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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Henry Morris

Born: 1814; Died: 1894; Married: Hannah [Cooke]

Henry  Morris

Henry Morris was born in 1814 in Bath, England. He was the son of Henry Morris and Mary (nee White). His story as a Ginninderran is of a life turned around and opportunities firmly grasped after a troubled start.

In April 1832 Henry Morris and three accomplices were charged with 'having burglariously broken open the dwelling house of Benjamin Tilley and stolen calf-skins and other articles, his property, at Trowbridge.' They were committed to Fisherton Gaol and they were found guilty three months later. Henry received a death penalty and a sentence of one-month flogging for a previous offence. The death penalty was commuted to 'transportation for life.' He was dispatched to Australia on the convict ship Andromeda in November 1832 with 185 other convicts.

His description in the transportation records state that he was an illiterate shoemaker with a tattoo on his arm and a scarred thumb:

The 'Andromeda' carrying Henry Morris, convict of eighteen years of age, arrived in Sydney on 11 March 1833. After ten years Henry earned his 'ticket of leave'. At this time he was still just a young man, aged 27 years.

Henry marries Hannah Cooke

One year later, Henry Morris married Hannah Cooke in 1843 at St Paul's Church of England, Cobbity. The witnesses were her older brother, Thomas Cooke and Elizabeth Chilvers both of Cobbity. They married at the church where Hannah's mother had re-married - to George Simpson - less than three months before.

Henry and Hannah Morris were to have eleven children together.

At first, Henry worked for the Cowpers at 'Wivenhoe House', Narellan. Charles Cowper was Premier of the colony five times. By 1855, Henry had managed to set up shop as a shoemaker.

It is not known exactly when Henry and his family moved south to the developing settlement at Ginninderra but it is thought to be 1868. Thomas (senior) Samuel Gribble had briefly operated a bootmaking business at The Valley in 1863-64, but had closed shop and relocated to Sydney. By the late 1860s commercial life had developed around the Ginninderra settlement and there was a much stronger need for a bootmaker.

In Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Gillespie says:

Henry and his wife Hannah (nee Cooke) arrived by bullock dray with their family from the Camden district. A bootmaker by trade, Henry established a tannery there to provide the leather for his bootmaking business.

Ginninderra tanning pit

The site of Henry Morris's house and tannery is now in the garden adjoining the Gold Creek Chapel. Boot and shoe makers like Henry had to prepare their own leathers. The family constructed a large in-ground tanning pit near their home and planted a pine tree at each end. One tree remains to this day.

All types of skins, cattle, sheep, goat, kangaroo, wallaby, rabbit, fox and possum (until protected by law) were tanned in this pit. The hair was often left on skins and after tanning, these skins were made into clothing or hand stitched on to felt to become warm bed rugs.

Finer (softer) skins, stripped of hair, became shoe and boot uppers, leather coats, hats, jackets, vests or furniture coverings.

Fresh hides were hand scraped clean of fats and flesh, scrubbed with salt to cure then suspended in the water filled tanning pit. Salts and wattle tree bark were added to provide tannin to be absorbed by the skins. Interestingly, in some locations wattle bark collection was a recognized occupation. This has caused the demise of many local wattle species.

When an individual skin had tanned, it was hung on a covered rack to dry. After drying it would be burnished to highlight the grain (texture) and then pulled (worked) over curved surfaces to increase softness and flexibility.

Henry and Hannah worked tirelessly and were respected for the high quality of workmanship in the boots and shoes they produced. Hannah made the children's shoes. Their children were taught the trade and several of the boys became successful bootmakers in latter years. Their son, William ('Billy'), became the well-known Hall bootmaker.

A group of Ginninderra residents in 1872 applied for a provisional school with Henry and others pledging to send their school age children, if a school were built. They were successful and a non-denominational school opened the next year.

Henry dies 1894

At the age of 79 years, Henry Morris passed away from 'senility' in 1894. He is buried at St Paul's Burial Ground, The Glebe.

The Queanbeyan Age of 28 March 1894 reported his death as follows:

Mr Henry Morris was found dead in his bed on Saturday morning at the residence of his son W. Morris of 'Dellwood'. The deceased was an old and respected resident of 25 years' standing and had enjoyed the most perfect health. On the evening of Friday he retired to rest in his usual health, and about six o'clock on the following morning was found dead by his son-in-law, Mr J. Lavender, who had the previous day arrived from Sydney on a visit. A large cortege attended the remains of the late Mr Morris to The Glebe burying ground, Ginninderra, on Sunday last, representing all classes in the community. In absence of Rev. P. G. Smith the service was conducted by A. M. Grant Esq. Deceased was 79 years of age and a native from Bath, England: he had been living in the colonies for 61 years. He leaves a widow and eight sons and daughters, all of whom are married.

Henry and eighteen others are known burials at St Paul's Burial Ground. What remains of the cemetery is now in the Canberra suburb of Evatt, after its desecration by civic authorities ordering the construction of Sharwood Drive. A memorial listing the names has been erected in the nearby park.


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