Monthly Archives: June 2014

Leonard Morse

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.


Jonathan Watson

Jonathan Watson (c.1718—1803), of Rendlesham in Suffolk was one of the gentleman members of the Royal Society, rather than a scientist. I really know little about his background. In 1747 he married Elizabeth Bullock, of the large and prominent local Bullock family – her brother John was to become Sheriff of Essex, as her grandfather had been before him, and their eldest son, Jonathan Josiah Christopher Watson later inherited the Bullock family manor of Faulkbourn in Essex and took the name Bullock.

In 1763, he was elected Fellow the Royal Society, his citation reading:

Jonathan Watson Esqr of Rendlesham in the County of Suffolk being a gentleman very studious of natural philosoph[y] and desirous of being made a Fellow of the Royal Society, We whose names are underwritten do certify of our personal knowledge, that we think him a fit person to be admitted to that honour

In 1764, he appeared as a subscriber to the second, enlarged, edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller, and it is presumably this link, together with the Suffolk connections, that induced him to support Joshua Kirby’s candidacy for fellow in 1767. Sometime shortly thereafter, he moved with his family to Virginia, where he apparently had inherited an estate of a couple of thousand acres from his father. A prominent landowner, he appears in the Vestry Book of Petsworth Parish as Major Jonathan Watson, and is appointed church warden and Vestry man. He was also a Justice of the Peace in Gloucester County. He evidently visited England at least once during his American period as he is recorded in the Virginia Gazette of 22 August 1771 arriving from London after a voyage of ‘nine weeks passage’.

The 1770s was a difficult time for prominent landowning loyalists and eventually he was forced to sell his holdings cheaply and return to England with his family, probably in 1775.

Another who got into difficulties at the same time was Rev. Samuel Henley, the professor of Moral Philosophy at the College of William and Mary. Henley had an eclectic background, being raised as a Dissenting Minister before veering to the Church of England just in time to be hired in England for the vacant professorship in 1770. To begin with his conservative outlook had the support of local worthies, but his eccentric theology and contentious nature finally lost him his job, apartments, books and papers in 1775. Henley was a great antiquarian, and Jonathan Watson managed to save a few prints of his; most of the rest were lost in a later fire at the college, although in the 1780s Thomas Jefferson wrote to Henley saying that he also had managed to save some papers.

Homeless and jobless, Henley sailed for England where he married Jonathan Watson’s daughter Mary Elizabeth in 1776. He was appointed as an assistant master at Harrow school and later presented as rector of Rendlesham, although he seems to have lived mostly at Harrrow.

Watson himself lived the life of a country squire, becoming a Justice of the Peace in Suffolk, Deputy Lieutenant of the county, and a Major in the East Suffolk Militia before dying at the age of 84 in 1803.

John Smeaton

John Smeaton (1724—1792) was the first to use ‘Civil Engineer’ as a title. He is now most famous for his rebuilding of the Eddystone Ligthhouse after it burned down in 1755. However, Smeaton was an incredibly industrious man, racking up a huge number of projects of a bewildering variety. It is exhausting just reading about his activities.

John Smeaton was born in 1724 at Austhorpe, near Leeds, in Yorkshire. His father was a lawyer and intended John, his eldest son, to follow in his path. At a young age John Smeaton found a great mechanical aptitude and interest, making his own tools as necessary for his work. While still a teenager, he met and formed a close friendship with nearby clockmaker Henry Hindley (1701—1771). Smeaton’s father sent him to London to study for the law, but it did not last, although Smeaton retained a careful and precise way of writing reports and memos for his clients that lasted his whole career.

Abandoning formal legal training, Smeaton returned to Austhorpe and, presumably taught by Henry Hindley, trained as a philosophical instrument maker. By his mid-twenties he had set up shop in London, started moving in scientific circles in the capital, and soon began publishing papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Around 1752 he began his investigations into water- and wind-mill power, studying efficiency of under- and over-shot water-wheels and the effects of varying the shape and angle of windmill sails. On the strength of his work in philosophical instruments he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1753, and when he finally published his paper on wind and water power to great acclaim in 1759, he was awarded the Society’s prestigious Copley Medal.

His first mill was built in 1753. In 1755 he went on a tour of the Low Countries for five weeks, closely observing mills, locks, canals, and harbors. His diary records his detailed observations of hydraulic works, but matters not directly related to engineering get short shrift. I don’t think he ever mentions what he ate, for example. Smeaton was an excellent engineering draughtsman, and hundreds of his careful drawings survive, but he was less interested in non-practical art. His diary for June 22, in Bruges, records:

I see the 2 Great churches for the service of the town, in which were such a numbers of Altars, Crucifixes, Priests, Painting &c., as it would be endless to describe: among the paintings I see many that pleased me, but none that struck me sufficiently to make me remember them. (Diary, 15)

The Eddystone Lighthouse burned down in December 1755 and in February 1756, Smeaton was appointed to rebuild it, a task which occupied much of his time until October 1759. He married Ann Jenkinson in June 1756, but she can’t have seen much of him in the early years of their marriage. They had two daughters who reached adulthood, Ann and Mary; Mary married Jeremiah Dixon.

After the completion of the lighthouse, he moved his base to Austhorpe, making trips to London and wherever his commissions took him as necessary. In the early 1760s, he designed and built the Calder navigation, involving 26 locks in 24 miles. He consulted on several large drainage projects, designed pumping engines, and planned the Forth and Clyde Canal. He also designed the lovely Coldstream Bridge.

All this was the work of just five years or so, and he kept up this pace including a steady flow of technical innovations for the rest of his working life.

He was painted several times, including this portrait from around 1759, now in the collection of the Royal Society.

Another of Smeaton’s commissions was a water pump for Kew in 1761 which raised water from a deep well for the lake. It is presumably this project that brought him into contact with Joshua Kirby, then Clerk of the Works at Kew, and probably explains Smeaton’s support for Kirby’s FRS candidacy.



Skempton, A.W., ed. John Smeaton, FRS. London: Thomas Telford Limited, 1981.

Smeaton’s DNB entry.

Smeaton, J. John Smeaton’s Diary of his Journey to the Low Countries 1755. Leamington Spa: The Newcomen Society, 1938.

Thomas Anguish

Thomas Anguish (1724—1785) FRS was a barrister who rose to become Accountant-General to the Court of Chancery. Originally from Beccles in Suffolk he was the only son of Thomas Anguish and Mary Elmy. His great-grandfather had married into the Allin family and Thomas had hopes that his eldest son, also Thomas, would one day inherit the estate of Somerleyton from the Allins.

Thomas Anguish’s will discusses various contingencies of bequests depending on when or if his son inherited, which he did in 1794 after the last Allin died. However, the younger Thomas Anguish never married and, according to Venn, ‘died a lunatic’ in 1810, whereupon the estate passed to his brother Rev. George.

Thomas Anguish was the chief of the Commissioners of the Public Accounts and wrote all of their reports except the last, which appeared after he died. The Commissioners of the Public Accounts were effectively the government’s first thorough auditors. Their reports focused on one area of public expenditure after another and were incredibly thorough and, remarkably, unbiased. Every parliamentary bill drawn up as a result of their recommendations passed into law.

Thomas Anguish was elected to the Royal Society in 1766, the citation on his election certificate reading:

Thomas Anguish Esquire of Great Russel Street Bloomsbury Accomptant General to the High Court of Chancery, a Gentleman very conversant in most branches of natural knowledge being desirous of the honour of election into the Royal Society, we upon our Personal knowledge do recommend him as a Gentleman likely to be a usefull member of the Society

Once elected, Thomas Anguish went about supporting other candidacies, including that of Joshua Kirby the following year. Perhaps Anguish’s Suffolk background explains his support of Kirby, although I do not think we should read too much into it: Anguish supported no fewer than 33 candidates.

Thomas Anguish was active until his death 31 December 1785, reported in the Gentleman’s Magazine as being, ‘of indigestion, occasioned by eating a quantity of cold oysters for supper’.

A Mystery Box

Reader Gina sends in these pictures of a painted antique wooden box in her possession. Because of the signature, she thinks it may have been painted by, or associated with, John or Joshua Kirby, but there is no detailed provenance. I have not seen or heard a description of any similar item and we would welcome any comments or hints people may have.