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The Harper Orphans

Following the untimely deaths of parents Katie Harper (nee Breakspear) in 1924 and then Fred Harper in 1925, the four children of the family, Edwin, Fred, William and Josephine were left orphaned. This is their story assembled from the Müller's Orphanage files.

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Josephine, Edwin, Fred and William Harper: Orphans at Müller's Orphanage, Bristol

Following the untimely deaths of parents Katie Harper (nee Breakspear) in 1924 and then Fred Harper in 1925, the four children of the family, Edwin, Fred, William and Josephine were left orphaned. William Arthur Harper, Fred senior's brother and the children's uncle, appears to have assumed responsibility for the children. Four days after Fred's death, William wrote to Müller's Orphanage in Bristol, England seeking a placement for them. In his letter, he says [Cit.1]:

Dear Sir,

I am writing for particulars regarding getting children into your homes. My brother having recently died rather suddenly on the 8th of this month, his wife having predeceased him about 18 months before and now there are 4 children left destitute - 3 boys and a girl. The eldest being a boy 12 and the youngest a girl 2½. The mother died at 16 Herbert St. Gloucester and the father at 16 London Rd; they would be better known in the district of Herbert St. as they had lived there some time. The children are still at 16 London Rd., Gloucester.

Awaiting a reply I remain, yours faithfully
W.A. Harper

It is unclear at this time who is actually looking after the children as William gives his address as 20 Stone Cottages, Sudbrook, Near Chepstow, some 45 miles from the city of Gloucester. From further correspondence regarding Edwin Harper (below), it would appear that perhaps the children were being cared for by The Church Army although this is not known for certain.

Some correspondence is missing from the Müller's file but it is clear that Müller's wrote to William and others, asking them to provide references for all the children from their school, Sunday school and doctor. In addition, William was asked to produce all the necessary marriage, birth and death certificates pertaining to the children and their parents. This letter dated 16 October 1925 is one of the replies. It was sent by Mrs A Tyrell, who appears to be the President of a Church Commitee. [Cit.2]:

"Dear Sir

With reference to letter received today, I really could not give you any information regarding applicant. I don't know them personaly, I have only met the wife. According to what she told me, they would not be in a position to keep the children. I knew the mother of the children through her being a member of a womens meeting in connection with our Church of which I am president. The Secretary of our Sunday School tells me the children have attended well, only missing about 3 times in 3 years. I think they would turn out nice boys with care and attention. They have missed a mother's care and I do hope that you will be able to have them admitted to your homes. I do consider it a very deserving case.

I remain, yours faithfully
(Mrs) A Tyrell."

In a further letter from Müller's to William Harper, dated 19 October 1925, William is advised that 3 of the children were suitable for acceptance but he was asked to consider the fact that Edwin was above the normal age of acceptance. (Written in pencil on Müller's copy of this letter, is the following text. "20th. Corrected to four but sending papers for three".)[Cit.3]

Dear Sir,

I am directed to say that we are registering the three four children for consideration if suitable for admission here. At the same time, I am to ask if it would not be possible for you to keep the eldest boy, Edwin, as he is over the age for boys to be admitted here.
Kindly note pencilled remarks on papers to avoid undue correspondence.

Yours faithfully,

It would appear that the Church Army in Gloucester were approached by Müller's to see if they could take Edwin, but in their reply dated 26 october 1925, they said "... we cannot fix up the boy ourselves" and they asked that he be accepted by Müller's.[Cit.4] Also on 19 October 1925, a document was submitted to all of the immediate family which was to be signed by the aunts, uncles and grand-parents of the children. Each of them is expected to agree to the following terms [Cit.5]:

"We, the undersigned, hereby bind ourselves that in the case of any circumstances which in the opinion of the Directors render it desirable to call upon the relatives or friends of the Orphans Fred Harper, Wm Jonas Harper, Josephine Mary Harper, to resume or take charge of them, we will receive them".

A similar document was signed by the same persons on 29 October 1925 in respect of Edwin Horatio Harper, the eldest brother, who had by now been accepted for admission. [Cit.6]


  • Cit. 1: Letter from William Harper to Müller's Orphanage, 12 Oct 1925.
  • Cit. 2: Letter from Mrs A Tyrell regarding request for references, 16 Oct 1925.
  • Cit. 3: Letter from Müller's accepting 3 of the children and then amended to 4, 19 Oct 1925.
  • Cit. 4: Letter from the Church Army to Müller's advisng that they caanot take Edwin, 26 Oct 1925.
  • Cit. 5: Terms of Reference sent to immediate family relating to admittance of all children except Edwin, 19 Oct 1925
  • Cit. 6: Terms of Reference sent to immediate family relating to admittance of Edwin Harper, 29 Oct 1925.
  • Cit. 7: Letter from William Harper to Müller's apologising for delay.
  • Cit. 8: Letter from Müller's to William with instructions for bringing the children for reception, 25 Nov 1925.
  • Cit. 9: Signed Contract returned to Müller's by William Harper, 6 Dec 1925.
  • Cit.10: Appendix 'Z', Rules and Regulations, 6 Dec 1925.
  • Cit.11: Letter from Josephine Harper to Mary Jones, 9 May 1935.
  • Cit.12: Müller's Orphanage Discharge Documents for Edwin Harper, 28 Jun 1929.
  • Cit.13: Müller's Orphanage Discharge Documents for Fred Harper, 5 Nov 1932.
  • Cit.14: Müller's Orphanage Discharge Documents for William Jonas Harper, 12 Sep 1934.
  • Cit.15: Müller's Orphanage Discharge Documents for Josephine Mary Harper, 29 Feb 1940.
  • Photos: Postcards of Müller's Orphanage.


The Harper Orphans file was made available to me by The Müllers Foundation, Bristol, England.
Photos of Müller's Orphanages reproduced by kind permission of © Bygone Bristol

Owner/Source RM
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Folio version v10.1.1.10 (30 Mar 2016)
Linked to Edwin Herbert Horatio Harper; William Jonas Harper; Fred Harper; Josephine Mary Harper
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