Thomas was a friend of Charles Dickens  and believed in social reform. At one time he worked for the Illustrated London News, and became convinced that pictures could have a powerful influence on public opinion, especially on political issues.
In December 1869 he founded a new weekly illustrated newspaper, called The Graphic, and recruited a number of brilliant artists to help illustrate it. In 1889, Thomas and his company H. R. Baines and Co. began publishing the first daily illustrated newspaper, called The Daily Graphic. He hoped that illustrated news would inspire people to campaign against various evils in Victorian society, including poverty and crime. His newspapers achieved a significant readership throughout the British Empire and in the United States.
When Thomas died in 1900, his company H.R. Baines and Co. was run by his son, Carmichael Thomas. The Graphic ceased to be published in 1932.
His seventh son George Holt Thomas was a director and general manager of The Graphic and independently founded The Bystander and Empire Illustrated magazines. He also became a pioneer industrialist in the aviation industry.
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