Edward Moulton-Barrett (father)

Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1785-1857)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 286–288.

Born on 28 May 1785 at the Cinnamon Hill estate of his maternal grandfather, Edward Barrett, in Jamaica, he was the second child and first son of Charles and Elizabeth Moulton. The parents apparently did not for long have any household of their own, and Edward’s relationship with his father was never very satisfactory. Grandfather Edward Barrett, one of Jamaica’s wealthiest and most influential planters, was determined to preserve his plantation “empire” and his family name. By the time he reached an advanced age, however, his only legitimate male heirs were Elizabeth’s two sons, Edward and Samuel. Their surname, of course, was Moulton, but in 1798, under Royal Licence and Authority, it was changed to Moulton-Barrett. The grandfather died later in that year, and the two boys inherited the bulk of his estate. By then they were in England for schooling, having crossed the Atlantic with their older sister, Sarah, in 1792. Edward briefly attended prestigious Harrow school, but reportedly “received there so savage a punishment for a supposed offense (‘burning the toast’) by the youth whose ‘fag’ he had become, that he was withdrawn from the school by his mother, and the delinquent was expelled.” At the age of sixteen he was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, by his guardian, James Scarlett. Before reaching his majority, he married in 1805 Mary Graham-Clarke, daughter of John Graham-Clarke, a wealthy and influential businessman residing near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The couple leased and settled first at Coxhoe Hall, where EBB was born in 1806. Three years later the impressive Hope End estate, near Ledbury, Herefordshire, was purchased, and in the ensuing years greatly altered to the Turkish designs of Loudon.

Much has been said and written about the character of Edward Moulton-Barrett. He was devoutly religious, a loving but dictatorial husband and father, a reserved man who kept his feelings to himself, a “country gentleman” much occupied with business and community affairs. He was twice elected, in 1812 and 1814, as Sheriff of Herefordshire. Starting in the mid-1820’s, his life was darkened and embittered by misfortune: financial reverses in Jamaica (including adverse legal decisions), which eventually caused the loss of Hope End; the death of his wife in 1828; the death of his brother Sam in 1837; and the deaths of his sons Sam and Edward in 1840. Losing the Hope End Mansion and Park in 1832 (the woodland was still in his possession at his death), he took his family first to Sidmouth and then to London, finally settling in 1838 at 50 Wimpole Street, where he resided until his death. As is well known, he promptly disinherited all three of the Moulton-Barrett children—Elizabeth, Henrietta and Alfred—who married during his lifetime. In fairness to him, however, it must be realized that his objections, especially when viewed against the background of Victorian parental attitudes, were valid. RB was not a “gentleman” according to the accepted code and neither EBB’s nor Henrietta’s husband was financially able to provide the kind of comfort to which the girls were accustomed. As to Alfred’s bride, shortly after her birth her mother became mentally unbalanced and incapacitated. Edward’s feelings toward his children were summarized in a single sentence by his son George in a letter to RB, 24 December 1888: “[Our] father was kind & tenderly attached to his children, in excess indeed as he could not bear the idea of a profession or a marriage that would lead to separation.”

William Surtees Cook’s entry in his diary (Reconstruction, L4) under 17 April 1857 reads: “My dearest Henrietta’s poor father died at his house, 50. Wimpole Street, London at half-past eleven o’clock this night. He had been long ill, from having broken his leg some years ago, by being thrown down by a cab, besides other causes of suffering. His dissolution was finally accelerated by going to Epsom to vote for a member for the county. The fatigue and excitement were too much for him—and it brought on an attack of erysipelas—which weakened him so much that he gradually sunk. Edward Moulton-Barrett was in the 72d year of his age.” From his will Edward omitted EBB, Henrietta and Alfred. Charles John, the eldest living male issue, received the Jamaican properties and family portraits. The other five living children—Arabel, George, Henry, Septimus and Octavius—received equal shares of the English estate, which came to a total of £63,695.12.1¼. Charles John, not concurring with his father, chose to give £5,000 to each of his disinherited sisters from his own inheritance. Alfred was given a like sum from the English estate. Edward Moulton-Barrett was buried on 24 April, at the Parish Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Ledbury, in the same vault as his wife and daughter Mary, located near the altar in the north-east corner. Reportedly every shop in Ledbury was closed in his honour, though he had been gone from that vicinity for many years.

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