Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison’s Beetle Wing Dress, 1868-9, made in Madras (now Chennai), India by unknown artisans

This page and those which follow are about the life and clothing of Barbara Morrison (1823 – 1877) and add to the work I have already done for the Museums and Heritage Highlands project Highland Threads. This project was started in January 2020, and became my lockdown research project. It was mainly researched through using the amazing British Newspaper Archive, Ancestry.com, Find My Past, the National Archives and with some assistance from Blair at the Royal Green Jackets Museum in Winchester. I have *a lot* to write about this amazing dress and what it can tell us about the Highland story of empire and emigration in the 19th century generally as well as the impact of the British empire for a young Highland woman, so I am slowly writing up a paper for publication next year.

Here is a link to a chat I had earlier this year with Dr Jo Fitzhenry (family genealogist), Vanessa Martin (West Highland Museum), Dr Jim MacPherson (University of the Highlands and Islands), Blair Southenden (Royal Green Jackets Museum) and Cath Jones, Barbara and William’s great, great grand-daughter.

Barbara was born on the Balconie estate, near Evanton in 1823. Her father was the gardener there.

Original gardener’s cottage on the Balconie Estate (on the right), probably Barbara’s place of birth. Photo: Jo Watson, 2021

The family had moved to her father’s native Isle of Skye by 1841 (I think probably around 1838). Her father became the gardener at Armadale Castle, but she was working on a farm in Broadford, Skye.

Armadale Castle Gardens on the Isle of Skye (Photo: Adobe Stock Images)

By 1851, Barbara had left the Highlands for Glasgow and was working as a dressmaker for a tailor in the Gorbals (on the banks of the Clyde River at Clyde Terrace, which is no longer there).

The Victoria Bridge in the mid 1850s. 13 Clyde Terrace, where Barbara lived and worked, is in the centre of the block of tall buildings in the centre of this image

She then moved to Jersey and married a tailor called Charles le Sauteur and had two children. Charles sadly died young of pneumonia shortly after their eldest child died, leaving Barbara with a young baby. She met and married Colour Sergeant William Fitzhenry in 1856, and from there moved to Winchester with him, where they lived until 1867.

William Fitzhenry in Jersey, 1857 (courtesy of the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester)

In November 1867, Barbara and William and their youngest child boarded a ship to India and arrived in Madras (now Chennai) in late 1867/ early 1868 (I have been unable to find the exact date, but believe it to be early-mid December 1867). They took the HMS Himalaya, which was the fastest ship in the world at the time, to the top of the Suze Canal, travelled over land and then took another ship to Madras (now Chennai).

Fort St. George, Chennai, India (Photo: Adobe Stock Images)

William was stationed first at Fort St George, and then moved to Bellary in central India in 1869. They stayed in Bellary (now Ballari) until November 1871, and then were moved to Aden (in the Yemen) for a year, before returning to Winchester in 1872. For this journey they travelled through the fairly new Suez Canal. They returned to the Quartermaster’s House in Winchester (which now a lovely hotel), and Barbara died there in February 1877.

There remains many unanswered questions about Barbara Morrison’s life, which may not be possible to answer, and the journey continues.

The temporary exhibition of Barbara’s dress and accompanying panels will come off display at the West Highland Museum at the end of this month (October 2021). The dress will be going for conservation at Tuula Pardoe’s studio at Hopetoun in early 2022, and then will be exhibited in Winchester in a temporary exhibition in 2022.