A brewer and politician, was the only son of Ralph Thrale (d. 1758), a wealthy brewer of Southwark who was master of the Brewers' Company, high sheriff of Surrey, and MP for Southwark in 1741–7. Thrale's grandfather was a ‘yeoman’ of Offley, Hertfordshire. Thrale's father was head clerk of the Anchor Brewery in Southwark, a leading London brewery founded in 1616.
Thrale married Hester Lynch Salusbury (1741–1821).a fashionable, literary lady with good family connections, on 11 October 1763 (supposedly at the urging of her uncle, Sir Thomas Salusbury, as the condition of his making a settlement on her).
Henry and Hester Thrale had two sons, the elder dying in 1776 aged nine and the younger in 1775 aged two, and ten daughters. Only five daughters survived to benefit from Thrale's will, each receiving £20,000. The eldest daughter, Hester Maria [see Elphinstone, Hester Maria], became Viscountess Keith.
The Thrales lived in style with a house at the brewery (which Mrs Thrale hated), a country house at Streatham Place, a hunting box (with a pack of hounds) near Croydon, and a further property at Brighton. Thrale was elected MP for the borough of Southwark in December 1765
The lack of a male heir at Thrale's death on 4 April 1781 forced the sale of the brewery. As Johnson commented, 'what can misses do with a brewhouse. Lands are fitter for daughters than trade' (Boswell, 2, 69). Johnson presided over the sale as an executor ('we are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats but the potentiality of becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice' (ibid., 397), and the brewery was bought for £135,000 by John Perkins and the rich Quaker relatives of his wife—Robert Barclay, David Barclay, and Sylvanus Bevan.
Image: by Edward Scriven, after Sir Joshua Reynolds NPG D40320 © National Portrait Gallery, London