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William Morgan Orr (?–1843)

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William Morgan Orr (d.1843), merchant and landowner, sailed from London in the Cyprus and arrived at Hobart Town via Sydney and Launceston in August 1825. With recommendations from the Colonial Office and assets of more than £3000 in goods, he was granted 2000 acres (809 ha) in the Hamilton district. His main business, however, was commerce and he rapidly accumulated great wealth. Although he was seriously disturbed by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's administration and Press Licensing Act, he generally managed to keep out of colonial politics. As a merchant and shipping agent he had a store on the old wharf at Hobart. With small ships like the Richmond Packet and William IV he organized much sealing and bay whaling, and by 1831 he was shipping large quantities of whale-oil to London. By 1837 he had whaling stations at Recherche and Storm Bays and became prominent as an investor in large ships for the deep-sea fisheries. In 1838 his 289-ton Maria Orr was launched, the first full-rigged ship built in Hobart; the government presented a suit of sails and Orr's enterprise was applauded as a benefit to the colony. On 3 June 1835 at St David's Church of England he married Maria, the daughter of Michael Lackey of O'Brien's Bridge. They had a well-appointed home at Humphrey Rivulet near New Town.

Most of Orr's profits from trade and whaling were invested in land. His holdings increased by purchase and lease to some 80,000 acres (32,375 ha) in various parts of the island. When depression struck in 1841 he was one of the biggest and wealthiest merchants in Hobart. Caught with many bad debts, he had to solicit aid from friends to meet his commitments. When he was riding home one afternoon his horse was frightened by a gang of boys and bolted. It stumbled outside the Waggon and Horses Inn; Orr had a violent fall and fractured his skull. He was unconscious for three days and died on 2 November 1843. His death spread a gloom over Hobart that was rarely equalled, for he was highly respected by all classes for his sincerity. Although his probate was sworn at £26,000, his death financially embarrassed some of his friends, but by 1846 all his creditors were fully paid after part of his land was sold by the sheriff for £20,000. His home at New Town was sold for £2400.

Orr was survived by two children and by his widow, who married Charles D'A. Lempriere on 13 May 1847. His brother, Alexander, who arrived in Hobart in November 1828, also became a merchant of wealth and high character; in 1846 he was nominated briefly to a vacancy in the Legislative Council. At St John's Church of England, Launceston, on 7 May 1839 he married Harriet Byron. In December 1855 Alexander Orr sailed for England in the Heather Bell with his wife and family.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 4, 6
  • Hobart Town Courier, 3 Nov 1843
  • Austral-Asiatic Review, 3 Nov 1843.

Citation details

'Orr, William Morgan (?–1843)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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