Select Harmer Miscellany

Here are some Harmer stories and accounts over the years:

Harmer DNA Testing

According to the Harmer Family Association, there are three major concentrations of the Harmer name going back over the last five hundred years - in East Sussex, Gloucestershire, and Norfolk.

The origin of the East Sussex Harmers is genetically quite different from the other two main geographical groups (based on the haplo group).  The East Sussex trees are likely to share a single common ancestor in the last thousand years, probably in the early days of parish records.

Norfolk Harmers have at least two "original" ancestors and possibly a third.  At present there are not enough Gloucestershire results to draw any conclusions.

Reader Feedback - Origin of the Harmer Name

I feel that the explanation about the name Harmer misses an occupational origin!  In the ongoing history of words, the spelling can get distorted, as well as the pronunciation.  So, if you spell the name Halmer or Haumer, both of which would be pronounced the same as Harmer, then you get -

haulm or halm -  stems or stalks collectively, as of grain or of peas, beans, or hops dating prior to 900 from the Old English healm and the Latin culmus meaning “stalk.”  

So perhaps a 'harmer' was a person who collected/bought/dealt in the waste stalks of some variety of vegetation (cultivated or gathered from the wild) in order to resell them for thatching, animal bedding, composting, etc. 

Mary (

Early Harmer Marriages in Gloucestershire

At King's Stanley
Harry Harmer and Johane Tyler

Richard Harmer and Catherine Parsons
Aston Caston and Ann Harmer
Edmond Harold and Johane Harmer
Richard Weebe and Catherine Harmer

At Leonard Stanley
William Harmer and Catherine Chamberlyne

At Stonehouse
William Harmer and Catherine Wood
John King and Joyce Harmer
Richard Harmer and Ann Cloterbroke
Garret Harmer and Bridget Bennett
Richard Dangerfield and Elizabeth Harmer

Early Harmer Baptisms in Heathfield, Sussex

Sarah, daughter of John Harmer
Margaret, daughter of John Harmer
Elizabeth, daughter of John Harmer
John, son of William Harmer
William, son of William Harmer

Jonah, son of Anthony Harmer

William, son of William Harmer

Jonathan Harmer, Stonemason

Jonathan Harmer was the son of a Heathfield stonemason who used his skills as a potter to enhance his father's gravestones.  He took over the family firm in 1799 and from then until 1819 he added unusual terracotta bas-reliefs to a large number of local gravestones. 

In the difficult times of the 19th century, those living locally who were poor could only afford a simple headstone and Jonathan, taking pity on these people, came up with the idea of ornamental bas-relief terracotta memorial plaques from the local red clay from Heathfield Park, sometimes combined with paler imported clay.  These plaques were then affixed to the gravestone.  Many have lasted for 200 years.  To keep costs down he made his own clay moulds and could therefore turn out many identical panels rather than each being carved individually. 

The method he devised was to cut the outline of the terracotta into the stone, then cut around 3/4 inch deeper into the stone creating a cavity.  The terracotts plaque was then made, then the plaque was glued into the cavity using a mortar.  The colors of the plaques varied from cream to red and featured such designs as cherubs, vases, and baskets of fruit.

Churchyards where his work can still be seen are: Ashburnham, Burwash, Cade Street, Hellingly, Herstmonceux, and Salehurst.  Other plaques can be seen in the Brighton Museum and the Anne of Cleves Museum in Lewes. 

The Case of The Duke of Brunswick vs. Harmer

In 1848 the Duke of Brunswick, then living in Paris, sent his manservant off to the British Museum to get a copy of the Weekly Despatch printed in 1830 which he believed had defamed him.  He also got a copy from the Despatch's London publisher.  

Normally the six year limitation period would have prevented the Duke from suing over a publication of many years earlier.  But the court concluded that each fresh acquisition of the newspaper by the Duke's agent constituted a new publication on which a new lawsuit could be based.  Thus the court found in the Duke's favor.  He was awarded £500, a huge sum at the time.

The case of Brunswick vs. Harmer is often cited as possible precedent in more recent English libel trials. 

A Victorian Murder Case

One man who had too much to say as he sat down to a meal was George Harmer, 26, a plasterer and petty thief.  On August 14th, 1886, he was released from Norwich Prison and a few days later went to visit a friend, who offered him breakfast.  Over his eggs and bacon Harmer confided that he intended to rob a wealthy local recluse, Henry Last, a carpenter aged 66, who lived nearby in School Lane.

The friend apparently offered no counsel, and later that same day Harmer went to Mr. Last’s house with a drawing that he asked to be made into a model.  No one knows exactly what happened next, except that the same evening Mr. Last was found battered to death in his bed.  He had been killed with a hammer and his house had been ransacked.

Harmer was known to be the carpenter’s last visitor.  After the murder he was seen flashing money around, redeeming some of the clothes he had pawned the previous day.  When he was arrested he made a full confession, but retracted it at Norwich Assizes when he was brought to trial.

When the jury were told that the murder weapon was found in a box belonging to Harmer and heard the evidence of the friend to whom he had revealed his plan, the man who came to breakfast and had too much to say was found guilty, and was hanged on Monday, December 13th, 1886, in Norwich Prison. 

Abraham Harmer on the Titanic

David Livshin, 25, a jeweller from Russia, boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a third class passenger.  He had been living in Mnachester, having started a watchmaking business there, and had recently married a Russian girl named Chyna.  He had decided to emigrate and would send for his wife later.

He had bought the ticket in the name of Abraham Harmer.  According to Captain Rostron, Mr. Harmer was one of the four people buried from the Carpathia.  He may have been the fourth peroson picked up by lifeboat 14 (if indeed there was a fourth person).  Alternatively he may have been the lifeless body referred to by Lightoller transferred from Collapsible B to lifeboat 12 during the night.

His family knew of no reason why David Livshin was travelling under the name of Abraham Harmer.  It was a name unknown to them and it could only have been assumed that he had bought the ticket from a third party.  

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