Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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HARRIS , JOSEPH ( 1704 - 1764 ), Assay-master at the Mint ,

eldest son of Howel and Susannah Harris of Trevecka , and brother of Howel and of Thomas Harris (qq.v.), [was christened at Talgarth 16 Feb. 1703/4 ]. After working as a blacksmith with his maternal uncle Thomas Powell , he went to London in 1724 , was brought to the notice of Halley the astronomer-royal , and was sent on two voyages to the West Indies ( 1725 , 1730-2 ) to test mathematical instruments used in navigation . He was then for a while private tutor , but in 1737 became deputy to the Assay-master at the Mint (with quarters in the Tower ), and in 1748 Assay-master . He wrote some important works, among them A Treatise on Navigation , 1730 ; The Description and Uses of the Celestial Globe and Orrery , 1729 , of which ten editions appeared before 1768 ; An Essay Upon Money and Coins , 1757 ; and A Treatise upon Optics (posthumous, 1775 ).

Joseph Harris was author of several anonymous works on astronomy and mathematics and invented the ‘New Azimuth Compass’ and ‘Forestaff’ . Government ministers were often advised by him (unbeknown to many because of his shyness) and he received a pension of £300 per annum from the king from 1753 . To a great extent he was responsible for standardising the U.K.'s weights and measures mid — 18th c.

His contacts with his family and his countryside remained close; in particular he strove vainly to inculcate prudence into his brother Howel (e.g. he came down to Trevecka in 1735 , expressly to convey Howel to Oxford for his matriculation), and there are 81 letters of his in the Trevecka collection at the National Library of Wales , besides 49 letters from Howel to him; it may be noted too that Joseph Harris was one of the promoters of the pioneer Brecknockshire Agricultural Society in 1755 . There are two references to him in the Morris Letters (i, 183, ii, 46 — the latter noting a guinea given by him to Goronwy Owen ); another letter by Richard Morris ( Cymm. , xlix, 963) refers to Harris 's part in the standardization of weights and measures ; and he was a member of the Cymmrodorion Society . He d. 26 Sept. 1764 ; he was buried in the Tower . His wife (d. May 1763 ) was Anne , daughter and co-heiress of his former neighbour Thomas Jones of Tredustan . Their daughter, ANNA HARRIS , m. SAMUEL HUGHES (he was one of the witnesses of the marriage of Elizabeth , Howel Harris 's daughter); to her was left the property of her uncle Thomas Harris (q.v.) ; and so it was that Samuel Hughes , ‘of Tregunter ,’ became sheriff of his county in 1790 . Their daughter, AMELIA HUGHES , m. firstly Roderick Gwynne and secondly William Alexander Madocks (q.v.) , see D. R. Hughes in Cylch. Cymd. Hanes M.C. , xxiii, 118-21.

[ Mr. E. G. Millward points out that in J. E. Griffith , Pedigrees , 315, Mrs. Madocks is styled ‘ Eliza Anne ’; so too in Cynhaiarn MS. 80 at U.C.N.W. , a document reciting that Madocks ‘bequeathed all his estate unto his wife Eliza Anne Madocks ’; she is so styled also in Cynhaiarn MS. 79 . This lady cannot have been a second wife of Madocks , for there is ample evidence (including these manuscripts) that after her husband's death she retired to Tregunter , Talgarth , her uncle's bequest to her. Yet, Theophilus Jones ( Hist. Brecknock , 3rd ed., iii, 47, but here reproducing the first and contemporary ed.) distinctly states that Samuel Hughes and his wife had only one daughter; and the record of this daughter's christening ( 17 June 1786 ) names her ‘ Amelia Sophia .’ Clearly, we have here one and the same person. It may be that she disliked her loyal but portentous baptismal names, and adopted simpler names — and this before her first marriage (to Roderick Gwynne ), for Poole ( Brecknockshire , 102) calls her ‘ Eliza Anne Hughes ’ in his reference to that marriage. It may be added that her daughter, too, who m. J. W. Roche and lived at Tregunter , was called ‘ Eliza Anne ’ — her tombstone styles her ‘ Eliza Anna Ermina ’ ( Theophilus Jones , op. cit., iii, 53).]


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • M. H. Jones , The Trevecka Letters, or the unpublished MSS. correspondence of Howell Harris and his contemporaries (1932) , 44-7 [also in Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society , iii, 256-7 (with bibliography) and in Cylchgrawn Cymdeithas Hanes y Methodistiaid Calfinaidd , x, 80, xiii, 85-97];
  • Cylchgrawn Cymdeithas Hanes y Methodistiaid Calfinaidd , 13 (1928), 85;
  • J. Thickens , Howel Harris yn Llundain neu gyfraniad Cymru i'r mudiad Methodistaidd yn y brifddinas (1934) ( 1934 ), 9;
  • Richard Bennett , Blynyddoedd cyntaf Methodistiaeth (1909) ( 1909 ), 37;
  • Report from the Committee appointed to enquire into the original Standards of Weights and MeasuresHouse of Commons (House of Commons 2 June 1758), 49 (12 Apr. 1759) , 7.
  • references above.


Emeritus Professor Robert Thomas Jenkins, C.B.E., D.Litt., Ll.D., F.S.A., (1881-1969), Bangor

Dr Llewelyn Gwyn Chambers, Bangor

Corrections and additions:

HARRIS , JOSEPH ( 1704 - 1764) .

See ‘ Etifeddion Harrisiaid Trefeca ’ in R.T. Jenkins , Yng Nghysgod Trefeca , ( 1968 ). Eliza Anne was one of the daughters of Samuel Hughes , not the only daughter — her sister Amelia Sophia had d. in 1794 . Her first husband ( 1804 ) was Roderick Gwynne , Buckland. He d. 20 Mar. 1808 , and she m. William Alexander Madocks , 2 Apr. 1818 .


Evan David Jones, F.S.A., (1903-87), Aberystwyth

Published date: 1959