Thomas Birch (November 23, 1705 - January 9, 1766), English historian, son of Joseph Birch, a coffee-mill maker, was born at Clerkenwell.
He preferred study to business, but as his parents were Quakers he did not go to the university. Notwithstanding this circumstance, he was ordained deacon in the Church of England in 1730 and priest in 1731. As a strong supporter of the Whigs, he gained the favour of Philip Yorke, afterwards lord chancellor and first earl of Hardwicke, and his subsequent preferments were largely due to this friendship. He held successively a number of benefices in different counties, and finally in London. In 1735 he became a member of the Society of Antiquaries, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, of which he was secretary from 1752 to 1765. In 1728 he had married Hannah Cox, who died in the following year. Birch was killed on the 9th of January 1766 by a fall from his horse, and was buried in the church of St Margaret Pattens, London, of which he was then rector. He left his books and manuscripts to the British Museum, and a sum of about £500 to increase the salaries of the three assistant librarians.
Birch had an enormous capacity for work and was engaged in a large number of literary undertakings. In spite of their dulness many of his works are of considerable value, although Horace Walpole questioned his "parts, taste and judgment." He carried on an extensive correspondence with some of the leading men of his time, and many of his letters appear in Literary Anecdotes of the 18th Century (London, 1812-1815) and Illustrations of the Literary History of the 18th Century (London, 1817-1858) by J Nichols, in the Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica, vol. iii. (London, 1780-1790), and in Boswell's Life of Johnson.
Birch wrote most of the English lives in the General Dictionary, Historical and Critical, 10 vols. (London, 1734-1741), assisted in the composition of the Athenian Letters (London, 1810), edited the State Papers of John Thurloe (London, 1742) and the State Papers of W. Murdin (London, 1759). He also wrote a Life of the Right Honourable Robert Boyle (London, 1744); Inquiry into the share which King Charles I had in the transactions of the Earl of Glamorgan for bringing over a body of Irish rebels (London, 1756); Historical view of Negotiations between the Courts of England, France and Brussels 1592-1617 (London, 1749); Life of Archbishop Tillotson (London, 1753); Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth from 1581 (London, 1754); History of the Royal Society of London (London, 1756-1757); Life of Henry, Prince of Wales (London, 1760), and many other works. Among the papers left at his death were some which were published in 1848 as the Court and Times of James I and the Court and Times of Charles I.
See WP Courtney in the Dictionary of National Biography, vol. v. (1886); A Kippis, Biographia Britannica (London, 1778-1793); Horace Walpole, Letters (London, 1891).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.