in some of the envelopes thus destroyed unopened." "Oh dear no," was the answer, "they don’t send me any cheques, they want them, by Jove." "No," he continued, "at this time of year I am pestered out of my life with begging letters from all sorts of people I never heard of, containing the most harrowing narratives of the writer’s sufferings, some of them I am afraid quite true, poor devils. When I was a young man and first came into my property, I went into every application seriously, with the result that I could not sleep at night, and my life became an intolerable burden to me. The frightful amount of suffering in the world from poverty appals one, and everybody, no matter what may be the extent of his means, finds out sooner or later that he is powerless to apply any practical remedy. Like a good many more I struggled on with attempts to grapple with the problem, until I was fairly beaten and had to give it up." "And now, I suppose," said I tentatively, "you only subscribe to regularly organised charities instead of sifting the various appeals yourself?" "Not I, by Jove. The plaguey secretaries bag it if you do." Then, after a pause, he went on, "I made a resolution many years ago, that I would scarcely give any money away, but that I would employ as many people as my means would enable me to do in every direction I could discover. And the time I used to spend in thinking how I could directly help the poor devils who confided their woes to me, I now direct to scheming new openings for people to work; and so indirectly helping many more. You would be surprised if you knew how many hands are busy now nominally for me, but as I hope to be saved, really for themselves and those in the same walk of life. I am reclaiming land from the sea, for instance. Then I keep all my people going on my different estates. I am building houses, and one of these days I mean to make a railway."

Other examples of his charitable expenditure include the building of an almshouse and village school (including accommodation for the master and mistress) in Riby in 1848, the rebuilding of Riby Church in the 1860s (the precise date is in some doubt) and patronage of the vicarage of Riby. [9, 10]

Tomline adopted the title of Colonel but this referred to an honorary position (previously held by his father) in the Royal North Lincolnshire Militia. He evidently enjoyed the title and did not discourage its use, except when at home, where he preferred to be known as Mr Tomline [6].

Tomline was not a teetotaller, but loathed drunkenness. He suffered much anguish over fruitless efforts to prevent a young nobleman, to whom he was godfather, from succumbing to drunkenness and ruining himself publicly [6], and this appears to have been responsible for his dislike of excessive drinking.

Political Career

Tomline entered politics and in 1840 was elected to parliament for the constituency of Sudbury (Suffolk). The constituency had a reputation, not uncommon at the time, for the ready availability of votes for sale. It was well known that Tomline had considerable financial resources and he was elected unopposed without even making a speech in the constituency. At the time, his only association with Suffolk was via estates around Bacton and Old Newton which he had inherited from the Pretymans [11]; in particular, he had no connection with Sudbury itself. His tenure at Sudbury was short lived and in the general election the following year he stood for Shrewsbury, being elected jointly with Benjamin Disraeli (large constituencies returned more than one member in the mid-1840s). Tomline grew to dislike Disraeli intensely and in later years would refer to him unflatteringly as "that old Jew" [12]. Many years later Tomline related to a close friend his reasons for coming to so dislike him [6]:

I may as well tell you all about it. I never forgive anybody who makes me look ridiculous, and he did so, ---- him. You know when he was first returned for Shrewsbury it was the custom to "chair" the successful members. That is to say, one had to sit in a chair and be carried round by men like a guy, you know. Now that was sufficiently ridiculous in itself, but my junior colleague must manage to make it still more so. He, as the junior, was carried in front of me, and at every two or three hundred paces they brought out a sort of loving cup, you know, from which we were expected to drink, but, of course, everybody in his senses knew it was a mere matter of form; one just put the thing to one’s lips, you know, bowed, and so up and off again. The Jew took it all seriously, and drank deeply every time. You may imagine the rest. And there was I powerless to help myself, and being tootled all round the town at the fellow’s heels, the butt of his vulgar witticisms about the "Pierian spring", and so on, because I did not swill enough to please him. No, I have never forgiven him for that, and I never will.

Tomline lost his seat at the next election in 1847. He returned to parliament in 1852, once more for the Shrewsbury constituency. He polled the highest recorded vote up to that time for the constituency and remained its MP for the next three elections. His final eight years as MP were for Great Grimsby. His political fortunes after 1874 declined, and he was not elected in the next three elections in which he stood. Table 1 summarises the results of the elections which he contested.

Constituency Election Year Candidates Votes Result
Sudbury 1840 Mr G Tomline Elected unopposed
Shrewsbury 1841 Mr G Tomline

Mr B Disraeli

Sir Love Parry

Mr Temple







Shrewsbury 1847 Mr E H Baldock

Mr R A Slaney

Mr G Tomline






Shrewsbury 1852 Mr G Tomline

Mr E H Baldock

Mr R A Slaney






Shrewsbury 1857 Mr G Tomline Elected unopposed
Shrewsbury 1859 Mr G Tomline Elected unopposed
Shrewsbury 1863 Mr G Tomline Elected unopposed
Great Grimsby 1868 Mr G Tomline Elected unopposed
Suffolk East 1874 Lord Rendlesham

Viscount Mahon

Mr G Tomline






Harwich 1880 Sir H W Tyler

Mr G Tomline



North Lincolnshire 1881 Mr J Lowther

Mr G Tomline




Table 1. Elections contested by Tomline.

Tomline began his political career as a Conservative, staunchly supporting Sir Robert Peel during the turbulent times when he guided the repeal of the Corn Laws through Parliament. In 1846, Peel commented on the passage of the Repeal: The best of my young men were Tomline and Gladstone [6]. By the election of 1852, following the realignment of British politics which occurred in the aftermath of the Repeal, Tomline was a "Peelite", later following the movement into what became the Liberal Party.

In 1846, perhaps as a diversion from many hectic months of campaigning for the repeal of the Corn Laws, Tomline remembered his old school at Eton by founding the Tomline prize with a gift of £1000. A formal deed held by the school, dated 1854, appears to have been drawn up to set the prize on a more regular footing after the death of Provost Hodgson, one of the original recipients of the money. The prize was open to the whole school and the winner received £30 worth of books (which increased to £32 by the 20th century). (In approximately 2009, the prize was reorganised and by early 2015 took the form of the reward for an 8000 word essay on one of a number of set topics, open only to students of C Block. It is judged by four masters from the Maths Department and the winner receives £100. The notice for the prize states that The finished work should be accessible to a reader with a broad mathematical knowledge, but who may not be familiar with the details of the topic. [13])

London Life

Tomline retained his father's property at 1 Carlton House Terrace as his London residence. The terrace was designed by John Nash (1752–1835) and built under the supervision of James Pennethorne (1801-71) between 1827 and 1832 on land owned by the Crown Estate. Number one was completed in 1830 and William Tomline became the first owner, occupying it between 1831 and 1833. William engaged John Peter Gandy-Deering (1787–1850) as architect for the interior of the property. (The fifteen original lessees of the terrace were free to employ their own architects for interior work; eleven employed Nash for the task and William was in the minority in engaging another architect.) In 1833, William moved closer to Park Lane and the 2nd Marquess of Abercorn occupied the property. George inherited the property on William's death in 1836; however, Abercorn remained in residence until 1840, when George was elected to Parliament, after which he took up residence in the property, using it as his main London residence until his death in 1889.

1 Carlton House Terrace 1 Carlton House Terrace. (James Appleton, 2011.)

The terrace was grand and imposing (although not greeted with universal acclaim by the architectural cognoscenti of the capital!) Properties consisted of four stories for the occupants plus a two-story basement for service use. The main rooms in number one were as follows:

The British History Online digital library contains images of the sitting room and dining room published by London County Council in 1940. They illustrate the grand interior of Tomline's residence.

Tomline's residence was ideally suited for the gentleman-politician, only a short carriage-drive down Whitehall from the Commons, very convenient for many London clubs. The terrace was leased to "persons of the highest social rank" and, during Tomline's time there, his neighbours included Palmerston, Gladstone, Arthur Guinness (of the brewing family), diplomats and foreign royalty. No doubt, when in London, Tomline enjoyed a busy social life with the great and good of the land and took the opportunity to impress his associates with extended shooting events or luxury weekends at his country retreat. He clearly made many social connections and was an enthusiastic joiner of gentlemen's clubs, being a member of the following:

A short distance from his London residence, Tomline rented stables in Wells Street and Babmaes Mews (off Jermyn Street), collectively known as East Stable Yards. (In 1937, Wells Street was renamed Babmaes Street.) The stables were extensive and placed very conveniently for London's most fashionable locations. Nowadays, very little is left of the buildings, however, a sense of their extent can be gained from nearby West Stable Yards, nowadays used as garages. (Photos of the premises below are by Tina Hammond in 2013.)

Babmaes_Mews_2.jpg Babmaes Mews.

West_Stables_Yard.jpg West Stables Yard.

Pedestrian_Entrance.jpg Pedestrian entrance to West Stables Yard.

Carriage_Entrance.jpg Carriage entrance to West Stables Yard.

Orwell Park

During a period out of Parliament, in 1848, Tomline purchased Orwell Park estate from Sir Robert Harland. The transaction completed on 27 January 1848, for a sum of £102,500. (Harland died not long afterwards, on 18 August 1848.) Within a short time, Tomline partly demolished the mansion house of the estate and replaced it with the beautiful red brick structure that stands nowadays. The architect for the work was the eminent William Burn; he submitted three plans and Tomline selected the grandest, an Italianate design [8]. The rebuilding effectively turned the mansion around, providing a new main entrance to the north, rather than to the south as previously. He also extensively remodelled Nacton village: dwellings close to the mansion were demolished and local stories suggest that houses along the main road through the village were reconfigured such that front doors opening onto the road were replaced with side entrances, in order that the villagers would not stare at Tomline when he drove by [16].

OP_front.jpg Orwell Park Mansion. (Ken Stacey, 2010.)

Tomline was very well read and epitomised the self-taught Victorian gentleman. He was at ease in any circle of acquaintances on subjects as diverse as literature and science. He created at Orwell Park one of the finest libraries of the day, with many first and rare editions, including works in many European languages. He was also a keen collector of fine art and paintings, which he displayed in a specially constructed gallery at Orwell Park. In July 1874, the Ipswich Science Gossip Society (later to become the Ipswich Science Society) visited Orwell Park, and a report describing the visit subsequently appeared in the Suffolk Chronicle. In the drawing room, there hung a portrait of Napoleon by Paul de la Roche, flanked by paintings by two English artists, Sohold and Stanfield. The central piece of the room was a white marble mantelpiece. In the picture gallery hung paintings by Caraoci, Murillo, Caraccio, Cuyp and Rembrandt. Throughout the mansion there were oak cabinets, bronzes, china vases and other sculptures, including a marble head of Napoleon. The billiard room housed a cabinet containing many specimens of birds and flowers. The conservatory housed an extensive collection of flowers and ferns. The library was not open during the visit, so unfortunately there is no description of it.

Press cutting from the East Anglian Daily Times, 30 May 2009, with pictures of Tomline's picture gallery and Orwell Park mansion, before and after he extended it.

Tomline entertained many guests at Orwell Park for estate shoots. For a time he kept a pack of harriers at Orwell Park, and he employed the children of estate tenants as beaters. An anecdote concerning the latter has been passed down through history. One day a school inspector called on Tomline and had a fiery interview with him, likely on account of deprecating the practice of employing school children as beaters. The inspector soon retired, badly shaken. He returned the following day for an appointment with Mr Glass, the school manager. Both men, believing that Tomline was away, spent some time in the observatory. On turning to descend the staircase they heard the voice of Tomline roaring up the stairs: Is that you Glass?

Tomline established an oyster farm on the River Orwell, but the venture was unsuccessful. He also used the river for pleasure [17]. 0n 15 May 1872, he was elected, by unanimous vote, Commodore of the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. In the same year, he purchased the steam screw yacht Gazelle, constructed earlier in the year by J Harvey & Co. at Woodbridge. The Gazelle was 24 m long, 32.0 tonnes in weight, wooden-hulled and propelled by a 12 HP steam engine; she was a large, luxury steam yacht of the era. Tomline disposed of her some time after 1876, in which year he resigned as Commodore.

He was also founding patron of the Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club from its inception on 22 October 1880 and – being the owner of the land on which the links were to be laid out – had to give consent to the cutting of bunkers. He owned the current Club House – then Fast End House – offering it to the Club when it became vacant.

Tomline was keenly interested in science and engineering [6]:

With astronomers I have heard him apparently holding his own, and the same with chemists. Once with a well known ironworker, who was a foreman at a large Government establishment, so much learned talk about hardening and tempering, and case-hardening and annealing took place that I asked the man afterwards whether our acquaintance’s knowledge of steel and metals in general was as profound as it seemed to an outsider to be. The answer was, "If the Colonel had worked iron and steel all his life he could not know more about those metals than he does."

His interest in the sciences encompassed astronomy, which at the time was a very fashionable and rapidly advancing science. In the early 1870s, during a major extension to Orwell Park mansion involving the addition of many guest bedrooms, he indulged his interest by commissioning Orwell Park Observatory. He engaged once more the firm of architects which he had employed to undertake initial alterations shortly after he purchased the estate. Burn had by this time passed away so his partner and successor, John Macvicar Anderson, took personal charge of the work, designing and constructing the observatory to a very high specification. Tomline engaged Wilfrid Airy, second son of the Astronomer Royal, Sir George Biddell Airy, to procure the scientific equipment for use in the observatory. The wealthy English gentleman of the era constructing a private observatory would usually site it on a hilltop away from his main residence; however, Tomline eschewed this approach and instead had his observatory constructed as part of the east wing of the mansion, cleverly fitting non-astronomical facilities into the lower floors to utilise the considerable space that would otherwise have been wasted under high-vaulted ceilings. The approach created a very elegant and functional observatory, but introduced many design challenges which Macvicar Anderson and Airy later described [18]. The observatory tower is on five floors:

Undoubtedly, construction of the observatory provided much badly-needed labour for Tomline's estate workers, which would have been most welcome during the agricultural depression of the 1870s.

The observatory became functional in mid-1874. There is no record of Tomline using the observatory himself, and instead he relied on the services of a professional astronomer, John Isaac Plummer (1845-1925), to run it and make observations and publish reports on his behalf. Plummer worked at Orwell Park until shortly after Tomline's death, observing a variety of astronomical phenomena, principally comets. Tomline viewed his financing of the observatory and a professional astronomer as part of his duty to employ his money in every direction in which human activity demanded recognition and the co-operation of men of wealth [6].

One anecdote relating to Plummer illustrates that Tomline was possessed of a ready sense of humour. During 1882, Tomline granted permission for Plummer to lead a government expedition to Bermuda to observe the transit of Venus on 06 December. On Plummer's return, he was invited to speak on his experiences at a lecture in Harwich, chaired by Tomline. The latter's obituary in [6] demonstrates a singular wit:

Some years ago, the Colonel was announced to take the chair at a lecture in Harwich, on "The Transit of Venus." As I happened to be staying with my family in Dovercourt, I thought I would attend. I met Colonel Tomline at the station in a great fume because in changing carriages at Manningtree, he had lost his friend who was to deliver the address. "Oh yes," he said, "astronomer-like, you know, I expect he was watching the stars instead of looking at the train when it started. It’s devilish awkward, isn’t it?" I suggested that the lecturer would probably charter a special train by wiring to Ipswich. "If he doesn’t", I said "what will you do?" "Oh, I shall have to get some Harwich Venus to give us an address on the transit of an astronomer," was the ready reply. Somehow or other, I remember the missing gentlemen ultimately did put in an appearance, and a very excellent lecture he gave us, but, in discussing it over a glass of wine afterwards, the Chairman thought the language had been a little high-flown for an audience of boatmen. "Did you notice what he was saying when I gave you a look?" he asked. "No," said I. "Why, any of those among my audience who happen to be skilled in the art of natation. There’s a sentence for you, instead of saying, any d---d fellow here who can swim!

Land Purchases

Tomline’s personal wealth was vast, as the following passage indicates [7]:

Colonel Tomline was at one time said to have been the largest fundholder in England, and it was understood, by those who transacted business for him, that a certain portion of his income was always set apart for the addition of field to field and house to house, and that from this source he had ample means to meet all expenses. One story is told, upon pretty good authority, which affords some idea of his vast pecuniary resources, as well as a glimpse of family history. The Riby Grove estates in Lincolnshire, comprising 8,439 acres, with a rental of £11,534. 2s., were entailed upon the Colonel and his brother William. At the dinner table one night, about the year 1875, when William Tomline was staying at Orwell Park, there was something of a quarrel between the two, the upshot of which was that the Colonel purchased his brother’s interest in the property there and then. "I want so much money," he said directly afterwards to his business agent, "go and mortgage the whole of my estates." When the Colonel said "go", those who knew him went. The estates were mortgaged accordingly, and the money raised. When the amount for the first six months’ interest was presented, however, the Colonel was so enraged at the amount that he communicated instantly with his brokers, obtained the ready cash, and paid off the mortgage at once.

He put his fortune to work, buying land avidly, and his purchase of Orwell Park marked the start of many purchases of land in Suffolk. Between 1848 and his death in 1889, he purchased a total of 18,479 acres, making him the second largest landowner in the county. He owned the majority of land in the Colneis Hundred (the Felixstowe-Nacton peninsula, between the Rivers Orwell and Deben), his holdings there comprising:

His purchases included six miles of sea frontage. Between 1872 and 1876 he spent £156,000 on land and property in the Felixstowe, Walton and Harwich areas. His obituary in the Ipswich Journal [19] detailed some of his holdings as follows:

The Orwell Park estate comprises 18,479 acres, not one single part of which was inherited by the late owner. It was all accumulated by purchase, and the result of his continuous acquisition was that he became the owner, with the exception of a few small holdings, of nearly all the Colneis Hundred, having a frontage to the sea of about six miles, and there are few properties in England which combine so many attractions and advantages. The Colonel’s Suffolk possessions also include a pretty little estate at Bacton and Old Newton, the home of his ancestors. Col. Tomline obtained his extensive proprietary interest in the soil of Felixstowe and the neighbourhood by purchasing in 1867 three thousand acres of copyhold land, one thousand acres of shore and saltings, quit rents, rights of common, and 2,400 acres of unenclosed lands, &c., with six farms, cottages, Walton Ferry Inn, and woods, known as the Trimley estate, the property of his Grace the Duke of Hamilton. This was bought privately from Messrs. Fairbrother, Clark and Co., who had successfully offered the estate to public competition at Tokenhouse Yard on July 23rd 1887. Before this (in 1862) he had purchased the Old Hall Farm, at Felixstowe, now in the occupation of Messrs. Hyem, then the property of the representatives of Capt. Montague R.N., deceased, and about 210 acres in extent. Earlier still (in 1856) he had bought the Peewit Farm of Mr. Abraham Abbott, of Walton (father of Mrs. Shuckforth Downing, whose husband was himself Colonel Tomline’s confidential agent from 1872 to 1876) for £6,500. This was 152 acres in extent. Another purchase, even earlier, was the Wadgate Farm, at Felixstowe, 434 acres, bought from Mr. John Jakes Steele; and further acquisitions were the East End Farm (now, as regards the farmhouse, the head-quarters of the Felixstowe Golf Club), almost 500 acres; and Mr. William Fulcher’s estate, the Grange Farm, of 365 acres. Indeed, every farm in the Colneis Hundred which came into the market, was added to the already large land possession of Colonel Tomline. He did not stand for price when he had made up his mind to have an estate, as proved by his purchase at public auction (through Mr. Shuckforth Downing, then his agent) on the 14th July, 1874, of the Cottage Farm at Walton – commonage – for £8,350. Whilst Mr. Downing was his agent Col. Tomline bought through him no less that £156,000 worth of property in Walton, Felixstowe and Harwich, besides constructing the railway to Felixstowe at a cost of over £140,000. The Riby Grove estate in Lincolnshire, comprising, 8,439 acres, with a rental of £11,534.2s, were entailed upon the Colonel and his brother William. He acquired his brother’s interest in the property by purchase about the year 1875. In addition to the Riby estate, Colonel Tomline owned, amongst other property at Grimsby, a large piece of valuable land extending from Riby Square to Humber Street.

After Tomline purchased the Manor of Walton-cum-Trimley there began a long legal wrangle with the War Office. The latter owned about 100 acres of land adjacent to Tomline's, upon which they held a 999 year lease, at a rent of £10 a year. On 06 January 1875, Tomline received a notice that the War Office would offer him 10/- (50p) per acre for 200 acres of his land (£100 in total) with an option towards future purchase. Tomline replied that he would be prepared to sell the land for £36,000! The War office immediately rejected his offer. An arbitration court was convened, in January 1876 in Ipswich, to assess under compulsory powers of the Defence Act, the value of the land in question. Tomline's new assessment of the value of the Manor, submitted to the arbitration court, was £40,000, a figure which included items for wreckage, seaweed, minerals and bathing machines, and he asked an additional £22,000 for Langer Common. The jury assessed the value of Tomline's land as £11,039. Tomline refused this assessment and took the matter to appeal in the London law courts. On appeal, the value of the land was assessed as £15,000, a figure which Tomline accepted. A local paper dubbed the protracted case The Civil War. In subsequent years Tomline had further legal tussles with the War Office concerning the extraction of coprolite and shingle and the water supply to Landguard Fort. Only a person with Tomline's financial resources could have entertained such disputes with a government department.

Daubney_letter.jpg Tomline to Daubney, 19 April 1860.

Tomline also bought properties and land in Lincolnshire, preferring to do so anonymously, using W H Daubney, one-time mayor of Grimsby, as intermediary. Letters between the two men in Lincoln Records Office [20] indicate that Tomline cut his litigious teeth in Lincolnshire and that his acquisitions were not always met with public approval, likely because the general consensus was that he owned too much land. The letters are strangely formal to modern eyes, most starting "Dear Sir", even though it was clear that the two men knew one another well. Many end with "Believe Me", nowadays reserved for correspondence with ambassadors. The content ranges from purely social to purely business and a combination of the two, and it is clear that the two men were great friends and that Tomline respected Daubney hugely, a rare accolade. Some interesting passages from the correspondence are as follows:

The Ipswich - Felixstowe Railway and Felixstowe Docks

Among the principal surviving monuments to Tomline are the Ipswich to Felixstowe railway and Felixstowe Docks. Construction of the railway was thwarted several times before permission was finally granted. In 1871, Tomline started negotiations with a Mr Weston with the idea of building a tramway. The route was surveyed and much money spent, but the plan fell through. In May 1874, the Ipswich and Felixstowe Railway and Pier Bill came before a Committee of the House of Commons. Prominent people in Ipswich were enthusiastic supporters of the Bill, but two people strongly opposed it: Mr Weston, who had lost considerable monies from the tramway scheme, and Sir George Broke-Middleton, Tomline's neighbour at Broke Hall, Nacton. The proposed route of the railway would cross a portion of Sir George's land and he objected vehemently. In July, the House of Lords threw out the Bill. This was met locally with much surprise and anger, principally directed towards Sir George. A petition was prepared, which approximately 7000 people signed in the first thirty hours. Before the document was sent to London nearly 10,000 signatures had been obtained, giving it a final length of nearly 55 metres.

Tomline renewed his application the following year. He had the route re-surveyed, this time by Mr E Wilson, an engineer who had undertaken work for the Great Eastern Railway. Three separate Bills were prepared, covering all eventualities, with three separate lines: the Felixstowe Line, the Orwell Line and the Ipswich & Felixstowe Line. Tomline was so confident that one of the routes would be accepted that he started construction work in November 1874. Many local manufacturers, merchants and private residents formed a committee to influence the scheme. Again Sir George Broke-Middleton opposed the Bill and, on this occasion, so too did the Harwich Harbour Conservancy Board. Despite the opposition, on 24 January 1875, the House of Lords approved the Bill to build the Ipswich - Felixstowe line.

Tomline formed the Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company in 1875 to construct the line and operate it. The Company contracted Messrs Lucas Brothers of Lowestoft to undertake the necessary construction work within 22 months; in fact the firm completed the work two months early and the opening ceremony was held on 01 May 1877. The line branched from the Eastern Union Railway at Westerfield and served stations at Derby Road, Orwell, Trimley, Felixstowe Beach and Felixstowe Pier. Tomline believed that the line would encourage development in Felixstowe around the stations there. A spur line was constructed to Felixstowe Town Station, opening on 01 July 1878. Construction of the line cost about £187,000. In its first two months of operation, the line carried 24,000 passengers; however, despite the early success, Tomline was unable to run the line profitably and, by 1879, the Great Eastern Railway took over its running. By 1887, confident in the growth of the port and town, the Great Eastern Railway had purchased the whole Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company, providing Tomline with a small profit [21].

The Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company was eventually renamed the Felixstowe Dock & Railway Company. In 1884, the firm was authorised by Parliament to construct a wet dock basin at Felixstowe. The excavations for the dock were started in 1881 and completed in 1886.

With his two major construction projects, Tomline set in motion the transformation of Felixstowe from a small seaside village to the present prosperous town. The initial small dock has since been expanded in several phases, making Felixstowe now one of the busiest container ports in the UK.


Tomline's wrangle with the War Office referred to above was not the only occasion where he demonstrated a bloody-minded intransigence and willingness to take to the courts to challenge a government department. In the late 1860s, he fought a lengthy and expensive but ultimately futile campaign against the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the minting of low-value silver coinage. At the time, he employed a large labour force reclaiming land at Walton, which he forcibly co-opted into his campaign by suspending work, ostensibly due to shortage of low-value coins to pay the workers, encouraging those made unexpectedly idle to petition the Chancellor. Even after losing a case against the Chancellor in the Queen's Bench, Tomline did not admit defeat, instead publishing a newspaper, The Future, for almost four months as a means of spreading propaganda to support his cause.

Tomline also quarrelled with the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire over the administration of the Lincolnshire militia. Closer to home, he disputed with his neighbour, Sir George Broke (later Broke-Middleton), over repairs to the roof of Nacton church (of which the two men were churchwardens) and much later over the route of the Ipswich to Felixstowe railway.

See reference [22] for a detailed and fascinating description of Tomline's disputes together with speculation as to why he was so disputatious.


With the exception of his last eight months, all the evidence points towards Tomline enjoying almost rude health throughout his 77 year life. The beginning of the end came just before Christmas 1888 at Orwell Park when, on 21 December, he suffered a stroke. Obituaries describe the nature of his illness as having been struck down by a paralysis – having changed features and never quite the same man again. After weeks of care under a local doctor he was able to take exercise in a carriage and enjoyed trips to Rushmere Heath to watch the Suffolk Hussars on training exercises. Despite a number of minor relapses, by May he was able to travel to his London residence where his health seemed to rally for a short while. However, on Sunday 18 August he took a turn for the worse and gradually faded in the week following, suffering a paralysis of speech. He died in his sleep at 4.00pm on Sunday 25 August 1889 at his London residence. His funeral service was held at St. Martin's in the Fields.

GT_DC.gif Death certificate.

SMITF.jpg Church of St. Martin's in the Fields. (Wikipedia.)

Tomline's will requested that he be cremated. In 1889, cremation was uncommon and there was only one crematorium in the country, located at Woking. Tomline was only the 93rd person in England to be cremated. The news was reported in the local papers as follows: The cremation of Colonel Tomline set the crown to his eccentric life by with what was regarded as even greater eccentricity in death.

On 09 December 1889, the Illustrated London News carried the following report of Tomline's will:


The will (dated May 13th, 1889), with a codicil (dated August 2nd) following, of Colonel George Tomline, J.P., D.L., formerly M.P. for Sudbury, aferwards for Shrewsbury, and subsequently for Great Grimsby, late of No. 1, Carlton House Terrace, of Orwell Park, Ipswich, and of Riby Grove, Lincolnshire, who died on August 16th last, was proved on December 9th by the Rev. Frederick Pretyman and William Joseph Jarrett, the executors, the value of the personal estate amounting to upwards of £353,000. The testator bequeaths £5,000 each to the Rev. Frederick Pretyman, Colonel Ronald Lane, Colonel Cecil Lane, Viscount Dungarvan, the Hon. Robert John Lascelles Boyle, and the Hon. Fitzadelm Alfred Wentworth Boyle; £1,000 each to his executors Mr Jarrett, Robert Milnes Newton (police magistrate), Henry Smith (his agent at Orwell), and William Dodds (his agent at Riby Grove); £500 each to his butler (Henry Naylor) and his valet (W. Howard), and annuities equal to the amount of their wages; £500 each to George Burrows (the captain of his yacht) and George Carr (shore ranger at Felixstowe); £300 to Wallis, his gardener; one year’s wages to each of his other servants ; and £100 each to the East Suffolk Hospital and the Convalescent Hospital at Mablethorpe. The pictures, sculpture, plate, and furniture at his mansion-houses at Orwell Park and Riby Grove, and the jewellery, &c., deposited at Coutts’s, are to be held as heirlooms with the said mansions. His town residence and his freehold stables in Wells Street and Babmay Mews are directed to be sold, and the proceeds to go with his residuary personal estate. Orwell Park and Riby Grove, and all his freehold, copyhold, and leasehold properties in Suffolk, Lincolnshire, or elsewhere in England, are settled on Ernest George Pretyman, for life, with remainder to his first and other sons successively according to seniority in tail male. The residue of his personal estate is to be laid out in the purchase of freehold or copyhold property in the county of Suffolk to go and be enjoyed with his other settled estate.

Tomline's heir was Captain Earnest Pretyman (1860-1931). He was educated at Eton and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. In 1880 he joined the Royal Artillery and was promoted to Captain in 1888. He resigned his commission the following year, after inheriting Orwell Park, but retained the title of Captain. He was also the Honorary Colonel of the 1st Suffolk Volunteer Artillery. He started a career in politics in 1895, as a member of the Conservative Party, representing the Chelmsford and Woodbridge constituencies until 1906. In 1900 he was appointed Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and three years later Financial Secretary to the Admiralty.


Behind the altar in Riby St Edmunds is a large stained glass window depicting an Ascension scene; an inscription at the bottom commemorates Tomline's generosity in rebuilding the church. Nearby, a flagstone commemorates Marmaduke Tomline and there are other memorials to the family elsewhere in the church [23]. Tomline is also remembered in two stained glass windows which he presented to Lincoln Cathedral in 1869.

Flagstone.jpg Flagstone commemorating Marmaduke Tomline in Riby St Edmunds. (Martin Cook, 2013.)

Ascension.jpg Stained glass window of the Ascension in Riby St Edmunds. (Martin Cook, 2013.)

Lincoln.jpg Stained glass windows presented by Tomline to Lincoln Cathedral. (Martin Cook, 2013.)

Footnotes And References


Despite being so active in the political and commercial life of the country, Tomline appears to have been camera-shy, and for many years there was thought to be no photograph of him. However, in 2003, Peter Chapman, editor of the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, kindly provided a head-and-shoulders photograph from the paper's archive and gave permission to reproduce it; it is the only known photograph of Tomline.


To be exact, Pitt was appointed First Lord of the Treasury, effectively Prime Minister.


Gentleman’s Magazine vol. 98, pt. 1, pp. 201-204. The article is available online.


Riby Hall was demolished in the mid-1930s.


One of William Edward Tomline's proposers was, perhaps unsurprisingly, George Pretyman Tomline. The citation for Tomline is very similar to that for Pretyman.


Obituary in the East Anglian Daily Times, 26 August 1889.


Obituary in the Lincolnshire Chronicle, 30 August 1889.


Gillian Bence-Jones, Orwell Park, 1995.


Entry for Riby in "Post Office Directory for Lincolnshire 1861", p. 233.


Entry for Riby in "Post Office Directory for Lincolnshire 1868", p. 256.


The Pretyman family in Suffolk can be traced back to 1200, owning land in Old Newton and Bacton.


Jews were not then eligible to stand for Parliament but Disraeli was allowed to do so as his father had converted to Christianity.


Correspondence between OASI member Bill Barton, FRAS, and Eleanor Cracknell, College Archivist, Eton College Library, 26-28 January 2015.


See https://www.roxburgheclub.org.uk/membership/. Tomline had an extensive library so it should come as no surprise that he was a member of a bibliophile society.  


Evidence for Tomline's membership of the Burlington Fine Art Club can be accessed online at https://archive.org/details/catalogueofpictu00burluoft?q=George+Tomline. Further information on the club can be found at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burlington_Fine_Arts_Club. The club started informally in 1856 and formally in 1866. Tomline was an "Original Member", but there is as yet no clear evidence of the date that he joined.


It seems that the Colonel did not wish to be overlooked by his tenants, reputedly saying: No gentleman's house should be overlooked by another's dwelling.


Paul Whiting & Tina Hammond, Colonel George Tomline and the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, OASI Newsletter, February 2010.


J Macvicar Anderson, The Orwell Park Observatory, Transactions of the Royal Institution of British Architects, 1875, pp. 15-26.


Obituary in the Ipswich Journal, 30 August 1889.


OASI member Tina Hammond researched the archive in October 2012.


D I Gordon, Regional History of the Railways of Gt Britain, vol 5, The Eastern Counties, 1968.


David Allen, Victorian Suffolk's Great Eccentric: Colonel George Tomline 1813-1889, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, vol XLI, part 1, pp. 79-102, 2005.


Christina Farley, Riby St Edmunds "The Cathedral of the Wolds" Church Guide.

Ken Goward, FRAS, Roy Gooding, Tina Hammond, Martin Cook, Bill Barton, FRAS