12th October 1804
Thomas Carter (or C. T. Carter, as he is called on the title-page to ‘The Milesian’) (1735?–1804), musical composer, was born in about 1735. He was the elder son of Timothy Carter, who became a member of the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in March 1740. According to O'Keefe (Recollections, ii. 36–7), Thomas Carter received his musical education as a chorister in Christ Church Cathedral. In December 1751 he was appointed organist of St. Werburgh's, a post he held until September 1769, when he was sent by the Earl of Inchiquin to study music in Italy. Soon afterwards Carter went to India, where for a short time he was musical director of the Calcutta Theatre. On his return to Great Britain he settled in London, where he set music to Bate's ‘Rival Candidates,’ which was produced at Drury Lane on 1 Feb. 1775. This was followed on 20 March 1777 by ‘The Milesian,’ a two-act opera written by Isaac Jackman. In 1782 Carter wrote music for Pilon's ‘Fair American,’ which was played at Drury Lane on 18 May; for this work Baker (Biographia Dramatica, ii. 210) says that Carter received no payment, and that Pilon had to abscond to avoid the consequences. For Palmer's Royalty Theatre, in Goodman's Fields, Carter wrote an incidental pastoral, ‘The Birth Day, or Arcadian Contest,’ and ‘The Constant Maid,’ besides several songs and glees. His last operatic work was ‘Just in Time,’ the book of which was by Thomas Hurlstone, Carter himself contributing some verses for a song in the last act. This work was produced at Covent Garden for Munden's benefit on 10 May 1792, with Incledon in the principal character. Besides these works Carter wrote a song, ‘When we're married,’ for Lord Barrymore's theatre at Wargrave, which was introduced by Mrs. Bland in ‘The Surrender of Calais’ (1791); in 1783 he contributed an epilogue song to Mrs. Cowley's ‘Bold Stroke for a Husband,’ and at various times published several collections of glees, catches, and songs, in one of which his best-known composition, ‘O Nanny, wilt thou gang wi' me,’ appeared. Carter died in London on Friday, 12 Oct. 1804. He was undoubtedly a clever musician, but his improvidence and carelessness were such that he was in perpetual difficulties. An improbable story of his having forged a Handel manuscript and sold it for twenty guineas appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ after his death, and has been often repeated by his biographers.
Most of the accounts of his life which have appeared are full of extraordinary blunders, principally caused by there having been another Thomas Carter, also a musician, who was his contemporary. This individual died of liver complaint on 8 Nov. 1800, aged 32. The ‘Dictionary of Musicians’ (1827) and ‘Georgian Era’ (iv. 526) have transferred the younger Carter's age, liver, widow, and children, to the elder musician, thus creating a remarkable confusion. Another error is the statement that in Italy Carter attracted the attention of Sir William and Lady Hamilton. Sir William Hamilton went as envoy to Naples in 1764, but was not made a K.B. until 1772, and was unmarried until long after Carter had left Italy. To add to this confusion, a third Thomas Carter, also a musician, was living in Dublin at the beginning of the century. This individual can be traced to 1809, but there can be no doubt that the author of ‘O Nanny’ died in London at the date given above. In 1847 a claim was made by a grandson of Joseph Baildon on behalf of his grandfather as the composer of ‘O Nanny,’ but this has been completely disposed of (Musical Times, 1878, p. 502), as it has been proved that Baildon's setting is totally different from Carter's.
Thomas Carter had a younger brother named Sampson, who was a chorister in St. Patrick's Cathedral until 1766. He subsequently settled in Dublin as a music-master, took the degree of Mus. Doc. at the Dublin University, and in 1797 was appointed a vicar choral of St. Patrick's.