Moses Harris

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Moses Harris (15 April 1730 – c. 1788) was an English entomologist and engraver.[1]

Moses Harris

Contributions to science[edit]

In the Natural System of Colours (between 1769 and 1776) he examined the work of Isaac Newton and tried to reveal the multitude of colours which can be created from three basic ones. Natural System of Colours was published again in 1811, this time edited by Thomas Martyn and dedicated to the second President of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West. As a naturalist, Harris wished to understand the relationships between the colours, and how they are coded, and his book attempted to explain the principles, "materially, or by the painters art", by which further colours can be produced from red, yellow and blue. Harris showed what is now known as the subtractive mixing of colours, with his most important observation showing that black will be formed through the superimposition of the three basic colours.

Moses Harris' 'colour wheel' showning how a multitude of colours could be made from just three.

In 2013 a copy of the 1811 edition of Natural System of Colours was included in the exhibition Regency Colour and Beyond, 1785-1850 at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Curator Alexandra Loske produced a blog post about this rare book on the Royal Pavilion's official blog. Harris also discovered petrified wood.

In 1778, Harris discovered the Muscina levida [assimilis] species of fly. Two years later in 1780, he followed with a discovery of the Muscina prolapsa species of fly.[2]

Pictures of Muscina prolapsa and Muscina levida flies[edit]


  • Natural System of Colours (between 1769 and 1776)
  • Natural System of Colours (edited by Thomas Martyn, London, 1811)
  • The Aurelian or natural history of English insects (1766, 2nd edn 1775)
  • The English Lepidoptera, or, the Aurelian's Pocket Companion (1775)
  • An Exposition of English Insects Including the Several Classes of Neuroptera, Hymenoptera, & Diptera, or Bees, Flies, & Libellulae (1776[-80])
  • Copper plates for Dru Drury's Illustrations of Natural History.


Harris was survived by his wife, and a son, John Harris (1767–1832) the watercolour painter.[3]


  1. ^ Mays, Robert (2004). "Harris, Moses (1730–c.1788)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12413. Retrieved 2012-02-06.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Muscina." Integrated Taxonomic Information System. 11 Mar. 2009 <>
  3. ^ Mays, Robert. "Harris, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12413.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

External links[edit]