Leonard Morse (? –1808) was another of the signatories to Joshua Kirby’s application to become a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767. He himself had been elected the previous year, his citation reading:
Leonard Morse Esqr of Queen Anne Street Cavendish Square, being desirous of the honour of Election into the Royal Society, We the underwritten recommend him on Our personal Knowledge as a Gentleman well versed in several Branches of Learning, likely to be a useful Member of the Society, and deserving that Honour.
Morse seems to have belonged more to the gentlemanly than scientific wing of the Royal Society. He did not publish any scientific results, but he did sponsor a number of other applications for membership, the last being in 1800, so presumably he was a relatively active attendee at meetings.
By occupation, he was a Clerk in the War Office from at least the mid-1750s, working his way up the rankings until by 1793 he was secretary to General Lord Amherst, then Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the war against Napoleon. He seems to have been a diligent clerk and his name naturally appears in a variety of official notices and correspondence that do not shed much light upon his life or character. He also complied the annual Army List for over fifty years until his death in 1808.
Although, especially early in his career, he was just a low-ranking clerk, Morse was always styled “Esquire” and lived at addresses that imply he had resources well beyond his salary.
The first location that appears in the record connected with the family is 43, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a building that is now part of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1739, his wife’s grandmother, Jane Becher, had tenancy. She died in 1741 and left everything to her daughter, Jane Rachel Lewis, then also a widow, and Jane Lewis lived there for at least the next twenty years. In 1762, Leonard Morse married Jenny Lewis, the daughter of Jane Lewis and from 1764 to 1771 he is on record as the owner of the building. In 1764, the Morses had a son, Leonard Becher Morse, who seems to be their only child. The Lincoln’s Inn Fields house had come from his wife’s side, and they did not live there, renting it out from 1765 to 1769 to the artist Johan Zoffany. This is the period when both Morse and Kirby were elected to the Royal Society and presumably accounts for the connection between them. Zoffany’s affairs were always in disorder and eventually he quit the house to avoid paying the rent he owed, and then left the country in debt to Morse.
As the Royal Society election card shows, by 1766, and presumably since their marriage, the family lived in Queen Anne Street. In 1770, Jane Lewis died and left everything to her daughter Jenny. Also in 1770, Leonard Morse was made foreman of the
jury of the notorious trial under Lord Mansfield of John Almon on charges stemming from the publication of Junius’ ‘Letter to the King’.
Among their neighbours in Queen Anne Street was one Catherine Buckeridge, who seems to have had no close family, for in 1773 she made a will leaving £500 to the young Leonard Becher Morse, then about eight years old, £1000 to Jenny Morse, and all her lands in in Suffolk to Jenny and the son. Leonard Morse was named an executor. Buckeridge died in 1776 and from this time there was a connection between the Morse family and Suffolk.
From 1778 to 1789, the family lived at 11, Downing Street, now the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
While they lived there, young Leonard Becher went off to Eton and Cambridge, before being called to the Bar in 1789. He then worked his way up the Commissary department of the Army, reaching Principal Deputy Commissary-General in 1809. He married Amelia Cox in 1792, and their only daughter Amelia married the famous diplomat Sir Woodbine Parish.
From 1793 to 1805 or so, Leonard and Jenny Morse lived at 27, Great George Street, while their son and his wife were at number 12. Jenny died in 1806 and Leonard moved to Stanley House in Chelsea for his remaining years, dying there in 1808.