Weir, Harrison William (DNB12)

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WEIR, HARRISON WILLIAM (1824–1906), animal painter and author, born at Lewes, Sussex, on 5 May 1824, was second son of John Weir, successively manager of a Lewes bank and administration clerk in the legacy duty office, Somerset House, by his wife Elizabeth Jenner. A brother, John Jenner Weir, an ornithologist and entomologist, was controller-general of the customs. Weir was sent to school at Albany Academy, Camberwell, but showing an aptitude for drawing, he was withdrawn in 1837, in his fourteenth year, and articled for seven years to George Baxter (1804–1867), the colour-printer. Baxter, also a native of Lewes, had originally started as a designer and engraver on wood there, but he subsequently removed to London, and obtained a patent for his invention of printing in colour in 1835. Baxter employed Weir in every branch of his business, his chief work being that of printing off the plates. Weir soon found his duties uncongenial, and he remained unwillingly to complete his engagement in 1844. While with Baxter he learnt to engrave and draw on wood. His spare time was devoted to drawing and painting, his subjects being chiefly birds and animals. These unaided efforts promised well. In 1842 Herbert Ingram [q. v.] founded the ‘Illustrated London News,’ and Weir was employed as a draughtsman on wood and an engraver from the first number; he long worked on the paper, and at his death was the last surviving member of the original staff. His painting of a robin, to which he gave the name of ‘The Christmas Carol Singer,’ was purchased for 150l. by Ingram; issued in his paper as a coloured plate, it proved (it is said) the precursor of the modern Christmas supplement. About this time Weir became acquainted with the family of the animal painter, John Frederick Herring [q. v.], whose eldest daughter, Anne, he married, when just of age, in 1845. In this year he exhibited his first picture, ‘The Dead Shot,’ an oil painting of a wild duck, at the British Institution, and henceforth he was an occasional exhibitor at the Royal Academy, the Suffolk Street, and other galleries. On being elected in 1849 a member of the New Water-colour Society—now the Royal Institute—he exhibited chiefly with that society, showing altogether 100 pictures there.

Meanwhile Weir mainly confined his energy to illustrations for periodicals and books. He worked not only for the ‘Illustrated London News’ but for the ‘Pictorial Times,’ the ‘Field,’ and many other illustrated papers. As a book illustrator few artists were more prolific or popular. Gaining admission to literary society, his intimate friends included [[Author:|Douglas Jerrold]], Henry Mayhew, Albert Smith, and Tom Hood the younger, and he was well acquainted with Thackeray and other men of letters.

Weir's drawings of landscape have the finish and smoothness common to contemporary woodcuts, but his animals and birds show a distinctive and individual treatment. Many of his best pictures of animals were designed for the Rev. J. G. Wood's ‘Illustrated Natural History’ (1853), and he furnished admirable illustrations for ‘Three Hundred Æsop's Fables’ (1867). In some cases Weir compiled the books which he illustrated. ‘The Poetry of Nature’ (1867) was an anthology of his own choosing. He was both author and illustrator of ‘Every Day in the Country’ (1883) and ‘Animal Stories, Old and New’ (1885). He persistently endeavoured to improve books for children and the poorer classes, and prepared drawing copy-books which were widely used. He did all he could to disseminate his own love of animals. He originated the first cat show in 1872, became a judge of cats, and later wrote and illustrated ‘Our Cats and all about them’ (1889). Among domestic animals he devoted especially close attention to the care of poultry. As early as 1853 he designed some coloured plates for ‘The Poultry Book,’ by W. Wingfield and G. W. Johnson, and when that work was re-issued in 1856 he contributed the descriptive text on pigeons and rabbits. An experienced poultry breeder, he for thirty years acted as a judge at the principal poultry and pigeon shows. An exhaustive work from his pen, entitled ‘Our Poultry and all about them,’ issued in 1903, had occupied him many years, and was illustrated throughout with his own paintings and drawings. His account there of old English game fowl is probably the most valuable extant; but the rest of the work is for the modern expert of greater historic than of practical interest.

Weir was at the same time a practical horticulturist, being much interested in the cultivation of fruit trees, and for many years contributing articles and drawings to gardening periodicals. He was engaged by Messrs. Garrard & Co. to design the cups for Goodwood, Ascot, and other race-meetings for over thirty years. In 1891 he was granted a civil list pension of 100l.

Weir's unceasing industry left him no time for travel. He was apparently only once out of England, on a short visit to Andalusia, in Spain. His leisure was divided between his garden and his clubs. After long residence at Lyndhurst Road, Peckham, he built himself a house at Sevenoaks. His latest years were passed at Poplar Hall, Appledore, Kent. There he died on 3 Jan. 1906, and was buried at Sevenoaks. Weir was thrice married: (1) to Anne, eldest daughter of J. F. Herring, in 1845; (2) to Alice, youngest daughter of T. Upjohn, M.R.C.S. (d. 1898); and (3) to Eva, daughter of George Gobell of Worthing, Sussex, who survives him. He had two sons, Arthur Herring Weir (1847–1902) and John Gilbert Weir, and two daughters.

[Daily Chronicle, 6 May 1904, 5 Jan. 1906; The Times, 5 Jan. 1906; Nature, 11 Jan. 1906; Field, 6 Jan. 1906; Royal Calendar, Who's Who, 1906; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; George Baxter (Colour Printer), his Life and Work, by C. T. Courtney Lewis, 1908; personal knowledge; private information.]

R. I.