Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Rice Portrait - Who were the Harding Newmans? Part Three - The Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding-Newman

Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding Newman
When Colonel Thomas Harding Newman died in 1856, the bulk of his wealth including the estates of Nelmes, Black Callerton and Great Clacton went to his eldest son, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding Newman. It is likely to be at this point that the Rice portrait passed into his ownership.

Rev. Dr Thomas Harding Newman was born in 1811 to Thomas Harding Newman and Harriet née Cartwright. His mother died when he was four, after which his father re-married twice, first Elizabeth Ann Hall and secondly Anna Maria Parry.

He went up to Wadham College, Oxford in 1829 and was elected a Demy at Magdalen College in 1832. Here he became close friends with Thomas William Allies.

He was ordained priest in 1837 and became a Fellow of Magdalen College in 1846. He appears on the 1851 census at 15 Buckingham Street, Westminster as a teacher of classical literature.

Thomas' daughter Mary Allies recounted in her biography of her father that he and Thomas Harding Newman became very close friends at Oxford and that in 1833 the two of them went abroad to France and Italy, only returning at the end of 1836. Not long after this Allies fell headlong in love with Thomas Harding Newman's sister, Eliza Hall Newman, whom he met at Cheltenham in 1837 when she was just fifteen. Mary Allies published Thomas' diary entries for 1839 which are full of references to the Harding Newmans and visits to Nelmes.

Thomas Allies finally married Eliza Hall Newman in October 1840 when Eliza was eighteen, having overcome the opposition of her grandfathers Thomas Hall and Richard Newman, neither of whom were terribly keen on the match.

Eliza Hall Allies by George Richmond
reproduced by kind permission of Francis Allies

During his years at Oxford, Thomas Harding Newman gained quite a reputation as a prankster and an eccentric. On one occasion he bedecked a flower box outside his window with coloured home-made imitation flowers which attracted some attention on a winter's day and on another occasion he pretended to catch an enormous pike while fishing from his window which overlooked the river. He hauled it up amidst great excitement from a crowd of friends, only for them to discover it was made of stuffed cardboard wrapped in tinfoil. Another time he caused quite a stir by pretending to  thrash an undergraduate (in fact a pillow) with a cane while imitating the cries of the imaginary victim. These are some of the recorded pranks; according to Rev. William Tuckwell in his Reminiscences of Oxford many of his jokes were too coarse to be repeated. Tuckwell remembered him with fondness however:  'Of the remaining Fellows I will say no more…Two among them, Whorwood and T.H Newman claim a kindly though certainly not a reverential interest,' he wrote. This reputation for buffoonery is an interesting contrast to the character portrayed in the diary of Thomas Allies who expressed great concern about his friend's low sprits and 'inconstancy of purpose'. On August 30, 1939 he recorded that Harding Newman 'altogether seems to have no belief in Christian doctrines.'

In his appearance, according to the same obituary, he was of middling height, 'sprightly and springy;the countenance oval, the nostrils large, the nose rectangular and serving at the tip to support his spectacles, the mouth rather broad and rippling with humour, the eye prominent and environed by a huge ring, and the forehead partially concealed under a chestnut wig cut straight; in a word a Pickwick without embonpoint, and with a sarcastic in lieu of a weak mouth.' He combined this idiosyncratic appearance vocally with 'a ridiculously raucous voice and an odd laugh.' He was, before all things, a raconteur.

In 1873 Thomas Harding Newman resigned his Fellowship at Magdalen College. W.D. Macray in his Register of the Members of  St Mary Magdalen College recorded the following assessment of Harding Newman: 'Possessing artistic taste and knowledge, he yet, by an unrestrained indulgence of humour which led to great eccentricity, practically often acted as the College jester, and it must be said that it was well for the College, and all for any parish in which he might have lived, that he never became the incumbent of any benefice in the gift of the College.' All the tom-foolery had clearly not endeared him to the Oxford establishment and a friend, L.B Page, later wrote to The Times that Harding Newman had given up his fellowship on account of his 'extraordinary eccentricities'. He described Thomas as a strange character and eccentric-looking who wore a wig and dyed his whiskers. He said that he also was a collector who liked collecting 'unconsidered trifles' - he took home a chamber organ which one of the colleges was chucking out and he also had the old gates of Balliol college when the buildings were being rebuilt and installed them at his home at Nelmes.

Nelmes, Hornchurch, Essex
In the same year, 1873, the Court of Queen's Bench heard the case of Newman v Griffith. It involved a case against the vicar at Harding Newman's local church in Hornchurch. The vicar, Thomas Henry Griffith, had written letters in which he accused Thomas Harding Newman of having committed an 'unnatural offence', in other words of being gay. These accusations had been circulating, according the the court report, for a considerable length of time with a large number of letters having passed between the parties and between various members of Magdalen College and eventually Thomas Harding Newman had decided to sue Griffith for damages for libel and slander. Griffith did not enter a justification defence (now called a truth defence), but instead relied on the claim that Harding Newman was out of time to bring the action. He lost the case on this technicality and Harding Newman was awarded £300 damages by the jury.

For the last ten years of his life Thomas Harding Newman spent much of his time at his house, Rill Cottage at Great Clacton, now a suburb of Clacton-on-Sea but then a settlement in its own right.
By 1880 Thomas Harding Newman was approaching seventy years of age. Perhaps he was putting his affairs in order, for in December of that year he wrote a letter to his friend John Rouse Bloxam:

I should like to give another painting of Jane Austen, the novelist by Zoffany to her relative your neighbour Morland Rice. It is of a girl about 15, and came into my family the gift of Col. Austen of Chippington [sic] to my mother-in-law, or rather stepmother, my father’s second wife; who was a great admirer of the novelist. I can remember Col. Austen visiting this place.
Latterly when at Bramber I have failed to fall in with my old friend. I don’t think he can have forgotten me. I was at Oxford when he knocked his head against a post, and ascertained that the post was the harder of the two.

John Morland Rice was the grandson of Jane's brother Edward Austen Knight and was rector of the neighbouring parish to Bloxham's in Sussex. Thomas Harding Newman had no direct heir and his property was to be passed to his nephew Benjamin, so its easy to see why he might want to give the portrait to his old friend. Why he thought the portrait was a Zoffany is not clear. Zoffany and Humphry were contemporaries, they had both spent some years in India and had known each other. Perhaps Harding Newman had mis-read the signature on the portrait as 'Zoffany' rather than 'Humphry'. In any event he never did get around to passing the portrait on to Morland Rice.

Great Clacton
Thomas Harding Newman died on 21 April 1882 at Nelmes at the age of 71. His remains were taken to Great Clacton by train from where the funeral cortege left Rill Cottage for the church at Great Clacton in according with his request. Present at the funeral were the vicars of Hornchurch (Griffith having long gone) and Little Clacton as well as close friends and relatives, including his nephew Benjamin, the son of his brother, Captain Benjamin Harding Newman. The local paper reported that large numbers of local people also turned out to witness the sad ceremony.

Thomas Harding Newman was evidently an interesting and complex character. Practical joker and undoubtedly eccentric, he was also, according to his obituary in Jackson's Oxford Journal and others,'a man of high attainments in arts, and a very popular member of the Athenaeum Club and was also well known in West-end society'. The Essex Standard recorded that he was 'a true-hearted gentleman, kind, courteous, liberal and sympathising.'

As Thomas Harding Newman had not in fact given the portrait to Morland Rice it passed with the rest of his estate to his nephew, Benjamin Harding Newman, who is the subject of my next post.

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