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John Morris (1830–1915)

In the Days When Our Beards Were Black
Random Recollections
by John Morris 

At the Pioneers' Dinner at Wyong on Saturday night, the following contribution was read, written by Mr John Morris, one of the oldest residents of the district:—

I was born in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, on May 6th, 1830. I can remember going to the Infant School under St. James' Church. There was a vault under the church, and when we misbehaved ourselves the teacher would threaten to put us in it. That was enough to quieten us for a long time. I also remember when they used to hold race meetings in Hyde Park. When I was about 12 years of age, I was apprenticed to Christy Riley to learn the boot trade at Liverpool. My brother Joe was learning to be a blacksmith in Sydney. When Christmas time approached, Joe would walk up to Liverpool, and then we would foot it to St. Alban's, near Wiseman's Ferry, to father's place, to spend the Christmas. The first election I remember was between Bowman and Fitzgerald at Windsor, and Bowman won by 1 vote. I also remember an election between a man named Panton and Bowman's brother. Panton beat him, and he celebrated the event by roasting a bullock and two sheep, and also supplied free beer. A large table was fixed up in a paddock, and we had a good time. The band was playing, and dancing was kept up until daylight.

After I had served my apprenticeship with Riley, I worked at my trade in Sydney until I got married. That was in 1851. About that time the diggings broke out, and I went with my brothers to the Turon, where we did very well, and got a nice bit of gold. But Christmas was coming on, and we came home to spend the holidays, after which we returned to the diggings. But when we got back we didn't know the place again. The whole country was turned upside down. The farmers who stayed at home reaped the best harvest. Oaten hay went up to £1 per cwt., and corn 10s per bushel.

Soon after this we heard about the fine land around Brisbane Water, and we decided to have a look at some of it. My father, Mike and Bob Smith from Wilberforce, and one or two of my brothers (myself included) rode over from the McDonald River. We fell in with a man named Tommy Dorrington, who was living on a farm in Jilliby, known now as Andy Gilkerson's farm. Dorrington showed me a lot of land in different parts of the district. My brother and I decided to take up land in Jilliby. Mike and Bob Smith took a farm each at Tuggerah. This must have been about the year 1859. You had to get the land surveyed and buy it by auction at Gosford. £1 per acre was the price, and we got it for that cash down.

We were not long in making a start, clearing the farms and building houses such as they were. But we soon struck trouble. We had to ride to Gosford for rations, and over to Hargreaves for beef. Talk about roads! Hardly a bridge on the whole length of it. The first beef we got off Hargreaves was cheap enough, for he refused to take the money for it. 'No,' he said, 'You must grow me some corn to fatten my pigs.' I can't say if he ever got paid.

At that time there was a camp of Chinaman fishing on Tuggerah Lakes. They used to smoke the fish and send it to the Sydney market, where it was sold by the ton. Five of the Chinamen gave out a challenge to row any five white men. My brothers, Joe, and George, and two fishermen, and myself, took them on. We had a whaleboat and they had a light skiff. John Tow, the head Chow, steered for them, and Charlie the fisherman for us. We started from the shore out into the lake to a stake with a flag on it, and back. The water was very rough, and after we got going we fouled them, and I thought they would have killed us with the paddles. Anyhow, they led until we were nearly to the winning post, when we put all our strength out and passed them. They took it in good part, and treated us to a splendid dinner. Jimmy Waters was there, playing the fiddle, and we stayed with them all night.

Well, by this time I could see that farming wouldn't pay in Jilliby, so I cleared back to Sydney. Joe and George went down to Ourimbah to work at Scott's mill. I did not stay long in Sydney, and went from there to the McDonald River, where I remained about 12 months. But I had a liking for Brisbane Water, and came back and lived at Blue Gum Flat, now called Ourimbah. That must have been about the year 1863. Sir John Robertson had passed his Free Selection Act, and I selected 40 acres on the north side of Ourimbah Creek, opposite Scott's sawmill. Several others followed me, and took up a selection each, and I can say that is where I spent the happiest days of my life. I started to clear and build a house on the selection as soon as it was surveyed. When I got settled, I went to work for Mr L. Scott. My duties were to look after the saddle horses and gardening. Mr Scott was a good sport. He had a Cricket Club on the place, and was a very good player himself, but some of his men could play with the best you could find to-day. For instance, take Bob Izzard. I never saw a man that could beat him behind the wicket. And Bob's bowling! Why, from the time the ball left his hand until your wicket was down it would break about half a dozen times. I would like to see the man that could get a hundred off Bob. There were other good players, Johnny Robley, Ned Hawkins, Jimmy Buscombe, Georgie Taylor, and a score of others. I used to play shortslip, and I promise you nothing ever went by me. Now those saddle horses of Mr Scott's could all race a bit, and many a good day's sport we had at Gosford, with Georgie Taylor in the saddle. Tod Sloane wasn't in it with George. After the mill closed down Mr Scott went to live in Sydney. We returned him to Parliament as the member for the district, a position he occupied up to the time of his death. Mr Edward Walmsley was the next man to go into the timber trade on a large scale. Edward had horse teams, bullock teams, and his own vessel, and employed a large number of men.

Citation details

'Morris, John (1830–1915)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


6 May, 1830
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


September, 1915 (aged 85)
Gosford, New South Wales, Australia

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