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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Thomas Pleasants

(1728-1818)

Philanthropist


Carlow Born Philanthropist Thomas Pleasants

and

The Royal Dublin Society

Alan R Eager, R.D.S.

ON the landing leading to the Members' restaurant in the premises of the Royal Dublin Society, hangs an oil painting executed by Solomon Williams, an historical and portrait painter who became a pupil in the Dublin Society's School of Art in 1771. This painting was presented to the Society by Mr. Williams in 1820 and measures approximately five feet by four feet. The subject appears seated, clear eyed, with prominent nose, of frail disposition, holding in his hand the plan of the Botanic Garden while the Stove Tenter House is shown in the background. The overall impression at first sight tends to the forbidding, and one feels the artist was less than kind, for this is a portrait of one of the greatest philanthropists Ireland has ever known—Thomas Pleasants. Pleasants was born in Co. Carlow in 1728, but little is known of his early life, though it is believed that he was educated for the bar but never practiced. He married Mildred Daunt in 1787 when he was almost sixty, and though the marriage was childless, it lasted for 27 years.

Mildred Pleasants died in 1814 and was buried in St. Bride's Churchyard. She was possessed of a substantial fortune, and though there is no record of her will having been admitted to probate, it appears that Thomas Pleasants came in for this vast sum. He seems to have received his fortune almost immediately, for in March 1814 he started on the first of his great enterprises, the building of the Stove Tenter House in Cork Street, Dublin. As Wright notes, "before the erection of this building, the poor weavers in the liberty were wholly destitute of employment in raining weather, or else endeavoured to tenter their cloths before the ale-house fire; the natural consequence of this wretched state was an inducement to drink, consequently to run into debt, and ultimately be removed to the Debtors'-prison.

The jails were crowded with persons of this description and the hospitals filled with others under disease of mind and body resulting from the pressure of want." (In weaving, the ‘warp’ of the piece of cloth must be prepared with size and must then be allowed to reach a certain degree of dryness before it is woven in the loom. After it is woven it must be stretched on hooks, or, as they were called ‘tenters'—thus the term 'tenter-hooks' which is still in daily use). On the 22nd July, 1814,

Pleasants received the freedom of the city of Dublin as a mark of the Corporation's esteem "for erecting the Stove Tenters in the Earl of Meath's liberty for the advantage of the woollen manufacturers," and the following year his liberality was recognised by the Dublin Society. At a meeting held January 19th, 1815, it was proposed that he become an Honorary member of the Society. Pleasants was no procrastinator, and was evidently very pleased with the honour bestowed, for almost immediately he presented to the Society a fine collection of books valued at over one hundred pounds which included Hakluyt's Voyages (5 vols.) in an edition limited to 75 copies. (These books are now in the National Library).

It was resolved that the thanks of the Society be presented to Mr. Pleasants for his liberal donation. At the same meeting February 23rd, 1815, it was further resolved unanimously: "That the Secretary be directed to write a letter to Thomas Pleasants, esq, to represent to him that the Dublin Society, as trustees "for promoting and encouraging the Arts, Husbandry, and Manufacturers of Ireland, have this day elected him an Honorary member of their Institution, for his exemplary munificence in expending for public benefit, a sum exceeding six thousand pounds, in the erection of a Stove Tenter House, of great extent and singular utility, in the manufacturing district of this city; and that, although not within the sphere of their immediate objects or duties, they feel the value of that benevolence materially enhanced by the recollection, that this generous and distinguished act of philanthropy has proceeded from the same individual, who has by a donation of six thousand pounds, established a hospital for the relief of the indigent and suffering poor of that most populous district; and who has also been conspicuous in alleviating personal distress by an unsparing distribution of his private fortune; and that the Society most heartily congratulate Mr. Pleasants on the happy and undoubtedly beneficial results, which have been generally felt by a large population from patriotism so distinguished, and benevolence so usefully extended for the interest and happiness of the working poor of the city of Dublin."

The £6,000 mentioned above was donated to the Meath Hospital to build an operating room and offices, operations having previously been performed in the general wards within sight and hearing of the other patients. Of this sum the residue of £2,000 was to be applied forever to purchase wine and other necessities for the afflicted.

At a meeting held on March 30th the following letter from Mr. Pleasants was read: Mr. Pleasants's best compliments to the Secretary of the Dublin Society; requests he will make known to the Society at large, that he has a high sense of the honour they have conferred on him; and that he sends them, by the hands of Mr. Joshua Pasley, as a contribution to their Botanic Garden, with more hearty wishes for its prosperity, a Bank note of one hundred pounds.

Pleasants donation was the main part of the business of the meeting held a week later, as Mr. Farran presented the following report from the Committee of Botany. "The Committee of Botany, having taken into consideration Mr. Pleasants' donation to the Botanic Garden, recommend that it be applied towards erecting a suitable entrance and Porter's lodge, on a proper site, to the gardens. They are of opinion, that this would be the most eligible appropriation of the money, not only as a new entrance is much wanted, but as it would be a lasting testimonial of the liberality of Mr. Pleasants to the Society. The Committee therefore propose, that plans and estimate of a new entrance, and the proper site thereof, be prepared and laid before the Society for their approval."

In less than a week Thomas Pleasants replies in the form of a letter dated 12th April, 1815. "Mr. Pleasants having his writing-thumb hurted, can hardly hold a pen; but wishes, under his own hand to present his best compliments to the Secretary of the Dublin Society; is heartily glad to find that an appropriate entrance is determined on for the Botanic Garden, that institution of such immeasurable value to the community and so worthy of the public's consideration. Many years ago, he regretted to a friend, who was with him there, that there was not a proper entrance into it. How great would be his regret, now, that it has been brought to such eminence, by the splendid abilities and laborious applications of Dr. Wade. Mr. Pleasants hopes that a plan will be drawn suitable to the place; and that the porter's lodge will be, as well as convenient, comfortable: and whatever the estimate may run to, beyond the hundred (if one or two more) he will send it, as soon as he knows it; and every shilling of it, with pleasure. He is very glad at seeing such a number of his countrymen as the Dublin Society's list exhibits, so universally and unweariedly proving themselves to be true (not mock) patriots".

The Society obviously mindful of the extraordinary charitable and Christianlike character of Pleasants feel that the time is opportune to show their appreciation of Pleasants unique benevolence, so at a meeting held on 11th May, 1815, it was resolved that the Dublin Society impressed with a lively sense of the munificent acts of kindness and substantial gifts bestowed upon their Botanic Garden and library by Thomas Pleasants, esq. are desirous of perpetuating the same in such way as may be agreeable to him and creditable to themselves. Resolved, that the foregoing resolution be respectfully communicated to Mr. Pleasants, and that he shall at the same tune be entreated to permit that distinguished artist, Mr. Smith, (the Society's Professor of Sculpture) to execute a bust of him in marble, in order that the same may be placed in the gallery or the new garden-house of the Society, as may be deemed most proper or acceptable.

Resolved, that, in the event of Mr. Pleasants' acquiescence in the wishes of the Society, the Committee of Fine Arts are requested to take the necessary measures to have the same carried into effect. The following notes of subsequent meetings speak for themselves.

Thursday, May 18th, 1815. The Society having received from Mr. Pleasants, by Mr. Pasley, a message, requesting permission to decline the honour intended him by the Society of placing his bust at the Botanic Gardens. Resolved, that the society does very reluctantly comply with Mr. Pleasants' request.

Thursday, July 20th, 1815. Resolved, that the Committee of Botany do wait on Mr. Pleasants to express their warmest thanks for his very liberal offer in undertaking the expense of erecting the lodges and gate to the Botanic Garden, and the very handsome manner, in which the communication has been made; and that they be empowered to proceed forthwith in the erection of the same, agreeably to the plan and estimate given by Mr. Pleasants’ architect and builder, Mr. Thos. Smithson, who is to execute the same. That the Committee of Botany do meet in the Botanic Garden on Tuesday next at 9 o'clock in the forenoon, to carry into effect the resolution of the Society respecting Mr. Pleasants' very liberal offer.

The following year Pleasants reprinted, at his own expense, Madden's Reflections and Resolutions proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland... (Dublin, 1738), which circulated freely in a large edition. In this work Madden describes the low condition of the country and lays the blame on the extravagance and idle dispositions of the people. He recommended that criminals, ordered to being executed or transported, should be employed in manufacturing hemp and flax in work-houses; that itinerant husbandmen should be encouraged to travel through the country in order to give instruction to farmers; and that schools and professorships of agriculture should be established in the principal towns. The latter part of the work enumerates the benefits derivable from a judicious distribution of premiums, a subject which he brought to the notice of the Dublin Society. Thomas Pleasants died in his house in Camden Street on 1st March, 1818, and was buried, as he deemed, in St. Brigid's Churchyard. Under the terms of his will he made an extraordinary amount of private and public bequests including his house in Camden Street for the foundation of an orphanage for girls which was opened in 1818. Pleasants Street, situated adjacent to the orphanage was suitably named after its founder a few years later. To the Society he left many valuable paintings and other works of art as noted in the following minute dated April 2, 1818.

"Committee of Fine Arts consider it their duty to report, that all the pictures and prints, as specified underneath, bequested to the Society by the late Thomas Pleasants, esq., have been delivered to them by his executors, and safely deposited in the upper part of the Society's house, Kildare Street, where they remain locked up until the Society shall direct how they are to be disposed of. The Committee beg leave to observe, that they appear to them to be of a highly respectable class, and for which the Society must feel grateful. The list is as follows: twenty-five oil paintings—sundry small presents—bust of Gay, the poet—full length cast figure of Rubens—full length figure of Handel—two frames containing casts of medals—two very fine mother of pearl models of Chinese ships—two large Chinese vases—two China figures of elephants". The final minute concerning Pleasants is dated June 22, 1820, recording that Mr. Williams had been kind enough to present the Society a portrait of the late Thomas Pleasants, esq., painted by him. Pleasants' will was an extraordinary document which took over two years to complete and contained the following precise details regarding his burial. He desired to be buried in the same grave as his wife "and that on being put into my coffin, her slippers may be laid cross-ways on my breast, next my heart, for I have, since her most sincerely lamented death, constantly had them under my pillow, kiss'd them and press'd them to my heart every night, going to bed, and the same in the morning rising. I request that her coffin may not be distrubed, but mine let down gently, on it". R. Ryan in his biographical dictionary of the Worthies of Ireland, Biographia Hibernica (London, 1821) writes of Pleasants "A name never to be forgotten in the annals of charity and benevolence; when time shall have drawn the curtain of oblivion before the records of wit, learning, and talent, his name shall live in the breast of virtue, and cheer distant generations, by monuments of utility".

REFERENCES

Butler, B. Bayley. Thomas Pleasants, 1729-1818. Dublin Hist. Rec. v. 6, 1943-44, 121-132.
Butler, B. Bayley. Thomas Pleasants and the Stove Tenter House, 1815-1944. Dublin Hist. Rec. v. 7, 1944-45, 16-21.
Gilbert, John T. and Lady Gilbert. Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin . . . 1889-1944.
Proceedings of the Dublin Society.
Wright, G. N. An historical guide to ancient and modern Dublin. 1821.

Source: This article appeared on p.15 of the 1972 edition of the Carloviana


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