John Morton, painter of the original likeness of the Poet, was born in Paisley in 1775. He received the common education of a tradesman's son, and was brought up to the trade of a weaver. He possessed considerable taste for drawing and painting, and a genius for mechanism. His taste for the Fine Arts led him to form ornamental figures to be wrought in the weaving of cloth, and his ingenuity enabled him to make improvements on the weaving loom and implements. He also tried his hand at portrait and landscape painting, and produced specimens fair enough for a self-taught artist. He belonged to the Baptist Church, Storie Street, and took an active interest in the affairs of the congregation; he was also one of the Exhorters in the Church, and precentor to the Congregation.
Mr. Morton being an acquaintance of the Tannahill family, and no likeness having been taken of the Poet in his lifetime, he, with the sanction of the relatives, made a delineation of the features of the Bard the day after his decease. It was a four-inch miniature pencil profile likeness, and it lay over in that state for several years until a proposal was made to publish an engraving of it. It was then carefully examined and retouched by Mr. Morton, under the advice of the Poet's brothers, James and Matthew Tannahill, and with the assistance of Mr. William Porteous, teacher of drawing in Paisley. On being completed, the portrait was pronounced by the brothers and by persons who had been acquainted with the Poet to be a true and striking likeness of Robert Tannahill. All the engravings, original paintings, and busts of Tannahill were either copied from this likeness, or taken from copies. And although the public are chiefly indebted to Mr. Morton for preserving the only authentic likeness of Tannahill, yet extremely little has been said respecting the versatile genius of the painter.
John Morton, while engaged as an operative weaver, invented the barrel revolving ten box lay, but it was shortly thereafter superseded by another invention, the perpendicular sliding or drop ten box lay. About 1812 he entered the evening class of Mr. William Porteous, teacher of drawing, Inkle Street, Paisley, and received instructions in the art of pattern designing. Having made considerable proficiency, he was engaged as an assistant with Mr. Porteous, and continued in his employment for two years. He then commenced business on his own account. In these days flower drawers for manufacturers' designs were considered capable of Portrait and Landscape painting, which they executed at their leisure hours. John Morton drew a view of the mansion of Mr. Daniel Macfarlane, Canal Bank, and also a view of the Town of Paisley. About 1819 he commenced the business of manufacturing and tambouring or embroidering. With the view of facilitating the work, Mr. Morton invented a tambouring machine, which was wrought nearly on the same principle as the sewing machine of the present day. He removed to Glasgow to accommodate his chief customers, who carried on business in that city, and there he added the fringing of shawls to his business, for which he invented a machine to facilitate the work. He had no children, but his wife was a willing and valuable assistant in working out these inventions. Having acquired a competency, he disposed of his business and machines about 1831 or 1832. He retired to Dunoon to live at his ease, and we recollect meeting in company Mr. Morton and Mr. James Tannahill, the poet's brother, at Baggieburn, Dunoon, in 1834, and conversing with them. Mr. Morton, now of Marchburn, had no business to distract his mind, yet his mind was more troubled than ever. His active spirit could not rest in retirement, and he devoted his whole time and means to the whims of his genius. Painting, Poetry, and Music, were now commenced in earnest. He also painted a miniature likeness of himself similar to that of TANNAHILL, which is still in existence.  Poetry next engaged his attention, and, being a native of Paisley, he was, of course, a born poet. He wrote songs, composed music for them, and sung them himself. He purchased a set of musical glasses, became a proficient player upon them, and frequently entertained his friends with a tune. Musical instruments, he was of opinion, were not properly constructed, and accordingly he commenced the making of all kinds of musical instruments with improvements for his own use. While in Glasgow, Mr. Morton conceived the idea of constructing a box of music to be called “The Universal Harmonica,” an instrument to combine a full band of musicians playing upon wind and stringed instruments. He wrought at this wonderful invention in Dunoon for ten years, but failed in bringing it to perfection. His idol, instead of producing universal harmony was a musical Babel, and was thrown aside. Wood turning next took up his attention, and he turned out many neat and pretty ornaments from all kinds of wood, brass, bones, iron, and stone. Being near sighted, he made spectacles to fit his own eyes, and having accomplished this successfully, he com-menced making glasses for other people. During the two last years of John Morton's life, he was principally engaged in Daguerreotyping, a name given to the original photographic process introduced by its inventor M. Daguerre in 1839.
On 12th August, 1875, we made a pilgrimage to the Parish Church yard of Dunoon, and saw the monumental tombstone erected to the memory of the Painter of the original portrait of TANNAHILL. It had a LYRE cut in bold relief upon the pediment with the following inscription below—
IN MEMORY OF
WHO DIED 30TH SEPTEMBER, 1851,
AGED 75 YEARS.
IS ERECTED OVER HIS REMAINS,
BY A FEW FRIENDS,
AS A TRIBUTE OF RESPECT AND ESTEEM
FOR HIS MANY ESTIMABLE QUALITIES.
ENGRAVINGS OF TANNAHILL.
The first copperplate engraving of TANNAHILL'S profile portrait shewing the left side was published by John Lawrence, jun., bookseller, Paisley, on 1st April, 1819, and the same portrait, is the frontispiece of the Harp of Renfrewshire published that year. The names “J. Morton,” and “R. Scott, sculpt., Edin.,” are engraved on it. Four editions of this portrait have been published with each of the editions of 1822, 1825, 1838, and 1846, of Tannahill's works, two of them shewing the right side, the next the left side, as in the original, and the remaining one the front or facial view of the Poet. The portrait in this volume is the same as in the Edition of 1838, and is considered the best likeness of Tannahill.
Two full bust size portraits of TANNAHILL in oil were painted from Morton's drawing, both said to be original paintings, but we suppose the originality consisted in the size and the oil colours. One was painted by Mr. William Beith, flower drawer, Paisley, a member of, and for the Paisley Literary and Convivial Association. Beith was born in Paisley on 17th August, 1811, the Association instituted in 1814, the painting executed about 1833, and he died on 14th September, 1853. On the club dissolving, about 1856, this painting, along with several other paintings of celebrated poets and the relics of the club, were sold. The Tannahill painting was purchased by Mr. William MacKenzie, governor of the Paisley Hospital. It was exhibited by Dr. Taylor on the centenary day of the Poet's birth, and much admired by the thousands who passed the doctor's residence.
The other was painted by Mr. Thomas Carswell, a Greenock artist, for Mr. Marshall of Ladyburn, Greenock, who had been a schoolmate of TANNAHILL. This was partly done from the engraved portrait in the Harp of Renfrewshire, and the remembrance by Marshall of his old school-fellow. We have been informed it is a good likeness, and several copies have been taken from it. Mr. Marshall carried on business at 43 Moss Street, Paisley, 55 years ago.
BUST OF TANNAHILL.
In 1873, Daniel Richmond, Esq., M.D., presented to the Paisley Free Museum a bust of TANNAHILL executed in 1845 under the supervision of the Poet's nearest relations and friends, and which had received the imprimatur of the Artist who had drawn the Portrait of TANNAHILL. That bust was the chef d' ceuvre of the late John Fillans, sculptor, and the following holograph draft of a letter by Mr. Fillans to the Doctor was found among the papers of the sculptor after his death, giving his own account of the circumstances connected with the modelling of the bust.
“Dr. Richmond,—Sir, In compliance with your request, I have noted down a few incidents which occurred while I was modelling the bust of ROBERT TANNAHILL, one of the sweetest minstrels who ever strung the lyre. His beautiful songs have added a lustre to the lyrics of his native land. Therefore, it may be somewhat satisfactory to the admirers of the bard to get a detailed account of the manner in which I accomplished the arduous but pleasant task; also, to know the opinions of those who were his contemporaries,—some of whom have passed away from amongst us, and some are still living,—who gave me their opinion of the bust while I was progressing with it. I have no doubt they will give their testimony if required.
“In the year 1845, my brother James, the sculptor, had extensive commissions in the West of Scotland. Amongst them was the bust of the philanthropic and indefatigable John Alston, who spent much of his valuable time in mitigating the sufferings and elevating the mind of the indigent blind. It was executed in marble, and placed in the Blind Asylum in Glasgow; and with the view of facilitating those commissions, he requested me to come from London to assist him, so that it might enable him to return to his study in London much sooner, for the purpose of working out in marble those works of art which he modelled in Scotland. He had his temporary study in Glasgow at that period, while we resided in Paisley. While I was there, I resolved to model the bust of TANNAHILL; therefore, I embraced the opportunity of gaining all the information I could get concerning the features of the poet's face. I was informed that there was no likeness of him except the profile likeness taken by John Morton while Tannahill was lying dead. Mr. Morton was an amateur, and had but little practice; however, he knew the bard well when alive, and did all he could to make it like him. Still, it had its defects. I had a strong desire to model a bust of him while I could get the opinions of those who knew him, and for that purpose I got introduced to Mr. Matthew Tannahill, the poet's brother, who very kindly gave me all the information he could. He pointed out the defects in the engraving of the profile by Morton, and vice-versa, consequently it enabled me to block out the bust before I showed it to him; and when he saw it, he was astonished at the progress I had made. That encouraged me to proceed with it. He kindly requested me to model it in his house: by so doing, I profited much from the remarks made by Mrs. Tannahill, who had a very vivid recollection of the poet's features. When I had made the likeness to please them, I took it down to Dunoon, and showed it to Mr. John Morton, who recognised the likeness at once, and said, ‘This is TANNAHILL ; I am quite delighted with it ; however, you must own that had I not taken the first likeness of him, you could never have taken that one.' I replied, ‘I am quite willing to give you all the praise ; all that I want to know is how far I have succeeded in making a bust of him, which requires to be seen in every view.’ ‘Well,’ he replied, it is like in every view, and it is invaluable to the world as a likeness of ROBERT TANNAHILL.’ ”
The document, of which the above is a copy, presented to the Museum, is the holograph of John Fillans.
Dr. Richmond also presented the “Tannahill Bracket,” a work of art of great merit and beauty, executed by Miss Wilhelmina Fillans, daughter of Mr. James Fillans. The architectural part of this bracket was designed by Mr. William Stewart, architect and poet, the floral part was designed by Miss Fillans, and the whole modelled by her. The floral portion is most elaborate, embracing a nest with a laverock feeding her young brood, surrounded by siller saughs, feathery brackens, seggans, crawflowers, &c.- Miss Fillans had a laverock's nest and the photograph of every flower, frond, and leaf meant to be represented gathered from the Braes o' Gleniffer, constantly before her eyes. The bust, letter, and bracket were handed over to the Free Museum, and can be seen there.