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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Asher, Morris (1818–1909)

by M. Z. Forbes

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Morris Asher (1818-1909), pioneer businessman and parliamentarian, was born on 3 June 1818 at Hackney, London, the son of Isaac Benjamin Asher and his wife Mary. With little education and few prospects, a roving disposition impelled Asher to search for fortune in Australia. He sailed steerage in the barque Bardaster and reached Sydney on 3 March 1839. As a confirmed gambler he found it hard to settle down and decided to open country stores at Wombat and Grenfell. Soon afterwards he left for Wellington, New Zealand, where he traded as a store-keeper and fitted up whaling stations at Queen Charlotte Sound and Kapiti Island. In his 'Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian', published in the Sydney Mail, July-August 1907, Asher claimed that he made twenty-three trips importing sheep and merchandise from New South Wales to New Zealand and that he stopped his voyages after almost all of a shipment of sheep was washed overboard. He also served in the Wellington militia, recruited to protect settlers after the outbreak of the Maori disturbances.

Asher returned to Sydney in 1846 to marry Rebecca Levey and then settled at Albury where he built three hotels, opened a general store and established a boiling-down works and a flour-mill. He represented the Hume in the Legislative Assembly after winning the election of June 1859 by only three votes. Supporting the liberal Cowper ministry, Asher described himself as a plain dealing common sense man who ran his own business successfully. The squatters, he claimed, hampered the progress of Albury and were the enemies of the country. Although he told his constituents that he had 'reared a family on the banks of the Murray River', encouraged the town's progress and defended the working classes, he was mistrusted by some electors who reacted by heaping personal indignities on him. The local press drew attention to his lack of education and to his immoderate prejudice against the squatters; one correspondent even called him an 'alien adventurer' and a 'Jew pedlar'. In December 1860 Asher failed to win support at the polls, a reverse which he attributed to the bushranger, Dan Morgan, whom he claimed had sworn vengeance against him, made travel unsafe and prevented a full election campaign. Asher again contested the Hume seat in 1865 without success and thereafter made no impact on politics, although he opposed the extension of civil rights to the miners of the Lachlan goldfields where he kept a store in the early 1860s. In 1877-78 he was an appraiser of improved crown lands and then became an auctioneer in Sydney. With his propensity for speculation he lost money by dabbling in shares and freeholds.

As one of the oldest surviving former members of the assembly, Asher was invited to address the gathering at the jubilee of responsible government in 1906. He died at Potts Point on 29 October 1909. He was predeceased by his wife in 1905 and survived by seven sons and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Loveday and A. W. Martin, Parliament Factions and Parties (Melb, 1966)
  • M. Z. Forbes, ‘The Jews of the Lachlan District, 1861-63’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, vol 4, part 1, Dec 1954, pp 7-21
  • M. Z. Forbes, ‘Jewish Personalities in the Movement for Responsible Government in New South Wales’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, vol 4, part 6, Dec 1957, pp 307-20
  • Border Post (Albury), Apr-July 1859
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Oct, 1 Nov 1909.

Citation details

M. Z. Forbes, 'Asher, Morris (1818–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 7 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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