Monday, June 27, 2011

Richard Harrison: A correction

Dr. Ivor Guest, in his thoroughly researched book Dr. John Radcliffe and His Trust makes the following observation:
The death of the Trustees' agent, Richard Harrison, in 1858, at the age of ninety-seven, marked the end of an era. (p.421) (my underlining)
This gave him a birth date of 1761, which, although there is no apparent record of a birth at this date, was plausible since it fitted in with the birth datres of other brothers and sisters born at this time. This birth date did not square with other evidence, namely the  1841 Census (not always a reliable document) and, more spectacularly, the notion of his fathering five children in his eighties.

June Watson, who has done some excellent research on Old Wolverton families, did point out to me some months ago that she thought his age might read 77 at death, and I was able to confirm that yesterday. The inscription is very clear and reads that he died aged LXXVII - 77.
Richard Harrison's grave at Holy Trinity


I don't know where Dr.Guest found this attribution of 98 years to Richard Harrison's life, but I have seen it elsewhere and on balance, although it did stretch probability, I accepted this date. However, this inscription establishes his year of birth around 1780 or 1781.


Richard Harrison's first wife Agnes died in 1809. There was apparently no issue of the marriage. He remained a bachelor for the next 30 years until he married Grace Hall Nibbs, the daughter of a Tortuga plantation owner in 1840. In the next decade they had five children, three of whom, Spencer, Isabella and Thomas survived infancy.

Armed with this clue it is now possible to make better sense of Richard harrison's life. He was baptised on June 3rd. 1780 at St. Mary Magdalene, Stony Stratford, (I didn't know that it was still functioning as a church at the time.) to Thomas and Catherine Harryson.

There is a lesson here for historians at all levels to be scrupulous with the facts. Dr. Guest's error was probably inadvertent, but the danger of committing something to print often means that it gets re-printed on the assumption that the original was correct. I puzzled about Richard Harrison reaching the very advanced age of 97, but assumed that Dr. Guest had access to information that I did not, and in the absence of concrete supporting evidence took it at face value. Once I had confirmed the age on his tomb it was easy enough to find the baptismal record, which, in the end, made more sense, albeit a less spectacular story.

My original post on the Harrison family is here.

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