The Rev Andrew Q Morton obituary

Other lives: Minister of the Church of Scotland and a pioneer of stylometry

My father, the Rev Andrew Q Morton, who has died aged 99, was a minister of the Church of Scotland and a pioneer of stylometry, a technique that uses linguistic style to help establish authorship of anonymous or disputed documents.

Andrew’s evidence about the authors of the gospels was not appreciated by many theologians. But his skills, elaborated in Analysing for Authorship (1996), found application in court cases involving disputed police statements. Andrew provided expert evidence in the successful appeals by the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, and in the Carl Bridgewater case.

Born in Tollcross, Glasgow, Andrew was the seventh child of Alexander, a drapery warehouseman, and Janet (nee Queen). His studies at Glasgow University, which at the time allowed him to take both an MA and BSc, and ranged across maths, natural philosophy and English literature, were interrupted by wartime service in the RAF at Malvern, testing airborne radar.

Back at university he met Jean Singleton over a dispute about the cost of lunch at a Socialist Society event. In 1947 Jean married him – but she never paid up.

The following year Andrew was ordained in the Church of Scotland and the couple moved to Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, to St Andrews church, in 1949. There their three children, Alan, Susan, and Janet, were born. In 1959 they moved to Culross Abbey, Fife, where Jean and Andrew were part of the successful campaign for women to become church elders.

Andrew had undertaken further studies, in divinity, with GHC Macgregor at Glasgow, and they continued to collaborate on research in the following years.

Together, they co-authored The Structure of the Fourth Gospel (1964), using arguments about the dimensions of the papyrus sheets used by scribes. Developing statistical techniques based on the frequency of common words, Andrew examined the authorship of early Greek texts, in a pioneering use of computers in literary research. AD Booth, at Birkbeck College, London, and Sidney Michaelson, at Edinburgh University, provided both computer and intellectual support.

Machine readable texts made it easier to match a few letters on fragments of papyrus with known texts. While working with Eric Turner at University College London in the early 1970s, Andrew first tasted champagne, which became one of the delights of his long life.

Another delight was to take Mediterranean cruises to places the authors he studied had known, and where he deployed his mischievous wit. At the time of the first heart-transplant operations in the 60s, Andrew explained how the Greeks had done these operations in the theatre in Epidaurus, the seating allowing good views. Back on the cruise ship, this travesty of medical history was officially denied.

Andrew took a keen interest in his parishioners, many of whom were mining families, his sermons based on observations of daily life. He and Jean enjoyed entertaining in the manse in Culross, particularly when they could offer their guests local strawberries with champagne.

Andrew is survived by his children, Susan, Janet and me, and four grandchildren.

Alan Q Morton

The GuardianTramp

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