The Martineaus came from a Huguenot immigrant background, and were noted in the medical, intellectual and business fields. Gaston Martineau, a surgeon in Dieppe, moved to Norwich after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1685. Initially Calvinist dissenters, they raised their children to be bilingual in French and English.
Gaston's grandson David Martineau II (1726–1768) was the third generation of surgeons, and had five sons who made up the male line of Martineaus. By the fourth generation the family was divided into Anglicans and Unitarians.
The eldest of the five sons was Philip Meadows Martineau (1752–1829). A surgeon, Martineau was "one of the most distinguished lithotomists of his day". Apprenticed to the surgeon William Donne, who was noted for skill in lithotomy, he became a medical student at a number of universities, then returned in 1777 to become Donne's partner, and carried on his speciality. Henry Southey was his student. He had one daughter. In 1793 he purchased the Bracondale Woods on the outskirts of Norwich and in 1811 the adjacent property of Carrow Abbey. He built Bracondale Hall, described in 1847 as a "handsome mansion with pleasure grounds delightfully laid out". From the ruins of Carrow Abbey, Martineau also constructed on his estate a "small gothic priory with windows of ancient stained glass". By 1879, this estate, including the Manor of Carrow, had been sold following the death (in 1877) of Martineau's daughter - Miss Frances Anne Martineau.
The second son, David Martineau, (four sons, six daughters) was a dyer who went into the sugar business. The third, Peter Finch Martineau, (four sons, two daughters) was a dyer in Norwich. One of his sons was Peter (1785-1869 ), a sugar refiner whose second wife Mary Ann (1794-1882) was a sister of Sir Francis Ronalds, and their daughter Sarah (1828-1908) married the brewer Charles Edward Flower. The fourth son, John Martineau of Stamford Hill, had 14 children, including John Martineau the engineer. The fifth son, Thomas, is mentioned below.
Thomas Martineau (1764–1826), a manufacturer of textiles, was the fifth son of David Martineau II. He spent his life in Norwich, where he was a deacon of its Unitarian church, the Octagon Chapel, from 1797. He married Elizabeth Rankin (8 October 1772 – 26 August 1848). (It was reported in February 2015 that Elizabeth Martineau had sat for her portrait in 1847 at her home in Edgbaston, near Birmingham. The portrait was painted by family friend Hilary Bonham Carter, of the well-connected Bonham Carter family. ) The couple had eight children. Thomas died on 21 June 1826 and is buried at Rosary Cemetery, the first non-denominational burial ground in the United Kingdom.