Biography of Thomas Malthus

Portrait of Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus was a nineteenth century writer and cleric famous for his population theory.

When and Where was he Born?

Between 14th-17th February 1766, Rookery, near Dorking, Surrey, England.

Family Background:

Thomas Malthus was the sixth of seven children of Daniel Malthus, a small landowner and his wife Henrietta. Daniel counted David Hume and Jean Jacques Rousseau amongst his friends.


Bramcote School, Nottinghamshire and the Dissenting Academy at Warrington. Jesus College, Cambridge.

Timeline of Thomas Malthus:

1791: Malthus takes an MA at Cambridge.

1793: He is elected a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

1797: He takes Anglican orders to be a Vicar.

1798: He becomes Curate at Okwood near Albury in Surrey although he was born with a cleft palate, which gave him a slight speech impediment. He first published his famous treatise “An Essay on the Principle of Population” which he was to update and enlarge in six new editions up to 1826. The original reacted against the optimism of his father’s friend Jean Jacques Rousseau and the writings of William Godwin. He writes that throughout history a section of every human population seem trapped in poverty and when populations grow in times of plenty then misfortune would occur in times of lean. Malthus argued that population was held within resource limits by positive checks where the death rate is raised, such as war, famine and disease and by preventative ones, which reduce the birth rate, such as celibacy, birth control and abortion. He also states that if the lower classes behaved like the middle classes they would not have children until they could afford to keep them properly.

1801: The first British Census is taken by the Government in direct consideration of Malthus’s theories.

1804: He marries his cousin Harriet on 12th April. They had two daughters and a son despite criticisms by Percy Shelley that he was a eunuch and by others that he had too many children.

1805: Thomas Malthus becomes Great Britain’s first Professor of History and Political Economy at the East India Company College (known nowadays as Haileybury) in Hertfordshire.

1807: He writes a letter to Samuel Whitbread, Esq. M.P. on his proposed Bill for the Amendment of the Poor Laws.

1808: He begins to write a series of articles for the Edinburgh Review such as “Spence on Commerce”.

1811: He writes a paper on the depreciation of paper currency. (Edinburgh Review 17).

1818: Malthus is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

1821: He defends himself against William Godwin in the Edinburgh Review.

1824: He writes on the political economy in the Quarterly Review.

When and Where did he Die?

23rd December 1834, St. Catherine’s, near Bath, Avon, England, suddenly of heart disease at bis Father in Law’s house.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1798: “Essays on the Principle of Population.”
1800: “The Present High Price of Provisions” (Pamphlet). “Endogenous Theory of Money.”
1814: “Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws” (Pamphlet)
1815: “The Nature of Rent”. “The Policy of Restricting the Importation of Grain.”
1817: “Statement Respecting the East-India College.”
1820: “Principles of Political Economy.”
1823: “The Measure of Value, Stated and illustrated.”
1827: “Definitions in Political Economy.”


To his cousin Harriet on 12th April 1804. They had two daughters and a son despite criticisms by Shelley that he was a eunuch and by others that he had too many children.

Site of Grave:

Bath Abbey beneath the porch, England.

Places of Interest:


Epitaph in Bath Abbey.

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