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Philip Morris (1833 - 1902) and Family PDF Print E-mail

Philip Richard Morris (hereafter PRM) was the father of the wife of Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter BFR).  PRM was born on 4th December 1833 in Devonport, Devon (now part of Plymouth). On 25th April 1854, he was admitted as an art student to the Royal Academy in London and in 1877 he was elected an Associate member (A.R.A.). PRM is perhaps best remembered for his oil painting entitled Son’s of the Brave that was first exhibited around 1880.

Around 1873, PRM married one Kate Davies (b. 1847) originally from Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales.  The couple had six children called Kate Serpention (b. 1874), Gladys Hill (b. 1879), Annie Ida (b. 1880), Florence Mariane (b. 1882), John Philip Claude (b. 1883) and Robert Owen Bruce (b. 1885).  Sometime around 1890, PRM's wife died and both he and his family then resided with one Annie Davies (PRM's sister-in-law) at her home near Monmouth in Wales. 

During 1901, 31 year-old Robinson both met and engaged 22 year-old Gladys Hill Morris, who is recorded as an 'Actress' in the 1901 Census of England and Wales.  At this time, Gladys was residing with her father and two siblings, Florence and 'Claude', at 92 Clifton Hill, St. Marylebone, London. Florence was an art student and 'Claude' had recently completed his schooling. 

On 22nd April 1902, 68 year-old PRM died from “Bladder disease (3 years) and heart failure (2 days)”.  The chronic nature of PRM’s illness had forced his retirement sometime around 1900.  It is notable that PRM left no last will-and-testament, which might indicate that he died in straightened circumstances. Obituaries were published in various newspapers including The Times (see below).

Just 6 weeks after the death of PRM, 31 year-old BFR married 22 year-old Gladys. This may indicate that the plans for their marriage were brought forward in order to provide support to Gladys and her younger siblings.  On 5th June 1902, the following announcement was published in The Times newspaper:

ROBINSON : MORRIS. – 3rd June, at the Church of St. Barnabas, Kensington, by the Rev. G. Hamilton, BERTRAM FLETCHER ROBINSON, only son of J. Fletcher Robinson, of Park Hill House, Ipplepen, S. Devon, to GLADYS HILL; eldest daughter [sic] of the late PHILIP MORRIS, A.R.A.

This marriage was witnessed by BFR’s parents, a friend called Percy Illingworth (probably the 'best man’) and an individual simply recorded as ‘Bowden’. The newly weds resided at nearby 43 Buckingham Palace Mansions that was built around 1894. The previous occupier of this property was a Miss Fane, who had in turn acquired the property from its first occupier, Percival Wolton. It is perhaps interesting to note that BFR's future friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, later used 15 Buckingham Palace Mansions as his town rooms from about 1923.

On 15th July 1902, 'Claude' Morris joined the Royal Navy as an Assistant Clerk (a non commissioned rank).  The timing of this appointment might also indicate that his recently deceased father had died in straightened circumstances.  'Claude' was subsequently posted to the Flag Ship Battleship H.M.S. Bulwark in the Mediterranean (commanded by Admiral Sir Compton E. Domvile).  Later he was promoted to the rank of Clerk (aboard H.M.S. Venus, 15/07/03), Assistant Paymaster (aboard H.M.S. Venus, 26/10/05), Assistant Paymaster and Captain’s Clerk (aboard H.M.S. Excellent, 16/07/07) and Secretary to the Personal Staff of Rear-Admiral Reginald G. O. Tupper (aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales, 18/11/12). 'Claude' ended his naval career by serving as the Secretary to the Personal Staff of Rear Admiral Sydney R. Fremantle, M.V.C. (aboard H.M.S. Hibernia, 27/07/15).

During the early hours of 21st January 1907, 36 year-old BFR died at his home in Eaton Terrace, London. 'Claude' Morris of “HMS Resolution, Chatham” was present at the time of death.  The following day, 'Claude' visited St. George Hanover Square Registry Office (sub-district of Belgravia, London) and registered BFR's death. The original death certificate correctly states that BFR’s occupation was “Journalist and Editor”, but his Christian name was incorrectly recorded as “Bernard”.

On 24th January, 'Claude' attended BFR’s funeral at St. Andrew’s Church, Ipplepen, Devon.  Amongst the other mourners were Harold Gaye Michelmore (BFR's friend and solictor), Henry Baskerville (former coachman to the Robinson family), Mrs. Holt (BFR's aunt) and Richard Robinson (BFR's cousin and manager of Meade-King, Robinson & Company).  Local newspapers reported that Gladys was too upset to attend her late husband's funeral and was instead comforted by Lady Harmsworth.

On 30th January, Michelmore travelled to London from Devon in order to both support the grieving Gladys and to attend to BFR's estate. (see 'Mrs Bertram Fletcher Robinson').  Four weeks later (on 28th February), Michelmore and 'Claude' officially corrected the error relating to the Christian name that had been recorded on BFR's death certificate. 

The following relevant obituary was published in The Times newspaper on 24th April 1902:

                                                         MR. PHIL MORRIS, A.R.A.

The death of Mr. Philip Morris, A.R.A., is announced as having occurred, on Tuesday, at his residence in Maida-vale. Mr. Morris was on the roll of honorary retired associates of the Royal Academy, and had not exhibited for the last few years, although he had only reached his 65th year. It is very likely the severe labour of early years that told upon his vitality in later life. For Mr. Morris became a painter only after a struggle with adverse circumstances. He was the son of an engineer and ironfounder of Devonport, and apparently he was engaged in the same occupation himself. At any rate he found it difficult to give much time to the study of painting, upon which his heart was set. It was not until he was about 22, and fell in with Mr. Holman Hunt, that he decided to follow his bent and devote himself to art. Mr. Holman Hunt helped him, as he has helped many another, with useful practical advice. He set him, for instance, to the study the Elgin Marbles, and Morris studied them to good effect, since he took a medal for drawing in his first year at the Academy schools. Next year he won further honours, and in 1858 the gold medal for the best historical was awarded to him. He also gained a travelling studentship, and went abroad for two years to study in Italy and in France. So far his career had been brilliant. Great hopes were formed of the young man who had risen from lowly station and carried all before him. His works were picked out for mention and criticism at the annual exhibitions, and in 1877 he was elected an Associate. Somehow his talent failed to fulfil the expectations formed of it. Perhaps it was that, as his powers came to maturity, taste was gradually changing, and the advance of a new school left his art a little old-fashioned. It certainly had little in common with uncompromising realism or strenuous sincerity of effect. It was an art designed to please, and there is no doubt that the majority found it pleasing. His subject pictures, delicate in colour and drawing, never lacked admirers at Burlington House, and his pretty portraits of women and children were equally appreciated. But it will surprise most people to learn that 30 years ago he was looked upon as one of the most promising of the coming men.


By Paul Spiring ©2007.

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