Morton, Harriet, 1777—1847
by Benjamin Colbert
While the author of Protestant Vigils has not been definitively identified,(†) she is likely to be the Harriet Morton associated with the family of Charlotte Barrett, née Francis (1786-1870). (Barrett was the niece of the novelist Frances Burney and the first editor of Burney’s diary and letters [7 vols, 1842-46]). A fair copy of Harriet Morton’s will (1844), now in the British Library, names her ‘kind friend Mrs Charlotte Barrett’ as co-executrix with her ‘beloved sister Elizabeth Morton’, and also mentions as a friend Charlotte Barrett’s son, the Reverend Richard Arthur Francis Barrett (1812-1881). Whatever the longer term relationship was between Harriet Morton and Charlotte Barrett, we do know that Elizabeth Morton had been governess to the Barrett children, and that the sisters, both spinsters, remained close with each other and with the Barretts long after the children had grown into adulthood.
Protestant Vigils records a visit to Italy in 1826 and 1827 in which Harriet Morton and her ‘dear sister’ (1: 72) ‘seek the health of a dear accompanying friend in a foreign clime–the friend of my youth, the solace of my declining years’ (1: 1). While Charlotte Barrett herself might be the ‘accompanying friend’ the presence of her children’s governess, Elizabeth Morton, might also suggest the Italian tour the Barretts undertook around this time to alleviate the symptoms of two of the children, Julia Charlotte Thomas Maitland (1808-1864; ODNB) and Henrietta Hester Barrett (1811-1833), the second of whom would die of tuberculosis six years later. As a whole, however, Protestant Vigils avoids personal information, instead combining Christian meditations and critique of Italian Catholicism alongside generic guidebook history and descriptive matter.
Dedicated to the Duchess of Beaufort, published by Robert Benton Seeley, and replete with pious quotations, Protestant Vigils is characterized by an evangelicalism that also links Morton with the Barretts, who were known for their support for Christian missionary work and poor relief. In a joint letter of 5 February 1847 from the Morton sisters to Charlotte Barrett and her son Richard A. F. Barrett, then residing at Rome, Harriet Morton merges pious quotation into her own prose, a stylistic link to Vigils, and thanks both mother and son for their contributions to Irish poor relief, a campaign in which the Morton sisters appear to have been playing an organizational role. Elizabeth Morton also thanks Charlotte Barrett for her additional gift to them: the final volume of Diary and Letters of Madam d’Arblay (1847).
Morton’s will identifies herself as ‘Harriet Morton of Ryde in the Isle of Wight’, and the 5 February letter is dated from ‘Bedford Lodge, Ryde’. Elizabeth Morton also mentions a connection with Cheltenham, a spa town where they are likely to have sought relief after the harsh winters at Ryde. There is a possibility if not likelihood that it is Harriet Morton’s death that is referred to in the Evangelical Magazine’s ‘Missionary Contributions from the 17th July to the 16th August, 1848’ under donations from Gloucestershire: ‘Cheltenham, Miss Morton, “according to a wish expressed by her deceased sister” [£2]’ (503).
(†) Note: New research by Michael Heafford has established that Harriet Morton was baptised on 22 May 1777 at Sheerness Dockyard Church. Her parents were Joshua Morton and Mary Baker. The mysterious third travelling companion mentioned in Protestant Vigils was Catherine Puckle (b. 1796), a fellow member of the Clapham Ladies Association. See Heafford, ‘Some More about Harriet Morton: Author of Protestant Vigils; OR, Evening Records of a Journey in Italy, in the Years 1826 and 1827. 3 Vols (LONDON, 1829)’. Notes and Queries (09 Nov. 2020). https://doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjaa155 .
‘Missionary Contributions from the 17th July to the 16th August, 1848’. Evangelical Mag. 26 (Sept. 1848): 503-04. Print.
Morton, Harriet. Will. 1844. Egerton MS 3708, ff. 58-61. British Lib., London.
Morton, Harriet, and Elizabeth Morton. Letter to Richard Arthur Francis Barrett and Charlotte Barrett, 5 Feb. 1847. Egerton MS 3705, ff. 143-44. British Lib., London.
Wang, Joy. 'Maitland [née Barrett; other married name Thomas], Julia Charlotte (1808–1864), writer and traveller'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Oxford University Press. Web. 30 Dec. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/48645
|Protestant Vigils; or, Evening Records of a Journey in Italy||1829|