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MS 681

Reference code

MS 681


Moulton-Barrett archive



Administrative / Biographical history

Edward Moulton-Barrett (1785-1857) of Cinnamon Hill, Jamaica, and Hope End, Herefordshire, was the father of the poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning (1806-1861), and ten other children, and heir to a prosperous family sugar business. Owning over one thousand slaves on his plantations in Jamaica, he ran his estates mostly from London, sending several of his sons over to the West Indies.

Elizabeth was the first of twelve children of Edward Moulton-Barrett and his wife Mary, nee Graham (1781-1828). Her siblings were Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1807-1840), Henrietta Barrett (1809-1860), Mary (1810-1814), Samuel Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1812-1840), Arabella Barrett (1813-1868), Charles John Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1814-1905), nicknamed "Stormie", George Goodin Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1817-1895), Henry Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1822-1896), Alfred Price Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1820-1904), Septimus James Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1822-1870) and Octavius Butler Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1824-1910). Elizabeth was particularly close to her sisters Henrietta and Arabella.

Elizabeth's mother's parents were John and Arabella Graham (after 1786, Graham-Clarke) of Newcastle upon Tyne. John Graham-Clarke owned Jamaican sugar plantations, ships trading between Newcastle and Jamaica, a brewery, flax spinning mills, and glassworks. Her father's parents were Charles and Elizabeth Moulton (1763–1830), who had married in Jamaica on 28 August 1781. Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett's fortune came not from his father, who soon separated from his wife, but from his maternal grandfather, Edward Barrett (1734–1798), owner of Cinnamon Hill, Cornwall, Cambridge, and Oxford estates on Jamaica's north side: more than 10,000 acres in total. Edward Barrett's income was ‘fifty thousand a year’, his great-granddaughter told fellow poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), during the courtship recorded in their famous love letters.

Starting in the mid-1820's, Edward Moulton-Barrett's fortune took a turn for the worse. Financial reverses in Jamaica (including adverse legal decisions) eventually caused the loss of Hope End. He disinherited all three of the Moulton-Barrett children - Elizabeth, Henrietta and Alfred - who married during his lifetime. He omitted them from his will and Charles John received the Jamaican properties. He eventually lost these properties but he continued to live in Jamaica until he died in 1905.

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Robert Browning, poet, had an only child called Robert 'Pen' Wiederman Barrett-Browning (1849-1912). Pen married Fannie Coddington (1853-1935), an American heiress, in 1887. However, they had no children and as a result there are no direct descendants from that line. There are descendants from the lines of Elizabeth's siblings, however, and it is from them that Eton College Library received the Moulton-Barrett archive.



Extent & medium

6 shelves and 1 drawer

Content description

The Moulton-Barrett archive is a rich resource for research into both the family background of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and the history of plantation ownership and slavery in Jamaica. The papers are in two parts; there are personal family papers and papers relating to the Jamaican plantations owned by the family.

The family papers include Elizabeth Barrett-Browning but also extend to the wider family. The archive includes autograph letters of Elizabeth, autograph manuscript fragments and drawings. This is also the case for Elizabeth's siblings, building a detailed picture of Elizabeth's early life. Highlights include letters Elizabeth received from her eldest brother Edward from Charterhouse, the letters she herself wrote to her siblings when away from home, and an early playscript that the siblings performed at Hope End. There are also papers relating to Pen Barrett-Browning, Elizabeth's son, and material relating to the play 'Barretts of Wimpole Street' which directly features the Moulton-Barrett family. The papers of the wider family consist mostly of letters that date from 1772 to 1942. The majority of the earlier letters are to and from Edward Barrett (1734-1798), plantation owner. There is also a collection of notes by Jose Moulton-Barrett, including copious research into the family's history, and the papers of Edward R. Moulton-Barrett, donor.

The papers relating to the Jamaican estates date from 1774 to 1927. They deal with business matters and include correspondence with agents, business partners and other members of the extended family, legal documents, contracts, account papers and handwritten lists of slaves, which make sombre reading today. There are interesting letters from the local non-conformist clergyman Hope Waddell, which give accounts of the treatments of the slaves before and after their emancipation. These documents were filed chronologically by the previous owner, making it easy to track the fortunes of these plantations and those who lived on them.

In addition to the papers, there are a number of notebooks, sketchbooks and scrapbooks that belonged to members of the family, including a sketchbook that belonged to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning.

As well as the family papers, the archive also has a large collection of likenesses of individual members of the family. These likenesses include portraits, photographs (some in albums), miniatures, and sketches, often by particular members of the family like Alfred Moulton-Barrett, Elizabeth's brother. There is also a collection of watercolours, sketches and photographs of Hope End, the family seat in Herefordshire.

The archive also contains artefacts that belonged to the Moulton-Barrett family, including seals and brooches.

The papers relating to the Jamaican estates are enhanced by printed material about Jamaica from the library of Edward R. Moulton-Barrett.


The Moulton-Barrett family archive consists of two large bequests from descendants of the family. The first bequest was by Edward Richard Moulton-Barrett (1916-1992) in 1993, a descendant of Alfred Price Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1820-1904), Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's brother. It contained the majority of the family papers, letters and Jamaican estate papers, some scrapbooks, sketchbooks and photograph albums, and printed material about Jamaica.

The second bequest was by Nadia Moulton-Barrett in 2003, the widow of Ronald Moulton-Barrett (1906-), a descendant of Octavius Butler Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1824-1910). It contained the majority of photographs, miniature portraits and other visual material that now forms part of the archive.

Associated material

The Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning collection (MS 682) also contains autograph letters, manuscripts, likenesses and artefacts of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and, to a lesser extent, her relatives. It should be emphasised that this material was acquired separately to the Moulton-Barrett family archive, and is therefore catalogued separately.

Finding aids

A card catalogue for the family and estate papers is available. These are also catalogued electronically on 'The Browning Database', hosted by Baylor University. They can be found by searching under 'Supporting Documents': http://www.browningscorrespondence.com/supporting-documents/search/

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