Templer was born to a poor family in Exeter. He was orphaned at the age of six and placed in St. John's Hospital, a school for destitute young children. He was apprenticed at 14 to a joiner or architect but after three years of the seven to which he was bonded he ran away to sea as a shipwright.
He jumped ship in Madras, India, where he put his skills to use in the construction of docks and other buildings, soon making a very large fortune. Returning to England, still in his 20s, he became even wealthier through building docks at Rotherhithe and Plymouth. In 1765 he bought a large derelict estate near Newton Abbot, Devon, called Stofford Manor and Teign Buer and built Stover House, which is now a private girls' school.
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