Sir Thomas and Lady Mills: designs for furniture, 1775-78 (3)
Thomas Mills (d1793) was an army officer from 1759, but almost nothing else is known of his origins. In 1766 he travelled to Canada on being appointed Receiver General of Quebec, a member of the Council, and brigade major. Unfortunately, Mills was arrogant and corrupt; he refused to submit accounts to the Council, and earned himself the nickname, ‘Corrupt Boy Mills’. Such misbehaviour forced his return to London only a year later in 1767, but did not prevent him from being knighted in 1772, and given the office of Receiver General to Quebec once again in 1777. He returned to Canada where he lived extravagantly, embezzling £3,000 of public money to satisfy his creditors. On discovery of this theft in 1789, Mills was disgraced, and returned to London where he died in debt in 1793.
There seems to have been some connection between Mills and Lord Mansfield – Adam’s patron at Kenwood – although the nature of this connection is unclear. It is likely, however, that it was through Mansfield that Adam came to be introduced to Sir Thomas Mills, and his wife Elizabeth Moffat (b1756). Evidence from three extant drawings shows that Adam was commissioned by Mills to make designs for a girandole in 1775, and for a fire pole and screen in 1778. The intended location and executed status of these designs is not known, but considering their date, it is likely that had they been executed, the girandole of 1775 would have been taken to Quebec on Mills’ return there in 1777, and that the fire pole and screen of 1778 were commissioned from afar and sent across the Atlantic to furnish the Mills’ Canadian residence.
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 56, 81; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, Index p. 59; ‘Mills, Sir Thomas’, Dictionary of Canadian biography online