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Morson, Thomas Newborn Robert (1799-1874); Thomas Morson & Son Ltd

  • Morson, Thomas Newborn Robert, 1799-1874.
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


This is an artificial collection, comprising the surviving papers of T.N.R. Morson and his descendants, records of the firm they created and managed, and materials assembled by Anthony Morson for his research on T.N.R. Morson and his milieu. Coverage is patchy, some aspects, such as the collaboration with E Merck of Darmstadt during the1930s being well documented, other areas less so.

There is a small amount of original material relating to T.N.R. Morson himself, principally his Parisian journal, 1818 (SA/MOR/A), and a small quantity of personal correspondence, 1826-74 (SA/MOR/C1/1-37); the most frequent correspondent is Jacob Bell (1810-1859), founder of the Pharmaceutical Society. However the bulk of the documentation in the collection relating to T.N.R. Morson consists of later research material assembled by Anthony Morson (SA/MOR/R passim).

There are portrait photographs of T.N.R. Morson and members of his family, c.1850-1872 (SA/MOR/P1), and a series of carte de visite portraits of contemporary scientists, authors and others (SA/MOR/P2), including Thomas Bell FRS, William Thomas Brande, Thomas Graham, and Heinrich Rose. The records of the Morson company principally comprise legal papers and agreements, 1879-1963 (SA/MOR/D); business correspondence and papers, 1866-1970 (SA/MOR/E), including the Merck Darmstadt material noted above; accounts and other financial records, 1868-1979 (SA/MOR/F); recipes, sampling and production records, c.1848-1957 (SA/MOR/G), advertising records, 1821-c.1970 (SA/MOR/H); and records of premises and staff, c. 1870-1971, mainly photographs (SA/MOR/L-M): there are particularly fine series of photographs of the works at Hornsey Rise and Homerton, dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, the former by Henri Claudet (SA/MOR/L2/1-5 and L3/1-6). There are few records of sales, although there is an order book containing a record of orders placed by the Secretary of State for India, 1887-1947 (SA/MOR/J1).



Physical description

18 boxes, 4 oversize boxes, 3 oversize items


The collection contains both personal papers and institutional records, although the bulk comprises business records of the firm of Thomas Morson & Son. Like most entrepreneurs, T.N.R. Morson did not distinguish clearly between his private and business affairs, and it is somewhat misleading to attempt to distinguish them. Nonetheless, the personal papers of T.N.R. Morson and other members of his family are largely subsumed under MOR/A-C and the business records under MOR/D-M; the company's filing arrangements for business correspondence have been preserved in MOR/E. MOR/N comprises historical publications from various sources, MOR/P portrait photographs mainly assembled by T.N.R. Morson, and MOR/Q miscellaneous publications, again deriving from a variety of sources. MOR/R are the files of modern research papers compiled by Anthony Morson, which contain no original personal or business records.

A full summary is as follows:

A. Journal, 1818;

B. Personal and professional papers, 1834-71;

C. Personal, family and other correspondence, 1826-1957;

D. Legal papers and agreements, 1879-1963;

E. Business correspondence and papers, 1866-1970;

F. Accounts and other financial records, 1868-1979;

G. Recipes, production and sampling records, c.1848-1957;

H. Advertising records, 1821-c.1970;

J. Sales records, 1887-1955;

K. Company scrapbooks and press cuttings, c.1906-1950;

L. Records of premises, c.1870-1965;

M. Staff records, 1878-1971;

N. Historical publications and company history, 1916-88;

P. Portrait photographs, c.1850-1938;

Q. Other publications, 1751-1957;

R. Historical research papers of Anthony Morson.

Acquisition note

Anthony Morson, great-great grandson of T.N.R. Morson, deposited his collection in the Wellcome Library in 1996/97, following completion of his biography of Morson, Operative Chymist (The Wellcome Institute series in the History of Medicine, Rodopi, 1997), which as well as being the definitive life of his ancestor is the starting point for the history of the firm. (Accessions 350417, 350487, 350498, 350528, 350544, 350554, 350677 and 350768.)

Biographical note

Thomas Newborn Robert Morson, pharmaceutical entrepreneur, was the founder of the firm of Thomas Morson & Son, of London, which became a leading manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of pharmaceutical chemicals and proprietary medicines during the nineteenth century. After an apprenticeship to a surgeon-apothecary in London, T.N.R. Morson spent three years in Paris (1818-21) studying under the chemist Louis Antoine Planche; he was thus equipped to introduce French science into the traditional world of the British apothecary. He was also a man of wide scientific and cultural interests, with contacts and friendships throughout British and continental science, although relatively little remains of his private correspondence. He was prominent in the foundation of the Pharmaceutical Society, and was elected President in 1848.

Morsons was particularly notable for the manufacture and sale of the new vegetable alkaloids which were identified in the early part of the nineteenth century in France, and indeed was the first British producer, from 1821, of quinine sulphate and morphine. At this date the business was operated from 65 Fleet Market. From 1824 Bloomsbury was the main locus of activity, with laboratory, factory and retail shop being maintained at 19, Southampton Row. Later the company shifted manufacturing into the suburbs, to Hornsey, Homerton, and by the turn of the century, Ponders End, Enfield, at which time the retail side of the business was wound up. By the 1860s Morsons was producing over five hundred different chemical substances, mainly of medicinal application. By the end of the century the firm had a world-wide export business, especially to India. In 1915 the company was incorporated as Thomas Morson & Son Ltd. The peak of production was reached in about 1930, at which time the firm entered into cooperation with the German chemical company, E. Merck of Darmstadt, for the manufacture of sodium glycerophosphate (a substance included in tonic formulations). This development presaged the eventual takeover of Morsons by the American pharmaceutical corporation, Merck Sharp and Dohme, in 1957.

An outline chronology follows:

8 November 1799 T.N.R. Morson born at Stratford, Essex

c. 1814 apprenticed to Charles Dunn, surgeon-apothecary, 65 Fleet Market, London

From 1815 attends chemical and clinical lectures at Guy's Hospital

September 1818-1821 studies chemistry in Paris under L.A. Planche

1821 sets up in business as an apothecary at 65 Fleet Market

November 1822 marries Charlotte Elizabeth Pegram (b. 20 Dec. 1797)

April 1824 moves to 19 Southampton Row

1825 birth of Thomas Morson junior (son)

1828 birth of Isabelle Morson (daughter)

1834 purchases house at Hornsey Rise , Middlesex, as a country home and chemical factory

1848 elected President of the Pharmaceutical Society

1850 moves to 38 Queen Square, Bloomsbury

1852 birth of Thomas Pierre Morson (grandson)

1863 death of Charlotte Morson (wife)

From 1869 develops Works at Homerton, Middlesex

4 March 1874 T.N.R. Morson dies at Queen Square; buried in Highgate cemetery

c. 1875 sale of the Hornsey premises and transfer of all production to Homerton

1879 T.P. Morson made a partner, aged 27

1900 closure of the Southampton Row retail pharmacy

From May 1901 purchase of a site at Ponders End, Middlesex, and transfer of production from Homerton

1915 incorporation of Thomas Morson & Son Ltd

1957 purchase of the firm by Merck Sharp & Dohme of Philadelphia

Related material

In the Wellcome Library:

Correspondence between T. Morson & Son Ltd and Joseph Lister relating to antiseptic substances held as MS.6975/7-8.

In other repositories:

The Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, holds correspondence between T. Morson & Son Ltd and Joseph Lister relating to antiseptic substances.

Finding aids

Catalogue and index by Richard Aspin, 2000, available in the Wellcome Library and via the NRA.

Ownership note

The papers and records were assembled by Mr Anthony Morson from various sources, although the bulk of the material derives from the Company's offices. There are obvious gaps in the record, almost certainly caused by the loss of documentation in the past, but there are also apparent gaps for which there were probably never systematic records kept (such as accounts for the period before 1875); after all, Morsons was a family concern right up to 1957, and had no public responsibilities to shareholders. The staff remained small (only about sixty, plus supervisors, in 1900 for instance) and the culture of the firm was characterised by paternalism and long-service. It is telling that the most voluminous series of records that survive are photograph albums, reminiscent of the records of a family.


  • English
  • French
  • German

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