Catalogue of the Harness family papers, 1793-1852

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Margaret Czepiel


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Table of Contents

A    Papers of John Harness, naval surgeon, 1793-1821
B    Correspondence of William Harness, army officer, 1786-1806
C    Papers of William Harness, literary scholar, 1826-52, with two portraits
    C.1  Diaries of William Harness, 1835-52
    C.2  Transcript of The Lord Mayor's visit to Oxford in the month of July 1826 written at the desire of the party by The Chaplain to the Mayoralty
    C.3  Portraits of William Harness

Harness family papers, 1793-1852

Papers of three members of the Harness family, 1793-1852: John Harness (1755?-1818), naval surgeon; his brother William Harness (1762?-1804), British Army officer; and John's son William Harness (1790-1869), literary scholar .

Shelfmarks: MSS. Eng. c. 7330-2, d. 3725, e. 3590-2

Extent: 7 shelfmarks

Biographical History

The papers in this collection represent two generations, brothers John (1755?-1818) and William (1762?-1804), and William (1790-1869), John's son.

John Harness M.D., F.L.S., was born c.1755. He married Sarah Dredge (born in 1765) and had five children: John, William, Richard, Mary and Henry. Except for two or three years from 1796 in Lisbon, the family lived in Wickham, Hampshire and later in Harrow. Dr Harness died in 1818.

Details of his professional training are not known. With time, he became a distinguished naval surgeon, a friend of Nelson, and godfather to his daughter. He was allegedly the doctor called to Nelson when the latter lost his eye. Harness was also a friend of Lord Collingwood. He served under the successive commands of Admirals Hood, Hotham and St. Vincent. In 1796, the year the conflict with Spain broke out, Harness was appointed Physician to the Mediterranean Fleet based at His Majesty's Naval Hospital in Almada. He was succeeded in 1798 by Dr. Weir. Around 1799 he offered his services to General O'Hara in Gibraltar and was appointed superintendent of the hospitals there. For many years (from January 1806), he held the position of a Medical Commissioner of Transport. In 1808 the Admiralty ordered Dr Harness to conduct an enquiry into a scandal concerning bad supplies sent to the Channel Fleet from the Royal Hospital in Plymouth. He retired in 1817. He devoted the latter part of his life to collating evidence that would substantiate his claim to being the person largely responsible for persuading the Admiralty to sanction a sufficient supply of lemon juice to naval ships to prevent scurvy amongst the crews.

William Harness was born c.1762. In 1791, he married Elizabeth Bigg from Aylesbury (born c.1765). Their children were Charles, Jane and Jemima. He died on 2 January 1804.

He followed a military path, spending most of his career in India fighting in the Mysore and Maratha wars. He was already a captain when he married Elizabeth. He was promoted to major before leaving Guernsey in 1794. He served in several regiments across Europe (mainly in the Netherlands) and South Africa, staying longest with the 80th Regiment, within which he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in September 1796. The next two years he spent in Trincomalee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He reached his next destination, Madras (Chennai) on promotion to a lieutenant-colonelcy with the 74th Regiment in 1799. Following troubles after the battle of Seringapatham in May of that year, he was entrusted with command of the army during Colonel Wellesley's absence. In 1801 he marched to Egypt, where he was reappointed lieutenant-colonel of the 80th Regiment and held the temporary rank of brigadier in 1802. Back in India, he played a prominent role in one of the most decisive battles of the Second Maratha War, the battle of Assaye in September 1803. He died at the age of 42 while serving as a colonel under Wellesley.

William Harness (1790-1869), son of John, was a literary scholar and author of an eight-volume edition of Shakespeare. Further biographical details can be found in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Scope and Content

The three collections are very different. Nearly all John Harness's correspondence and papers relate to his claim to be the first man who pressed upon the Admiralty the necessity of sufficient supplies of lemon juice to the British Navy as a preventative of scurvy. Although history has not credited him with this achievement, the present collection certainly provides evidence of Harness's role in having the fleet blockading Toulon in 1793 supplied with sufficient quantities. To support his claim, he calls upon statements of (amongst others) such personalities as Admirals Nelson, Hood and Hardy. Another theme which has a strong presence in the collection is Harness's dispute with Earl St. Vincent regarding the position of the Physician to the Mediterranean Fleet. A sequence of letters was eventually published privately in a pamphlet, present amongst the papers.

William Harness's correspondence falls into two categories. One is an almost full run of letters to his wife "Bessy." The other comprises letters from his comrades and friends, together with a small number of other papers.

William Harness's (1790-1869) collection comprises three bound volumes. The first two are William's diaries, which cover the years 1835-6 and 1838-52 respectively, and include notes, sermons, poems etc. The third volume is a manuscript copy of a work published in 1826 (but rigorously suppressed), R.C. Dillon's account of The Lord Mayor's visit to Oxford, in the month of July, 1826. This collection also includes two framed portraits of William Harness.

Alternative Form Available

Many of the letters of William Harness, the army officer are published in ed. Duncan-Jones, Caroline. Trusty and well beloved : the letters home of William Harness, an officer of George III. London : S.P.C.K., 1957. The Bodleian Library copy is 23168 e.153.


The papers were given by Katherine Duncan-Jones in 2006.

Preferred Form of Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Library [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Eng. b. 2070, fols. 1-2].

Family names (NCA Rules)

Harness | Family

Personal names (NCA Rules)

Harness | John | c 1755-1818 | Naval surgeon
Harness | William | c 1762-1804 | Colonel
Harness | William | 1790-1869 | Curate of All Saints', Knightsbridge | Shakespearian author

Corporate names (NCA Rules)

Great Britain and Ireland | Army
Great Britain and Ireland | Navy

Place names (NCA Rules)

Mediterranean Sea

Subjects (LCSH)

Assaye, Battle of, Assaye, India, 1803
Harness, William, 1790-1869
India--History--Mysore War, 1799
Maratha War, 1803
Scurvy--Prevention--History--18th century

A   Papers of John Harness, naval surgeon, 1793-1821

Shelfmarks: MSS. Eng. c. 7330, d. 3725

Correspondence and miscellaneous printed papers, mainly on the subject of lemon juice as a preventive of scurvy, 1793-1817
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. c. 7330
124 leaves
Scope and Content:

Comprises (fols. 1-54) original letters and notes, including

  • (fols. 1-2) 'Letter from Dr Harness requesting an order to purchase Bark and Lemons for the Sick of the Fleet', 1793
  • (fols. 3-4) 'Letter from Sick & Wounded Board to Secretary of the Admiralty dated 13th Dec. 1793', c. 1815
  • (fols. 5-6) 'Letter from Adm. Gardner to Sick & Wounded Board dated 24 Dec. 1793', c. 1815
  • (fols. 7-8) Lord St. Vincent's communication to and reply from Dr Harness regarding his appointment as 'Physician of the Naval Hospital at Gibraltar', n.d.
  • (fols. 9-10) Lord St. Vincent's letter to the Sick & Wounded Board about Harness's conduct, 1798
  • (fols. 12-13) note on Harness's role in having the fleet blockading Toulon in 1793 supplied with sufficient quantities of lemon juice, n.d.
  • (fols. 16-17) letter from G.P. Towry, Victualling Commissioner, 1815, acknowledging the importance of lemon juice and Harness's role, and recalling the figures for scurvy in the Seven Years War and then in the war years 1779-83, as one who "was Master of the Fogueux [presumably the Fougueux] ... under the command of Boscawen"
  • (fols. 18) letter from an anonymous friend advising Harness not to mention money-saving but life-saving benefits of citric acid, n.d.
  • (fols. 19-22) autograph certificate (with covering letter) of Admiral Hood stating that in 1793 'Dr. Harness ... strongly recommended ... the use of lemon juice as a cure & preventive [of scurvy]', 1815
  • (fols. 24-7, 34-5, 40-1 and 44-7) 5 letters from D. Boyle giving advice on how to deal with the lemon juice issue, 1815-16
  • (fols. 28-31 and 48-51) 2 letters from J. Pickering in support of Harness's claim, 1815-16
  • (fols. 32-3) letter from J. McArthur giving details of supplies of lemons and onions to the Fleet in 1793 (in Toulon) and 1794 (in Corsica), 1815
  • (fols. 36-9) copy letter from Harness to Dr. Gilbert Blane, 1816 pointing out the omission in Blane's pamphlet On the health of the Navy of any mention of Harness in respect to the health of the Fleet in 1793
  • (fols. 42-3) Dr. Trotter's letter to editor of The Sun in response to Harness's "letter to the Right Hon. Lord Melville ... on the use of citric acid in the Royal Navy" published in the 12 Jan. 1816 (no. 7287) issue
  • (fols. 52-3) Admiral Thomas Hardy's reply to Harness's request for his and Lord Nelson's opinion on the effect of lemon juice on the health of the crews, 1816

also (fols. 55-97) draft and copy letters forming Harness's argument for his claim, evidently intended for publication and including

  • (fols. 62-3) copy of Harness's letter to the Earl of St. Vincent mentioning Admiral Nelson's supposed remark that a statue of gold should be erected to Harness, 1815
  • (fols. 66-7) draft of part of the pamphlet A letter to the Right Honourable Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, &c. &c. on the use of citric acid in the Royal Navy, watermark 1808, eventually published in 1815
  • (fols. 78-84) draft of the letter to Dr. Gilbert Blane mentioned above (fols. 36-9), 1816
  • (fols. 86-7) copy of Harness's letter to Admiral Thomas Hardy (the reply to which is amongst the original letters above, fols. 52-3), 1816
  • (fols. 88-95) 5 drafts of Admiral Gardner's correspondence with the Sick and Wounded Board, the last with printing instruction at head, watermark 1812
  • (fols. 96-7) Harness's letter to J.P. Beresford, in which he expresses his discontentment with the level of his pension, and repeats Admiral Nelson's remarks about his value to the Navy (see fols. 62-3), 1817

with (fols. 98-118) correspondence between or about family members, including some accounts

  • (fols. 98-113) family correspondence, 1795-1822
  • (fols. 114-18) accounts, 1807-12

and (fols. 119-124) miscellaneous printed material

  • (fols. 119-20) Corrected copy of directions how to use Sir John Dalrymple's wort and hop cake, and yeast powder, at sea (4 pp.), n.d. [watermark 1794]
  • (fols. 121-2) The Sun, Number 7287, Friday 12 Jan.1816 (4 pp.) with (fol. 121) an article 'Health of the Navy'
  • (fols. 123-4) The Sun, Number 7343, Monday 18 Mar. 1816 (4 pp.) with (fol. 123) an article 'Citric acid'

Published material relating to the lemon juice controversy
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. d. 3725
Extent: 3 items

Scope and Content:
  • (item 1) Sir Gilbert Blane, Statements of the comparative health of the British Navy, from the year 1779 to the year 1814. London : Printed by G. Woodfall, 1815 (86 pp.). Half-title Health of the Navy. Inscribed, 'from the author.'
  • (item 2) John Harness, A letter to the Right Honourable Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, &c. &c. on the use of citric acid in the Royal Navy. London : Printed for the author, by C. Wood, 1815 (14 pp.). Half-title On the use of citric acid in the Royal Navy. 2 copies, 1st annotated and with note on wrapper "Proof that my father eradicated scurvy from the Navy - with the old Lord Hoods testimony," signed W. Harness. 2nd copy passed to Rare Books and available through OLIS (the Oxford Libraries Union Catalogue) with the shelfmark Vet. A6 d.1069.
  • (item 3) 'Dr. Harness, late Physician of his Majesty's Fleet ...', [1819?] (19 pp.). Privately printed (?) account of Dr Harness's dismissal from his position as Physician to the Fleet in 1798.

B   Correspondence of William Harness, army officer, 1786-1806

Shelfmarks: MSS. Eng. c. 7331-2

Letters from William Harness, on military service, to his wife Elizabeth Harness ("Bessy"), 1794-1803
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. c. 7331
189 leaves

Letters to William Harness, mainly from his fellow officers, and other papers, 1786-1806
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. c. 7332
172 leaves
Scope and Content:


  • (fols. 1-110) letters, 1786-1806
  • (fols. 111-145) undated correspondence
  • (fols. 146-172) other papers, including (fols. 146-53) a description of the institutions of the Marathas by William Henry Lone and (fols. 163-8) a description by Brigade Major Lampton of the battle of Seringapatam, 4 May 1799

C   Papers of William Harness, literary scholar, 1826-52, with two portraits

C.1   Diaries of William Harness, 1835-52

Shelfmarks: MSS. Eng. e. 3590-1

Diary, 1835-6
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. e. 3590
Extent: 119 leaves
Binding: Half green morocco with marbled paper covered boards.

Scope and Content:

Diary proper, preceded by notes, begins (on fol. 48v) with 1 Aug. 1835. Last entry is written on 28 Jan. 1836 followed by further notes.

Diary, 1838-52
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. e. 3591
Extent: 177 leaves; only a stub between fols. 25 and 26
Binding: Half maroon morocco with marbled paper covered boards

Scope and Content:

Although the writing is continuous, not all months are covered.

  • (fols. 1-62) 1838
  • (fols. 177-63 rev.) 1839-52

C.2   Transcript of The Lord Mayor's visit to Oxford in the month of July 1826 written at the desire of the party by The Chaplain to the Mayoralty

Shelfmarks: MS. Eng. e. 3592

Hand-written copy of The Lord Mayor's visit to Oxford, in the month of July, 1826. Written at the desire of the party by The Chaplain to the Mayoralty [i.e. The Rev. R.C. Dillon]. London : Longman, Rees, Orme, Browne, and Green, M.DCCC.XXVI.
Shelfmark: MS. Eng. e. 3592
Extent: vi + 344 pages
Binding: Half red morocco with marbled paper covered boards.

Scope and Content:

Copied by a scribe, with footnotes as endnotes. The Bodleian Library's copy of this "rigorously suppressed" (dealer's catalogue) publication has the reference Sutherland 49.

C.3   Portraits of William Harness

Drawing of William Harness and George Greenwood, 1815
Shelfmark: LP temp. no. X8
Ink drawing in modern wooden frame. Dimensions: 340 x 250 mm; 180mm x 115mm (without the frame).

Scope and Content:

Drawn by Emily Greenwood and dated 1815, this drawing depicts two young men, the seated one being William Harness at the age of 25, the other George Greenwood (information from label). Includes an inscription underneath: 'Behold! – quite snug upon the fender / Beauharnois; and the Young Pretender!' The picture is reproduced in Caroline Duncan-Jones's Miss Mitford and Mr Harness, London, 1955.

Portrait of William Harness
Shelfmark: LP temp. no. X25
Oil over photograph in a contemporary ornamental frame on velvet, encapsulated in wooden frame. Dimensions: 365 x 320 mm; 205 mm x 150 mm (without the frame).

Scope and Content:

William Harness in later life. Artist unknown.

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18 May 2011