Rev. Thomas Bowman (1728-1792)

Thomas Bowman was the vicar of St Mary the Virgin from 1758 until his death in 1792. He was born in London in 1728 and his parents were John Bowman, a shoemaker, and  Elizabeth, nee Clark. He was baptised on 23rd January 1728 at St Giles, Cripplegate.

He was ordained as a deacon on 2nd June 1751 at Cambridge and as a priest, without a parish, on 24th May 1752.  

He was listed in the Martham Electoral Register of 1768 as a Clergyman and in 1784 taught nine children at the Free School, (shown right) near The Green in the village.

Thomas belongs to a small group of 18th century Anglican clergymen who were also active as composers. His education at the charity school of Christ’s Hospital in London and Pembroke Hall in Cambridge awakened a keen interest in music. While still a student, Thomas had two collections of songs and cantatas published, the second of which gained 181 subscribers. Whether from religious conviction or because his works proved insufficiently successful with the public, Thomas took holy orders and became first a curate at Holbeach, Lincolnshire, and then a vicar at Martham. At Holbeach he produced a set of trio sonatas and at Martham a final collection of songs. During the 1760s Thomas was drawn into Evangelical Anglicanism, becoming a passionate and influential propagandist for the Calvinian doctrine of predestination, which he propounded in several books and pamphlets. His musical activity declined steeply, although in 1774-5 and 1780-81 he produced several hymns.

Thomas’ musical talent has been claimed by his peers to be “slender, not rising above a certain gift for melody. His early works, in particular the longer and more ambitious ones, betray a lack of instruction. However, his career tells us a lot about the state of English secular music in the middle of the 18th century and the participation of the clergy within it.” 

In 1766 he established a congregation at Cawston, Norfolk and ministered to its members continuously for about a quarter of a century apparently feeling that they needed to be rescued from what he regarded as their deplorable state, although his own parish was only about twenty miles away at Martham. On his retirement in 1791 he published a book, which is not an easy read,  called Caustoniana, or Twelve Discourses, addressed to the inhabitants of the parish of Cawston. He died on 15th June 1792, a year after the publication of his book.

His funeral oration was delivered by his former curate Rev. Stephen Webster at his burial in Martham on 19th June 1792 saying:-
“Music in his younger days was his darling study, he was almost an enthusiastic amateur of the science; formerly he published several things and the great Handel used to tell him, ‘he would soon be his master’; he had thoughts of taking his degree in music, but it was providentially over-ruled. He was designed for greater usefulness and called to infinitely more important services in the church of Christ”.

Thomas was buried in the Chancel of St Mary the Virgin, Martham on the north side of the grave of his predecessor Rev. James Savage.

St Mary the Virgin register entry recording the burial entry of Thomas Bowman.

We can get an idea of how a vicar lived in the late 18th century from the sale of Thomas Bowman’s goods and chattels after he died. They were sold at auction on 2nd January 1793 following an advert published in The Ipswich Journal (shown below) that listed his household goods which included two organs and over 1,600 books.

Appointment information courtesy of the: Clergy of the Church of England Database at
“Glimpses into the History of the Village of Martham” by Ann Meakin.

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