Which Miss Harris?

By Michele Leggott

‘Harris Sisters’. Family Album. Page 12

Last week Ellen had a letter from Dr Taylor & some coloured views of London. He was in Kent, he intended visiting the Exhibition. His letters are always amusing, he wishes that we would get married so that our names might not harass him so. (30 May 1886)

Emily Harris is amused by the Reverend James Taylor’s predicament as he addresses letters from London to Miss Harris (Emily, eldest daughter), Miss F Harris (Frances, fourth daughter) and Miss E Harris (Ellen, seventh and youngest daughter of Edwin and Sarah Harris of Nile St, Nelson). These are the protocols that indicate precedence in a Victorian family, especially one in which there were several unmarried daughters. Sons were similarly indicated, with the difference that an eldest son was usually identified by an initial to avoid confusion with his father. Married daughters in a family line-up automatically jump ahead of their unmarried sisters, usually identified by the initials of their husbands. Thus it is we see at the end of Edwin Harris’s obituary the following acknowledgement:

He leaves three daughters, Mrs A.W. Moore, Mrs Weyergang of New Plymouth, and Miss Harris of Nelson, also several distinguished nephews, among whom may be mentioned Lord Rendel and William Austin Dobson. His only son, a fine young man, a member of the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers, was killed by the Maoris at the beginning of the war. (Nelson Evening Mail 25 May 1895: 2)

Frances, Augusta and Ellen Harris predeceased Edwin. Their names do not appear in the obituary, though eminent English nephews and the lost son are worthy of mention.

Can we pull from the archives some means of distinguishing for the Reverend Taylor (and ourselves) the sequence of Harris daughters? Their biographical details are now simple enough to compile and appear in notes for The Family Songbook and Writing Lines. Their dates appear in our Harris Who’s Who, a work in progress that aims to link the New Zealand family with its English and Australian branches. But is it possible to find images for each of the Harris daughters and so distinguish them visually from one another? We know of photographs in a family album, some named, others not. We know of photographs in the Nelson Provincial Museum and a handful at Dunedin Public Libraries, the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and Puke Ariki in New Plymouth. Since late last year, we know of photographs in the possession of Australian Harris descendant Sue Needham. With these sources to compare can we come up with a positive visual identification for each Harris daughter?

We will be presenting the results of our searches in a series of upcoming posts, each dedicated to a Miss Harris, still imprecise in places but starting to bring together a coherent picture of Emily and her sisters. Many of the extant photo portraits bear no indication of where or when they were taken, while some can be linked to the following studios; City Photographic establishment (Hobart), WH Davis (Nelson), W. E. Brown (Nelson), TH Bloch and WB Gibbs (Nelson), Isaacs Photographer (Nelson), Tyree Studio (Nelson), Stewart & Co Photographers (Melbourne), and Wrigglesworth & Binns (Wellington). Below we present a sample of the photos we can currently assign to Emily and her sisters:

  1. Emily Cumming Harris (1837-1925), artist and teacher, unmarried.

Of all the Harris daughters, Emily is the best-documented in terms of surviving photographs because of her public profile as a botanical artist in the later decades of the 19th Century. Thus we have images of her as a young woman (Hobart and Puke Ariki), in middle age (Melbourne and Wellington) and in old age (Nelson).

Emily Cumming Harris in the Family Album. Page 1
  1. Catherine (Kate) Harris (1839-1913), teacher, married Alfred William Moore (1834-1912) in 1863.

Catherine Moore’s daughters Constance, Ruth and Grace included a photo portrait of their mother as a young woman in the collection of Harris and Moore materials donated to the Taranaki Museum in 1961. Among Sue Needham’s family photos is a hand-coloured portrait of her great-grandmother Catherine that must have been given to the Australian family.

Catherine (Kate) Moore in Puke Ariki. ARC2002-190
  1. Unnamed daughter (7-12 Mar 1841), buried at sea.

Though the child born prematurely as the barque William Bryan neared New Zealand in early March 1841 was given no name before her burial at sea, Edwin and Sarah Harris continued to number her as their fourth daughter whenever a count of daughters was called for.

  1. Frances Emma Harris (1842-1892), artist and teacher, unmarried.

Frances seems to feature prominently in the Harris Weyergang Album Photographique, perhaps because the album belonged to Mary Weyergang and the two sisters were close.

Frances Harris in the Family Album. Page 11
  1. Mary Rendel Harris (1845-1932), married Carl Philip August Alexander Weyergang (1829-1904) in 1871.

Mary became the Harris family archivist after Emily’s death in 1925 and was responsible for distributing papers and paintings among her Moore nieces in line with Emily’s will, which left her estate to be equally divided between Catherine’s children and Mary herself.

Mary Rendel Harris in the Family Album. Page 12
  1. Augusta Harris (1848-1870), unmarried.

We were hopeful that Augusta, who died at the age of 21, could be positively identified. There is an unmarked portrait in the family album with the annotation ‘Augusta?’ that is an exact match for the Miss Harris photographed by Theodore Bloch of the Nelson studio known as English and Continental Photographic Artist. However, Bloch and his brother-in-law William Gibbs were in partnership under this name 1876-78, which means the subject of the photo must be one of Augusta’s sisters.

A Harris Sister in the Family Album. Page 12
  1. Ellen Harris (1851-1895), artist and teacher, unmarried.

Ellen Harris has a positive match between the handcoloured Bloch portrait in the family album and its source in the Bloch collection at Nelson Provincial Museum.

Ellen Harris in the Family Album. Page 7

Lead writer: Michele Leggott
Research support: Betty Davis, Makyla Curtis, Brianna Vincent, Dasha Zapisetskaya, with acknowledgements to Iain Sharp for pointing the way to image matches at NPM.

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