Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Porter mss., 1799-1850, are the papers of Sir Robert Ker Porter, 1777-1842, artist and diplomat, and his sister Jane Porter, 1776-1850, novelist. Career: born 1777 at Durham son of William and Jane (Blenkinsop) Porter; 1779 father died; 1780 mother moved to Edinburgh; 1790 mother took him to Benjamin West who was impressed by his sketches and admitted him as an academy student at Somerset House; 1792 received a silver palette from Society of Arts for an historical drawing "The Witch of Endor"; 1793 commissioned to paint an altarpiece for Shoreditch church; 1803 appointed captain in the Westminster militia; 1804 appointed historical painter to the czar of Russia; decorated Admiralty Hall at St. Petersburg; fell in love with a Russian princess, Mary von Scherbatoff; 1806 knighted by Gustavus IV of Sweden; 1807 created a knight of St. Joachim of Würtemberg; 1809 published two-volume work of Travelling sketches in Russia and Sweden. During the years 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808 ; accompanied Sir John Moore to Spain, present at Coruña and published in 1809 Letters from Portugal and Spain written during march of the British troops ; 1811 revisited Russia; 1812, February 7, married his Russian princess, by whom he had a daughter, Mary; 1813, April 2, knighted by prince-regent; 1819 received insignia of the order of the Lion and the Sun from Persian monarch Futteh Ali Shah; 1826, September 27, wife died at St. Petersburg of typhus fever; 1826 appointed British consul in Venezuela; painted portrait of Simon Bolivar; 1831 mother died; 1832 created a knight commander of the order of Hanover in recognition of benefits he had conferred upon the protestant community of Caracas; 1837 daughter married M. Kikine, Russian army officer; 1841 returned to England and also revisited Russia; 1842, May 3, wrote brother William from St. Petersburg that he was on eve of sailing for England but died suddenly of apoplexy as he was returning in his drosky from a farewell visit to the czar, Alexander I, on the following day; his sister Jane arrived shortly before his death; buried in St. Petersburg.

Jane Porter born in 1776; 1803 published Thaddeus of Warsaw which reached a ninth edition by 1810; 1810 published her most notable novel, The Scottish Chiefs which was translated into German and Russian; attempted plays with less success; her tragedies of Switzerland, 1819 and Owen Prince of Powys, 1822 were complete failures; 1832 settled in London with her sister Anna Maria; suffered from pecuniary difficulties in later life.

The collection includes two autograph letter books kept by Sir Robert Ker Porter while in Caracas, 1828-1840, containing drafts of about one hundred and twenty autographed letters to monarchs, diplomats, statesmen, scientists, physicians, military leaders, and prominent political figures signed with autograph indices and summaries of each letter. These drafts constitute a remarkable commentary on the political, economic, and social development of Venezuela in the years following the revolution. Other subjects covered include Indians of South America, Indians of Mexico; Episcopal Church in South America; Catholic Church in Venezuela; fauna, flora, and Guano. A letter from Carlos Soublette to Jane Porter expresses regret that he had not achieved his mission of establishing diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Spain. A collection of sixteen letters from Colonel Belford Hinton Wilson, 1829-1843, five to Sir Robert Ker Porter and ten to Jane Porter, and one to another correspondent deal primarily with internal matters in Venezuela in the critical period following the break away from Colombia; they include a long letter in which Wilson disagrees with Ker Porter's estimate of Bolivar and Páez, April 27, 1832; and a letter to Jane Porter dated off Cape Horn, January 19, 1833, in which Wilson discusses a recent visit to the Falkland Islands and the wildlife there and comments on the problem of the islands' territorial status.

Among the correspondents represented in the collection are George William Frederick Villiers, 4th earl of Clarendon; Francisco Miranda; José Antonio Páez; Juan Santana; Carlos Soubletté; Katherine (Grimston) Villiers, countess of Clarendon; Sir Henry Wheatley, 1st baronet; and Sir Belford Hinton Wilson.

Purchased by Lathrop C. Harper, New York, New York from Sotheby & Co., London, England, June 28, 1966, lots 446, 479, 493. Harper lots 21655, 21504, and 21505, 21656. Phillips numbers 14532 and 14533.

Included are twelve letters from the earl of Clarendon to Jane Porter, 1841-1848, about her affairs after the death of Sir Robert Ker Porter. Some of the letters were written after Clarendon's appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the Great Famine, 1847, discussing the conditions there, together with nine letters, 1843-1850, of his wife Katherine also discussing the situation in Ireland. A letter from Jane Porter to Clarendon, 1842, requests him to advise her on certain matters concerning her deceased brother.

Purchased by Sir Thomas Phillips in 1852 from Sotheby which he numbered 14731. On June 28, 1966, Sotheby sold the letters as lot 439A to Winifred A. Myers Ltd., London, England. They were purchased by the Lilly Library on February 12, 1970, from Bookman, Houston, Texas. The Formation of the Phillipps Library Between 1841 and 1872 by A.N.L. Munby, Phillipps Studies No. IV (Cambridge, 1956), p. 73.

Collection size: 42 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.