Harrison Family History

Matthew James Harrison, was born about 1846 at Bloomsbury in Middlesex and was baptised on the 21st September 1846 at Holmwood, Surrey. Matthew´s parents and Thomas´ paternal grandparents were James Park Harrison, a shareholder, born about 1817 at St George the Martyr in Middlesex, and Julia Anna Harrison born about 1808 at Pentonville in Middlesex. During the 1851 Census the family lived at Dorking.

Royal Navy Lieutenant Matthew James Harrison and Lucy Caroline Wedgwood married on the 29th of April 1874 at Christ Church in Coldharbour. Lucy, at the time of her wedding, lived at Leith Hill Place, Oackley, Dorking.

According to Robina Arbuthnott, Thomas´ father Commander Matthew James Harrison left England in 1908 for Crawford Bay, West Kootenay, British Columbia in Canada. By 1910 the Harrison´s family home called ´Freckleton´ was built there. Nowadays the estate is renamed as ´Wedgwood Manor´.

HMS Topaze © Wikimedia Commons
HMS Topaze © Wikimedia Commons

In 1868, Commander Matthew James Harrison who took part in an extensive voyage on HMS Topaze with a stop  in Rapa Nui/Easter Island. 

Two crew members found an unusual basalt moai in a stone house at Orongo the center of a birdman cult. The moai known as Hoa Hakananai’a was buried to its shoulders in the ground opposite one of the doors.  

Matthew Harrison Sketch of Hoa Hakananai‘a © British Museum
Matthew Harrison Sketch of Hoa Hakananai‘a © British Museum

A sketch of the moai Hoa Hakananai’a in situ inside the building at Orongo was drawn by  Ltn Matthew James Harrison.

It took forty men from the HMS Topaze to tear down the stone house at ‘Orongo and dig up Hoa Hakananai‘a. The sketch shows the statue Hoa Hakananai‘a in situ at ‘Orongo, showing the statue’s head, a hole broken into the ceiling of the stone house, and two figures inside, there seems little room to accommodate any sort of group that might collect around it.

The statue and the sketch were brought back to the UK and presented to Queen Victoria who donated them to the British Museum.

Lucy Caroline Harrison (nee Wedgwood)

Lucy Caroline Wedgwood was a great grand daughter of the founder of the Wedgwood China Company. Her parents and Thomas´ maternal grandparents were the China manufacturer and land proprietor Josiah Wedgwood III of Leith Hill Place and Caroline Sarah Wedgwood nee Darwin. She was born to Josiah III and Caroline Sarah on the 17th of November 1846 at Shrewsbury, Shropshire and was baptised on the 21st of December 1846 at St Chad´s, Shrewsbury.

Lucy´s great uncle was Charles Darwin the renowned British naturalist and evolutionary theorist. According to Robina Arbuthnott, Charles Darwin would often send Lucy notes at Leith Hill asking her to conduct experiments for him.

Caroline’s parents were Doctor of Physics Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah Darwin nee Wedgwood. The couple married on the 18th of April 1796 at St Marylebone in Westminster by licence. Caroline was born on the 14th of September 1800 at St Chad´s, Shrewsbury, Shropshire and baptised on the 12th of October 1800 at Shrewsbury. On the 12th of February 1809 Susannah conceived Charles Robert Darwin who was baptised on the 17th of November 1809 at St Chad´s, Shrewsbury.

Margaret Susan Vaughan Williams (nee Harrison) – Caroline’s sister

Lucy´s sister Margaret Susan (born 1843 at Shrewsbury) married Arthur Charles Vaughan Williams of Leith Hill Place on the 22nd of February 1868 at Coldharbour by Dorking. Their son, Lucy´s nephew, Ralph Vaughan Williams (born on the 20th of October 1872) became a famous composer.

Sir Geoffrey Wedgwood Harrison – Caroline’s nephew

Diplomat, was born on the 18th of July 1908 at Portsmouth in Hampshire. He married Amy Katherine Harrison nee Clive. Sir Geoffrey died on the 12th of April 1990 in England. He is buried on Leith Hill.

(In 1965, Harrison was appointed as Ambassador to the Soviet Union. In 1968, he began a short affair with a Russian chambermaid working at the British Embassy. Harrison claimed that he did not asked or knew if she worked for the KGB, but according to him it was generally assumed that every Soviet employee at the embassy worked for the Soviet secret service. Security concerns over the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, and having already been sent incriminating photographs by the KGB, prompted Harrison to inform the Foreign Office of his affair. He was immediately sent home. The maid was later revealed to be part of a KGB “honey trap” operation.)

Isabel Mary Matthews (nee Harrison) – Caroline’s niece

Isabel Mary Mathews nee Harrison was born in the 20th of April 1911 at Portsmouth in Hampshire. Isabel was married in the 1st quarter of 1943 in Horsham, Sussex to William J. Mathews. She died, aged 91 in May 2002 in Haywards, West Sussex.

Sophie Maud Axford (nee Harrison) – Caroline’s niece

Sophie Maud Axford nee Harrison was born on the 1st of July 1914 at Catherington, West Hampshire. She married Robert A. Axford in the 3rd quarter of 1939 in Horsham, Sussex. Sophie Maud died in November 1991 at Horsham, Sussex.

After the death the of their sons Thomas Edmund and George Basil, Commander Matthew James Harrison and his wife decided to build a church to commemorate their memory at ´Freckleton´, the family residence, in Crawford Bay, Canada. However, on the 25th of June 1919 Matthews wife Lucy Caroline died and the church was built as a memorial to the whole family. On the 26 of June 1926 Commander Matthew James passed away as well. Both bodies were buried at ´Freckleton´ in Crawford Bay.

The following article was written by John Callcutt and produced in the Newdigate Local History Society Magazine

LT.COMMANDERS NICHOLSON AND HARRISON                      by John Callcut
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology research has never been easier. In September 1914 the rector wrote, ‘You know the story of Captain Nicholson, who was saved after being nearly three hours in the water. Another neighbour, Captain Harrison, whose sister conducted the Ockley Choral Society last winter, perished at the same time.’
Who were Captain Nicholson and Captain Harrison? Not much to go on you might think but I have discovered exactly who they were and what happened to them.
First and very simply I found in the book ‘And Choirs Singing’, a history of the Leith Hill Music Festival, that the conductor of Ockley Choral Society in 1914 was Ursula Harrison. A search in the 1891 census at Itchingfield found Matthew J. Harrison (44), retired commander in the Royal Navy, living with his wife Lucy (44) and children, Ann (13), Thomas E (11), George B (8) and Lucy U (6) together with their French butler and cook. The birth records showed that Lucy Ursula Harrison was born at Horsham in 1895.
 I then went to the Commonwealth War Graves website and typed in Harrison, T.E. for 1914 and the only senior naval officer killed in 1914 was Lt. Commander Thomas Edmund Harrison (age 34) who lost his life on board HMS Aboukir on the 22nd September 1914. It stated that his parents were Comdr. M.J. and Mrs Harrison of Freckleton, Crawford Bay, West Kootenay, British Columbia, Canada and he was married to Maud Winifred Harrison of Wey Lodge, Liphook, Hampshire. All the information tied up.
During the morning of the 22nd September three elderly cruisers, the Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, were patrolling off the Dutch coast. The Aboukir was struck by a torpedo at 6.25am and quickly sunk. Shortly afterwards the Hogue was also hit and immediately began to heel to starboard and at 7.15am the Cressy was also hit and turned keel up and sunk at 7.55am. The German U-boat crew, U-9 commanded by Otto Weddigen, returned to port as heroes and a medal was struck to commemorate his success. He was to die later in the war when his submarine was rammed by HMS Dreadnought. This was a disaster for the Royal Navy and many lessons were learnt from the event.
Thomas’s brother, Lt. Commander George Basil Harrison, was killed in 1915 when HMS Natal mysteriously blew up in Cromarty Forth and by a strange coincidence my wife’s great uncle was also killed on the same ship.
Further research on the internet found more interesting information concerning the Harrison family written by Thomas’s great, grand daughter, Robina Arbuthnot. Matthew James Harrison married Lucy Wedgwood who was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood of Leith Hill Place. Lucy’s sister, Margaret married Arthur Vaughan Williams and their son Ralph was the famous composer. Lucy’s uncle was none other than Charles Darwin.
Matthew and Lucy had three sons and two daughters.  The eldest son, Geoffrey, died at the age of six from scarlet fever. Thomas and Maud had three children, Geoffrey Wedgwood, Isabel and Sophie.
Matthew had been in the navy and was on one of the first expeditions to Easter Island when the huge heads were found and a lot of his collection from this voyage was later donated to the British Museum along with some of his sketches from the voyage. During his time also in the navy he had shore leave from Vancouver and took the railway up to Nelson. He crossed Kootenay Lake and fell in love with the area and vowed one day to return. In 1908 he came back, located a site and started building his retirement home. In 1911 he was joined by his wife Lucy (both were 65 years old by that time!) and their two daughters, Ann Dorothea (Nancy) who married an Englishman called Jack Gooch and settled in another property on this Kootenay estate but had no children and Ursula who married a local man, Jack Houghton and had four children.
Lucy Wedgwood died in 1919 and Matthew James, having married his nurse, died in 1926 and they are both buried in the grounds of the lovely house they had built. Before he died he built a beautiful church called the Harrison Memorial Church to his three dead sons and to Lucy who died just before its completion. It is still there and used. Ursula died very young in Wales from pneumonia having gone ‘home’ to bring up the four children and persuaded her husband to come too, much against his will. He then took the four children back to Kootenay and died himself shortly afterwards. This left Nancy who was a widow by then to bring up the children and so she moved down to Victoria to make life easier for them, and descendants still own the estate there.
So all this came from a brief comment from the rector in the parish magazine but what about Captain Nicholson? Well this is an even bigger story which will have to wait for another magazine but he was on board HMS Cressy when she was torpedoed in 1914 but survived to tell the tale.
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