Wolverhampton BTW

Harriet Gunn

Gunn, Harriet née Turner, 1806—1869

by Benjamin Colbert

Harriet Turner Gunn was born in Great Yarmouth, the third daughter of Dawson Turner (1775-1858; ODNB), banker and polymath, and Mary Turner, née Palgrave (1774-1850), an accomplished draughtsperson. With her mother, sisters, and brothers, Harriet joined the literary and artistic activity of the household under the direction of her father, who involved them in his botanical and antiquarian research and writings, or as extra-illustrators for his growing collection of books and manuscripts. Partly to further their artistic training, Dawson took the artist and engraver John Sell Cotman (1782-1842; ODNB) under his patronage and Cotman became drawing master to the family from 1812. Turner's illustrated Account of a Tour in Normandy (2 vols., 1820) was in fact a collaboration with Mary Turner, at least two of his daughters, and Cotman, based in part on a family tour of Normandy in 1818 in Cotman's company, and drawing liberally on the journals and letters of all the party, possibly including Harriet.

On 27 April 1830, Harriet married the Reverend John Gunn (1801-90), Rector of Irstead, near Great Yarmouth. Like Harriet's father, John Gunn was drawn to extracurricular research, in his case archaeology and geology, and together Harriet and John toured much of Norfolk in subsequent years, Harriet earning a reputation for fine illustration and illuminated drawings of geology, architecture, and ecclesiastical art. The influence of her father was never far removed; even when touring Holland in July 1834, she wrote letters home to her 'dear papa' which Dawson Turner edited and had published for private circulation as Letters Written during a Four Days' Tour, by his own admission without her prior knowledge. Despite her keen descriptive prose and playful wit in the letters, Harriet appears to have kept her literary talents in the background, appearing in print as an illustrator only. Though the Publisher's Circular for 16 July 1866 announced A History of England for the Young 'by Mrs. Gunn, to be edited by the Rev. Dr Dawson Turner' forthcoming with Longmans, nothing appears to have come of the project, although the conflation of her father (who died in 1858 but was not a Reverend) and her husband (who was) ironically joins the two most important men in her life. Harriet Gunn herself died in September 1869 at the age of 63.


‘Blomefield’s Norfolk’. The Bury and Norwich Post, and East Anglian, no. 3110 (Weds., 2 Feb. 1842). Gale Databases: British Library Newspapers. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

The Ipswich Journal, no. 4806 (Sat., 1 May 1830). Gale Databases: British Library Newspapers. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

‘Obituary. John Gunn, M.A. F.G.S.’. Geological Mag. 7.7 (July 1890): 331-33. Print.

Publisher’s Circular 29.692 (16 July 1866): 411. Print.

Turner, Dawson. ‘Original Drawings, Engravings, Etchings and Deeds, &c. &c Inserted in a Copy of Blomefield’s History of Norfolk, in the Library of Dawson Turner, Esq. at Yarmouth’. The Topographer’s Manual, by Samuel Woodward. London: Nichols and Son, 1842. Appendix 1: 1-215. Print.


Title Published
Letters Written during a Four Days' Tour in Holland 1834

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