On Monday 30 December 1851, following Turner’s funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral, his cousin and chief executor, Henry Harpur, who had been chief mourner, read the will to the other executors at Turner’s Queen Anne Street gallery. It was later contested by a collection of Turner’s relations on his father’s side of the family and was not settled until 1856. Henry and Philip Hardwick, the Royal Academy Treasurer, dealt with the financial aspects of the contested will, leaving other executors to deal with the artworks.
‘Interior of Turner's Gallery: The Artist showing his Works’ by George Jones, probably painted from memory, shortly after Turner's death. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
In the struggle over the will, Henry did battle with another of Turner’s cousins - Jabez Tepper, the son of Turner’s Devon cousin, Mary Turner Tepper (1770-1855). He was also a London solicitor.
The most disappointing outcome for Henry was that ‘Turner’s Gift’, the proposed Twickenham alms houses for ‘decayd English artists (Landscape Painters only) and single men’, was never fulfilled because under the Mortmain Law, the transfer of the three quarters of an acre of land in Twickenham to a trust, had to be at least a year before Turner’s death, and this had not happened. This oversight was probably the fault of Henry and Turner’s other legal adviser, George Cobb.
When Turner’s housekeeper, Hannah Danby, died in 1853, her will included the bequest to ‘Mrs Harpur of Cobourg Place Kennington my Tea Caddie’. This was, of course, Henry’s second wife, Amelia, who had been kind to Hannah.
The Westminster Hospital, London. Engraving, Wellcome Collection.
In 1868, Henry gave £10,000 to Westminster Hospital, with the request that a ward be endowed in his name. The hospital was relocated several times and in 1992 amalgamated with Chelsea Hospital to form the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. There is no longer a Harpur Ward.
Amelia Harpur died on 5th August 1868, aged 54. Henry died on 2nd March 1877, aged 86. At the time of his death, he was living at 96 Upper Kennington Lane. In the 1870s, Evelina Dupuis, Turner’s daughter, had moved into a house at the other end of Kennington Lane, number 154. Following Evelina’s death there in August 1874, Henry made his last will, bequeathing the remaining money in Turner's Monument Account to her children.
Henry, Amelia and a number of Henry’s siblings are buried in West Norwood Cemetery but their memorials are probably among the 20,000 or so removed by Lambeth Council during the 1970s/80s.
In his will Henry left two Turner paintings to the National Gallery, on the condition that they put them on display. Strangely, the Gallery refused the paintings. Apart from several small personal bequests, and having no children, Henry left the bulk of his estate, including the two Turners, to his friend and fellow solicitor, Henry Drake, who was also the sole executor. One of Drake’s sons, Bernard, had been given the middle name Harpur.
Drake exhibited the two Turner paintings in 1884, 1886 and 1892. The larger painting, 'Fishing Boats Entering Calais Harbour' is now part of the Frick Collection in New York. The smaller painting, described as 'Figures and boats in the foreground; low-lying coast seen across the sea on the horizon' is untraced.
In his will, Henry also made special provision for his cat to be cared for by Fanny Hodges. One can only hope that, unlike the paintings, this bequest was fulfilled.
Report on Henry Harpur's will in Courier and West-End Advertiser 14 April 1877 British Newspaper Archive
Creative Commons Attribution licence
Selby Whittingham, Of Geese, Mallards and Drakes: Some Notes on Turner's Family, with contributions from others, Part 4 The Marshalls & Harpurs, Independent Turner Society (1999)
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.