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Morris, Augustus (1820–1895)

by Alan Barnard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Augustus Morris (1820?-1895), pastoralist and politician, was born in Van Diemen's Land, son of Augustus Morris and his wife Constantia, daughter of Thomas Hibbins. In 1820 Morris senior, a former convict, occupied grazing land under licence at Hanging Sugar Loaf near Ross, and owned the inn, punt and a farm at Cove Point.

In 1835 Morris interrupted his schooling at the Hobart Town Academy to accompany John Aitken and Henry Thompson on their five-week exploration around Port Phillip, where in 1837 he joined Hugh Murray junior on his Lake Colac station to learn sheep-raising. Resale to the Royal Bank of a station he had bought on the northern end of the lake brought Morris into contact with Benjamin Boyd in 1842. On his behalf Morris explored the salt bush country of the Riverina, from Urana and Deniliquin along the Edward and Billabong to the Murrumbidgee junction, and took up runs. He was one of the early advocates of the value of salt bush country for sheep. He was later employed by William Charles Wentworth in the management of Tala, Yangar, Nap Nap and Paika stations that he had taken up for Wentworth. A syndicate consisting of Morris, T. S. Mort, Thomas Holt and T. W. Smart acquired those properties from Wentworth in 1853; within months Morris bought out the rest of the syndicate at a price 30 per cent above what it had paid. In 1849 he bought Callandoon station in Queensland; there he used only Aboriginals as stockmen and Chinese as hut-keepers. In the decade from 1853 Morris greatly increased his pastoral and other assets, using credit liberally. The decline in the meat market and drought in 1864-65 led to forced sale of his stations. He was bankrupted in 1866 but released next year.

Morris was member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1851-56 for the pastoral districts of Liverpool Plains and Gwydir, and in 1859-64 represented Balranald in the Legislative Assembly. Though most financial business connected with his stations was done in Melbourne after the late 1850s, he did not support the squatter-led movement for Riverina's independence or its union with Victoria. His legislative interests were narrowly pastoral. He advocated formation of a native police force, eradication of noxious weeds and native dogs and in 1863-64 introduced the Prevention and Cure of Scab in Sheep Act.

In 1857, when James Harrison of Geelong was taking out his second patent for ice-making, Morris tried to persuade Victorian stockowners to raise a £100,000 prize to encourage the use of artificial cold to preserve fresh meat for transport to Europe. Though ridiculed he persisted in this eccentricity. In 1865 he met E. D. Nicolle, who within a year produced drawings of refrigeration equipment thought to be adequate. Morris tried unsuccessfully to launch a public subscription to finance construction of an experimental model, but it was not until T. S. Mort backed them in the summer of 1866-67 that work began. Morris's belief in preservation by cold was vindicated by successful trials of the machine in September 1867 and he soon left for England to investigate competing methods and popularize the idea of frozen meat. An English patent for the process was taken out in the names of Mort and Nicolle by William Mort. Although Morris remained a publicist for refrigeration he took no further direct part in the long search for a system suited to ocean transport.

Morris was an executive commissioner for New South Wales at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. He used the position imaginatively and diligently to promote trade between the two countries, writing numerous pamphlets and newspaper articles on subjects ranging from tobacco culture and railway operation to the administration of schools. He became the Sydney agent for the Edge-Moor Iron Co. of Wilmington, Delaware, and obtained for it the contract for a long bridge over the Shoalhaven River in which it used techniques new to Australia. He was also agent for the Baldwyn Locomotive Co. and procured rolling stock for the government. In 1879 he was secretary for the Sydney International Exhibition and in 1884 was honorary secretary for New South Wales for the Bordeaux Wine Exhibition and a member of the Calcutta Exhibition Commission.

In the ferment accompanying the first major review of the colony's land laws since the 1861 Land Acts, Morris and George Ranken were appointed by the Alexander Stuart ministry to inquire into the situation. Their report, printed as a parliamentary paper in May 1883, condemned indiscriminate free selection and proposed reforms along lines earlier suggested by Stuart and later embodied in the 1884 Crown Lands Act. From 1886 he was official assignee. He died from heart disease at Manly on 29 August 1895 and was buried in the Anglican cemetery. He was survived by two sons from his marriage to Sarah Merciana Charlotte Bailey, two other sons having died.

Select Bibliography

  • In the House of Lords, Between W. C. Wentworth … and J. C. Lloyd … (np, c1862, copy ML)
  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883, 2, 77
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sept 1875.

Citation details

Alan Barnard, 'Morris, Augustus (1820–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morris-augustus-4250/text6867, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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