Item 7 - Letters to brother Thomas John Morris : 1881-1891

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Letters to brother Thomas John Morris : 1881-1891


  • 1881-1891 (Creation)

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76 letters, damaged

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William Knibb Morris (1833-1912), was born at Loughton, Essex UK, son of Thomas Morris (1800-1874) and Sarah (Allard 1803-1876). He and his father sailed in the Boomerang from Liverpool to Melbourne in 1855 and arrived in Hobart by the SS City of Hobart on 24 May 1855. His brother James had emigrated earlier in 1853 with his wife Elizabeth (Bryant) and baby Thomas and worked for J.B. Mather, who sponsored Thomas and William Morris as bounty emigrants and lent money for the fare (W. Morris mentions in a letter that he had not paid Mather for the tickets). Thomas Morris got a job with R.A. Mather and William started work for H.J. Marsh & Brother's ironmongers, serving in the shop and keeping the books. They lived at first in James Morris' home with his wife, father-in-law Bryant, and the babies, William James born in December 1853 and daughter Mary Elizabeth born 13 July 1855, the first child Thomas having died in Hobart in February 1854, and friend Isaac Cash. William wrote to his mother, however, that James was charging too much for their lodging. In 1861 his mother, Sarah Morris, came to join her husband. In 1859, after a year or two in a store at Falmouth as agent of the East Coast Steam Navigation Co of which J.B. Mather was manager, James Morris went to work for J.A. Graham in his store at Swansea and in 1869 purchased the store from Graham. After eighteen months in Hobart William K. Morris ran a store at Fingal. In 1860 he was managing a store in Sydney for Mr Beamis but this was closed when the owner Mr Beamis was dying in August 1860. He then went to Gayndah in Queensland to work in a store run by Beamis' son until May 1861. In October 1861 he was back in Sydney looking for work and in November went to Orange and then Forbes, on the N.S.W. goldfields, working for a storekeeper named Curran and in 1862 he worked in South Gundagai in Gasse & Co's store. About 1864 he opened a general store at Fingal. In 1869 he married Sarah Rebecca Rothwell and they had seven children between 1870 and 1882. In 1877 he sold his Fingal store and brought his family to Hobart, where he worked for the merchant Leo Susman and later for the Hobart Mutual Benefit Society.
Morris was interested in scientific discoveries including photography, especially methods of copying photographs on paper and there are many references to scientific matters in his letters to his brother Tom, who was also interested in photography and Tom's future wife, Jane Garman was a photographer. In August 1855 Morris wrote to his brother about another method, "besides the collodion" of "photographic pictures on paper described in Mr Woods of Cheapside's little book which is a very simple and good method, and when taken they can be waxed which renders them almost equal to those taken on waxed paper". He sent his brother "a small picture taken by the above process, a positive which I transferred to a piece of paper treated with the chloride sodium in the usual way". A Hobart photographer, Walter Dickenson, might have taken him as an assistant but Morris was afraid of the risk of leaving the commercial - life for the artistic. Morris does not seem to have done much photography himself when he was working as a storekeeper in Queensland, N.S.W. and Fingal, although he bought photo-slides to send to his brother. Indeed he may not have owned a camera at that time as he borrowed Clifford's camera to photograph his parents' house at Mangana and had his children's portraits done by professional photographers. His interests turned more to the development of the electric telegraph and the telephone, electric lighting and the microscope and there are many references to developments in Tasmania and on the mainland. In 1888 he became an active member of the newly formed Photographic Society in Hobart, especially in working various kinds of lantern projectors, and in 1891 he referred to his "little camera"

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Deposited by John Morris, Balmain, NSW Feb. 1967

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Letters from William Knibb Morris to brother Thomas John Morris dated July 1881-1891 regarding, Hobart: death of Mr Matthews [?Cephas Matthews, Chief Officer of "Lufra", drowned at sea 13 Sep. 1880, age 36], Mrs Matthews and little child (January [1881]), February 1882), Edney Morris [son of James], appointed Council Clerk of Swansea at ?210 a year (June, July 1881), children Percy, Tom & Albert at Government School (July 1881), smallpox at Sydney, signalling by light flashes or helestaph (sic), steamer "Patena" (1881), Percy died of heart trouble following rheumatic fever (October 1881), Paris Electrical Exhibition (October 1881), geology - visit of Prof. Denton (January 1882), Russian warship and electric light, Mr Henry of Electric Light Co. has 2 Swans electric lamps and 2 Siemen's Palfreyman opposite - children had treat talking and singing through it - used porcelain cupboard handles as insulators (February 1882), accumulator batteries, Juvenile Industrial Exhibition in New Market, Hobart - lit by electricity (1882-83), electric lamp arrived (December 1882), sending photo of Rocking Stone on Mount Wellington (December 1882), telephones on Kents Group Island to connect lighthouse with superintendent's house (January 1883), small lamps for microscope (May 1883), Hobart Telephone Exchange opened (July 1883), nephew Henry Stephens visit and death from TB (1883-March 1884), photographer Harold Riise [Riise & Barnett Elite Studio] insolvent - Susman's selling stock - beautiful pictures (May 1885), Edney Morris Superintendent of Police Swansea (8/10/1883), railway debate (8/10/1883), earthquakes in N.E. Tasmania and damage to houses in Fingal (7/9/1883, 8/10/1883), Australian Graphic pictures printed from glass engravings - a Tasmanian invention (3/12/1883), religious revivalists in Hobart (12/65/84), daughter Ada born June 1884 (19/9/1884), undersea cable broken (19/9/1884) fear of war with Russia (May 1885), appointed accountant to Building Society at ?150 pa - glad to leave Susman's (August 1885), scientific lectures by S. Clemes of Friends School (May 1887), sending photo "pan" of Launceston taken from Cataract Hill, lenses for microscope, lantern slide show "footisconopliscope" - William managed lime light and dissolving, Photographic Society (1888 April, May, November), Royal Society Conversazione, sending photo of Baptist Tabernacle (March 1889), Albert a telegraph operator, phonograph in Melbourne (July 1890), polariscope (1890), his little camera (August 1891).

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This material is made available for personal research and study purposes under the University of Tasmania Standard Copyright Licence. For any further use permission should be obtained from the copyright owners. For assistance please contact

When reusing this material, please cite the reference number and provide the following acknowledgement:
“Courtesy of the UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections”

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HE july 2018




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