Tag Archives: obituary

The Anniversary of HV Morton’s Death

(Previously issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.282)

HV Morton and his wife, Mary, on his 80th birthday

Today, the 17th June, is the aniversary of HV Morton’s death in 1979 at his home in South Africa.

A number of obituaries appeared at the time but this one, from the Canberra Times of Saturday 30th June 1979 is one of the most touching, at once praising him for his extensive writing and his influence on others while at the same time acknowledging the sad fact that even at that time Morton was becoming ‘unfashionable’ in his home country.

Well, we know better – no one ever accused me of being fashionable!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

(Many thanks to the excellent Trove archive)


How many remember H.V. Morton?

LONG before there were sky trains and cheap fares, generations of people on the other side of the world did their travelling in Britain through the eyes of one man, H. V. Morton.

Henry Vollam Morton, author and journalist, did his job so well there was scarcely a book club or book shelf from Wagga to Waimate 40 years ago without well-thumbed copies of his travel books.

Old-time Australian journalists accumulated vast stores of knowledge of the geography and history of the British Isles from Morton’s writing.

When someone would remark on their encyclopaedic knowledge of London they would say, ‘I’ve never seen the place, but I’ve been hooked on it for 50 years from Morton’s books’.

Morton’s first book ‘The Heart of London’ was a collection of newspaper stories he wrote for the Daily Express on his return to Fleet Street from service with the Warwickshire Yeomanry in World War I.

His books on London were a taste of the success that was to come when he moved into a broader field with his first book of a series on the British Isles – ‘In Search of England’.

In the hard-up 1930s he had an unheard-of advance of £10,000 (equivalent to at least $A190,000 in today’s values) to write ‘In the Steps of the Master’, which sold something over 150,000 copies and put him into a top royalty rate of 33 per cent.

No one has figures on his total book sales for two publishers, but it must be millions. He wrote 35 books for Methuen’s.

After World War II Morton bought a fruit farm in Somerset West, in the Cape Province of South Africa, and lived there for the rest of his life.

It was strange to reflect, when his death, at the age of 86, was barely noticed in the British Press this week that if his passing had occurred 40 years ago, before the travel boom he helped to create, it would have been front-page news throughout the English-speaking world.

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In Memoriam – Peter Devenish

It is with great sadness I have to announce the death, at age 79, of Peter Devenish on Wednesday the 18th of September. Peter was the instigator (with Kenneth Fields) of the HV Morton Society and my predecceor as coordinator. He was the face and voice of the society for most of its existence and what he didn’t know about HVM wasn’t worth knowing.

The HV Morton Society was founded in 2003 to commemorate Morton and to push for a commemorative blue plaque to be erected in Morton’s home town of Ashton-under-Lyne. It was largely through Peter’s dogged determination that the campaign succeeded, despite a degree of opposition, and the HVM Society grew from that moment, becoming one of his greatest passions.

I first came to know Peter in 2005 when I joined the society and was immediately struck by his courteous and gentlemanly manner which shone from his plentiful society bulletins and every email he sent. Peter D was a mentor and friend to me, my life has been the richer for knowing him and I am saddened, more than I can say, by the news of his passing. My only regret is that, being separated by several thousand miles, I was never able to meet him face to face and shake his hand.

As well as his extended family, who he was always proud to share photographs of, Peter loved books and language and HV Morton in particular. I felt this quote from Morton, resurrecting an old adjective which could just as easily refer to Peter as to HVM and which Peter included in the society’s very first post in 2003 was particularly apt in the circumstances:

I am a librarious person. And I like the word. It suggests someone curled up in an easy chair surrounded by books. It suggests someone rising librariously from his chair to cast a librarious eye over the shelves before returning librariously to his chair to remain out of circulation for the rest of the day.”

Peter had many friends, all across the globe and typically, even in his last months, he was as concerned about being unable to continue his many correspondences as he was with his own circumstances. According to his son, Luke, Peter was chatty and cheerful right until the end, a gentleman with the hospital staff, who all adored him.

I will miss his regular, cheery emails and his reassurances about matters concerning the organising of the society – I can hardly believe I won’t be hearing from him again. Needless to say there is a great deal of similar sentiment from the HVM Society membership following the bulletin which broke the news. I have reproduced a few comments here to give just a glimpse of how greatly respected Peter Devenish was and how much his loss is mourned.

“He was my friend from schooldays on and I will miss him. He was a true gentleman, we had great times, especially enjoying our search for HV Morton as a retirement project.” (PW)

“Thanks to Peter, our long-time friend and frequent correspondent, we and countless others have found enrichment, enlightenment and lasting enjoyment in the works of HV Morton. It is comforting to know the HV Morton Society Peter founded lives on – a fitting tribute and lasting memorial to a valued friend.” (JL)

“I will miss Peter so much, he had a special place. I remember the warm welcome to the Society when I joined all those years ago, and the delight of becoming friends with someone I knew I would never meet. I really wish I could go to his funeral!” (EB)

“Peter was honest and a thoroughgoing man of the world in all things. We send our condolences to his family which we both called “The Clan”; we will miss the family photos which he shared, his genial and incisive researches and our discussions of world happenings and travel which so unfailingly awakened his curiosity and civilized assessments. He will be missed for as long as we continue to celebrate HV Morton’s wide-ranging intelligence and knowledge, and for many of the same reasons of amity and keen interest in the doings of men which Peter possessed in such memorable abundance.” (JC)

“What very sad news. When I joined the HVM Society it was Peter who welcomed me, and I felt as if I knew him.” (LHJ)

“Oh dear, oh dear, dear, dear! Somehow, stupidly, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I still have a childish belief that bad things don’t happen to good people, but they do – with regularity… What a loss to humanity, another gentle soul gone.” (DH)

“From ‘discovering’ the mere fact of Morton whilst marooned on an unfurnished canal boat, it was Peter’s enthusiasm and erudition which expanded my horizons and appreciation of Morton’s skill. I shall raise a glass of Tullibardine to him.” (RW)

“I am saddened to learn of Peter’s death. I hope that there are libraries in Heaven.” (GL)

“May Peter rest in peace – I hope he and HV are now reunited and have a lot to talk about together!” (JC)

“So long Peter. A great inspiration and friend.” (JB)

“I’m very saddened by this news. I corresponded with Peter on numerous occasions, especially in the early days of my membership of the HVM Soc. He was always witty, warm and encouraging. A lovely man.” (MP)

“A Morton man through and through… a sad loss.” (RM)

Both personally and on behalf of the HV Morton Society I would like to extend deep condolences to Peter’s family and his many friends. A loss to humanity indeed, if there were a few more like him around, the world might be a better place.

With sympathy,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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