Thomas Leader Harman was born in New Orleans in 1814 and moved with his family to England in c.1821, and was latterly educated at John Bullar’s school in Southampton. His father died in 1823, leaving considerable property in New Orleans. The property was eventually sold and the proceeds distributed to his children. Thomas transferred most of his share of the capital to England, but left some tied up in shares and New Orleans property. After marrying in 1834, he lived for a time in Torquay and then at Hendon House in Middlesex. His inheritance allowed him to live in some style at both of these locations. He arrived with his family in Southampton in 1839, leasing Westwood House as his family home.
His wealth and political leanings made him the ideal person to turn to when the local Liberal newspaper, the Hampshire Independent, ran into financial difficulties. Harman bought the paper in October 1840. He also became a leading figure in Liberal politics in the town.
Financial difficulties forced him in 1841 to move from Westwood House to the smaller Avenue House in Rockstone Place, the Harman family being its first occupants. In 1842 he was obliged to leave Southampton to return to New Orleans to give personal attention to his financial affairs, which steadily worsened over the next few years. He returned to Southampton briefly in 1846 to deal with newspaper business (he still owned the Hampshire Independent) and then returned permanently to England in 1847, living first at Winchester and then in 1848 moving his family to 17 Carlton Crescent. He resumed his position as a leading Liberal figure in the town, and was particularly close to Richard Andrews and Timothy Falvey. In 1851 he helped Andrews entertain the celebrated exiled Hungarian revolutionary Louis Kossuth during his visit to Southampton.
He achieved a number of official positions including Commissioner of the Waterworks and Borough Auditor. He was elected to the town council in 1850. He was the first president of the County of Hants Freehold Land Society, which in 1852 developed part of the Shirley House estate. One of the new roads, Harman Place (formerly situated on the north side of Mousehole Lane), was named after him.
In the 1850s his financial situation deteriorated and with his debts mounting he was forced to sell the Hampshire Independent in 1959. In June he left Southampton for Boston, USA where he spent the rest of his life. The exact date of his death is not known, but was probably in the 1890s.
‘Thomas Leader Harman: a gentleman of fortune in mid-nineteenth century Southampton’, by Richard Preston in Southampton Local History Forum Journal, no. 16, Winter 2010, p3-27. (HS/h)
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