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Friday, 2 November 2012

Compassion for the Poor: Thomas Bernard

Compassion is one of Austen heroine Emma Woodhouse’s nicer character traits. Society expected the upper classes to help the poor: it was their moral and Christian duty. In Austen’s day, Sir Thomas Bernard (1750–1818) was famous for his philanthropy, and he devoted much of his life to charitable causes. He was an active member of the Foundling Hospital committee. In 1796 Bernard founded the ‘Society for Bettering the Condition, and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor’.  

The Society reported on practical schemes around the country for helping the poor. Thomas disapproved of workhouses, and was keen to improve life for workhouse inmates, especially children.
Many of his ideas for reforming poor relief were ahead of their time. You can find out more about Bernard’s life and work in my latest feature in the November issue of Jane Austen's Regency World.

Images from the author’s collection: Portrait of Sir Thomas Bernard, 3rd baronet. Engraving by E. Scriven from the painting by J. Opie, The Life of Sir Thomas Bernard (John Murray, 1819).
The Foundlings. An allegory of the work of the Foundling Hospital.  Engraving by William Hogarth. John Ireland and John Nichols, Hogarth’s Works, 3rd Series, Chatto & Windus, c.1880.
Interior of the Chapel of the Foundling Hospital. Thomas Bernard was buried here. Old and New London Vol. V, (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c. 1895).

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