Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Morrow (1843–1910)

by George Parsons

This article was published:

James Morrow (1843-1910), inventor and manufacturer, was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, youngest son of Robert Morrow and his wife Ann, née Milligan. The family arrived in Melbourne in 1852 and his father opened a livery stable in Spencer Street. They moved to Fitzroy, where James and his brother Tom attended the Bell Street school and later the famous model school. James was then apprenticed to James Madders, who had a small engineering business in Melbourne. He also met Hugh Lennon. After completing his apprenticeship in 1860 Morrow became a foreman in the Carlton firm of Joseph Nicholson & Co., manufacturers of agricultural implements, drays and wagons. In the early 1860s the firm had economic difficulties and James suggested that a mower of new design be produced. The success of this machine was largely responsible for improving the firm's financial position.

Morrow also developed a double-speed reaper, which could be converted into a mower by the operation of a lever, and a combination reaper and horse-works. These and later inventions were patented in the name of James Nicholson, who gave Morrow a portable threshing plant and a team of horses valued at £300. In the industry's off-season Morrow toured the country as a contract thresher which in the late 1860s provided a welcome supplement to his income.

By 1872 Morrow had married Catherine Treahy and rented a small cottage at Carlton. He selected 320 acres (130 ha) at Shepparton, where his wife moved to fulfil the residential obligations. The selection was later increased to 1000 acres (405 ha) and controlled mainly by his wife; James visited the property on weekends. In 1879 Nicholson died and Morrow began to take out patents under his own name. In 1880 he patented a spur-gear stripper with immediate success. He refused the Soho Foundry's offer of £6000 for the patent rights, and used the patent to buy a half-share in Nicholson & Co. which then became Nicholson & Morrow. He seems to have taken a major part in the control of the firm, which achieved high profits in the 1880s.

In 1883 the Victorian government offered a prize for a successful harvester. Morrow had long been interested in such a machine; he patented a prize-winning stripper with a threshing attachment in August 1883, but the machine was not a combination harvester. Although other patents for harvesters followed that year, the most important was Morrow's patent of a stripper harvester in January 1884. With the same machine he had won £75 in the Dookie field trials in December 1883, and it was in operation two months before H. V. McKay completed his machine. The harvester patented (V3649) by Morrow in January 1884 was the first successful machine of this type.

Nicholson & Morrow's 'Union' harvester was a success but sold slowly. Farmers were wary of the new invention, and in 1901 McKay and Nicholson & Morrow each sold only fifty machines a year although both machines had proved themselves in operation at the Victorian government trials. At Jung Jung and Numurkah in December 1885 Morrow's machine was awarded £110 and McKay's machine £100. Morrow continued to push the harvester even when his family advised him to abandon it, and much of the firm's profits from other sources seem to have been sunk into the venture.

Aged 67 Morrow died on 3 September 1910 at Ascot Vale and the Nicholson family withdrew its capital from the partnership. Robert Morrow tried to continue the business, but his five brothers and three sisters could not agree and the firm was declared an inessential industry and closed in 1914. Despite attempts to revive the firm after World War I the market had been won by McKay.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Aug 1937
  • C. R. Crocker, The Combination Harvester: Inventions, Patents and Trials in Australia 1879-1886 (Institute of Applied Science, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

George Parsons, 'Morrow, James (1843–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Tyrone, Ireland


3 September, 1910 (aged ~ 67)
Ascot Vale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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