Fredi Caines, Vic Le Messurier Badcock and Elsie Ranger, 2010
In July of 2018, I was given full access for a day to the collected research notes of Anna Elton Morris, a prodigious collector of Newfoundland family history information, primarily on the Windsors of Aquaforte and their kin. When Anna passed away in 2011, her niece, Dorothy Elton, followed her wishes and donated her collected research to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies (CNS) at the Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, or more correctly the Archives and Special Collections group which works hand in hand with the CNS. The latter group, as the name implies, is the repository of original manuscripts, personal papers, diaries and more, as well as being the home of Memorial University’s rare books collection.
Once before, shortly after the collection was donated, I had been given a brief glimpse at this vast collection, but just enough really to pique my curiosity. Even now after having spent a day going through it more thoroughly I cannot say that I have done more than scratch the surface of its contents.
On this occasion, in order to make the most effective use of my time, I photographed documents and photographs that were of immediate interest to my own areas of research. The consequence of this hasty approach is that some of the photographs were not entirely in focus unfortunately, but for the most part the nature of the document is clear enough.
Amongst this vast collection, one area of focus for me was a set of photocopies made by Anna of original letters belonging to Victoria (Vic) Le Messurier Badcock as well as transcripts that she had made of these letters. Vic too was a prodigious family history collector, but in her case almost exclusively focussed on her own immediate family. The letters copied by Anna were originally sent to Robert Morry, Vic’s grandfather, his wife, Maria Victoria Matilda Winsor (also known as “Vic”) and their daughter, Helena or Lena, Vic Badcock’s own mother. Vic Badcock lived to be a hundred years old and was in fine form almost until the end in 2014. So these letters are actually very old, dating from around 1850 to 1900 and are an interesting window into life in Caplin Bay (now Calvert) in those days. Although it seems clear that Vic had the original letters, what is not clear is what became of them upon her death. She had two surviving children, Gordon in St. John’s, and Carol in Greece. I suspect that one of the two may have retained the original letters though, when I visited him after his mother’s death, Gordon showed me a number of photographs and a family album but never mentioned having any letters. I hope that they were not destroyed.
Only Known Photograph of Robert Morry ca 1855
Photo given to Anna Elton Morris by Vic Le Messurier Badcock
Now in the Anna Elton Morris Collection at Memorial University
Below I present the photographs that I made of those letters and the transcripts of the letters made by Vic. Because of difficulty reading the handwriting in the old letters, I did detect a few errors in Vic’s transcriptions, but none serious enough to bother redoing her work. Indeed I am very grateful to her for saving me the trouble of making my own transcriptions as it is a very slow and tedious task.
William Warner Le Messurier to Robert Morry, July 8 1866
William Warner Le Messurier and his children, ca 1895
(Courtesy Kirby Family Facebook)
This first letter was from William Warner Le Messurier, who was married to Priscilla Ann Morry, Robert Morry’s sister. He was a resident of St. John’s and later Montréal, working as a clerk, a merchant and eventually a “commercial traveller” in Montréal, though obviously not your typical door to door salesman as he had two house servants. It is clear from the letters he writes and the documents, such as wills, that he has witnessed that he was a person of some importance in the business community in St. John’s at one time but appears to be suggesting that he is now in reduced means when the letter was written.
We can gather from this letter that Robert’s and Priscilla’s mother (Ann [Saunders] Morry) was staying with William and Priscilla during the illness that ended her life on June 6, 1867, the year after the letter was written. We know from her newspaper obituary (On Thursday morning, 6th inst., after a long illness, Ann, widow of the late Matthew MORRY, Esq., J. P., Caplin Bay, aged 76 years) that she was ill for a long time before her death, but the cause is not known. Thomas (the brother of both Robert and Priscilla) has contributed toward the cost of nursing care for their mother, but Arthur, another brother named in the letter, has not. I am gathering from the way in which the letter is concluded that neither has Robert.
Contrary to popular belief, the Morrys were not wealthy fish merchants. They were involved in this trade for several generations, but their financial success in this area was never that great after the immigrant ancestor, Matthew Morry, effectively went bankrupt at the conclusion of his partnership with Walter Prideaux of Dartmouth.
Eliza A. Le Messurier to Vic, June 11 1867
This is the second oldest letter in the collection and is written by Eliza Anne Le Messurier, Robert Morry’s niece, and addressed to Robert’s wife, Maria Victoria Matilda Winsor, here referred to as “Vic”, which we will see later was the only name she appears to have gone by.
Eliza was soon to marry the Rev. Canon John Monk Noel and had a large family by him.
This transcription of this letter appears on the same page as the transcription of the letter from William Warner Le Messurier, above. It was written shortly after June 9, 1867 when “Grandmamma” (Anne [Sanders] Morry) “went very quick after all”. We know that she had been ill a long time so this must mean that the end came unexpectedly.
She refers to “Gussie” going in to see his dead grandmamma. This would be be William Warner and Priscilla Ann [Morry] Le Messurier’s son, William Augustus Frederick Le Messurier, since Anne died at their house. The girl Floss who is mentioned is a bit of a mystery. William Warner Le Messurier is not known to have a daughter named Florence, which is usually shortened to Flossy. The only plausible explanation would be Florence, the daughter of John Henry and Elizabeth Sarah [Windsor] Morry, but they were resident in Ferryland at this time and it seems unlikely the whole family would have gotten into town as soon as this after John’s mother died. Moreover, that Flossy was older than Gussie and would not have been led by him in to see their dead grandmother. So I believe there may have been a child of William Warner Le Messurier named Florence for whom no birth/baptism information has ever been found.
This letter also reveals that Anne [Sanders] Morry was buried along with Eliza’s mother, Mary [Morry] Le Messurier and her aunt Priscilla Ann [Morry] Le Messurier’s little ones (at least the following: Priscilla Ann, Mary Alice, Ernest and Arthur Ernest, and possibly Alfred) at Forest Rd. Cemetery.
Thomas Graham Morry to Robert Morry, April 20 1870
The particular Thomas Graham Morry who penned this and the following two letters was a brother of Robert. It is important to stipulate this because there has been a Thomas Graham Morry in every generation of the Morry family for seven generations.
By 1870, Thomas had moved on from being the agent for Newman and Company in St. John’s, evidently reported in the Newman Papers due to ill health, and was now an insurance agent. Whether this entailed a loss of income or not is not known.
Newman House, St. John’s, Built and Occupied by Thomas Graham Morry
(Courtesy Newfoundland Historic Trust, 1978)
However, we do know that brother Robert suffered many calamities in his life, including later in life, after this letter was written, the loss of almost all of his children to diphtheria in one particularly awful epidemic (winter of 1878-79) and the bankruptcy of his fishing related business that same year. The two calamities may have been related to one another, but I suspect that Robert’s business was already on shaky ground judging from his pursuit of various government sinecures like the nomination to the Board of Road Commissioners mentioned here, which carried with it a small annual emolument.
The reason for Thomas’s suggestion that Robert has little chance of securing such an appointment (though in fact he later did) was that Robert had declared himself to be a Confederate, that is to say he was in favour of Newfoundland joining Canada. They did not do so in 1867, but there were many like Robert who thought that was a mistake.
The property to be sold is amongst the original Morry premises in Caplin Bay. On June 6, 1867, Anne Sanders Morry, the wife of Matthew Morry II and the mother of a large family including Thomas and Robert, died at the home of her daughter Priscilla Ann and son-in-law, William Sweetland Morry in St. John’s, as already discussed in the letters above. Matthew Morry II had already passed away on June 19, 1856. Thus the property they both owned was to be divided amongst their living heirs and this became the subject of family feuds, as it so often does, which is the the principal topic of these three letters between brothers.
It appears from the way in which these letters are worded that Thomas Graham and Peter Paint Le Messurier, husband of Thomas and Robert’s sister, Priscilla Ann, had assumed responsibility as executors to the estate of their mother and mother-in-law, respectively. She apparently had no will and these two men were appointed as executors of the will of Matthew Morry II which should have resulted in their ensuring that Ann enjoyed the benefits of all of Matthew’s property in her lifetime and that, upon her decease, the property would then become the right of only one of their children, their daughter, Priscilla Ann. But Priscilla died on January 25, 1868, the year after her mother and she too had no will evidently. So according to the conditions of the original will of Matthew Morry his executors were to ensure that the rights to this property would descend to the children of Priscilla Ann, only three of whom remained alive at this time: Thomas William, Priscilla Ann, and possibly William Augustus Frederick. The latter may not have been still alive. No death or burial record has been found for him.
Regardless of what this one will stated should happen with the estate of Matthew Morry II, it seems that his executors were proceeding on a totally different course and were planning on selling off the property and distributing the proceeds amongst all of the living children of Matthew and Ann. Whether they had court approval for such an action or not is not clear. The fact that the father of the original intended beneficiaries, Peter Paint Le Messurier, was one of the two executors who were carrying out this plan suggests that it had some form of validity and legal sanction.
But that did not mean that this course of action would be without problems in the family, as we see in these letters. Robert Morry in particular took exception to land he was using being essentially sold our from under him, even though he himself could not raise the needed funds to acquire it outright. Harry (Henry) has been asked if he can find anyone who wishes to buy the place. Eliza and Ben (is son Benjamin, Eliza could be any one of several wives, including those of Thomas himself, John, and the late Matthew III) are not on board with the whole plan evidently.
The rest of this first letter is spent with news on the health of the family and local events.
Thomas Graham Morry to Robert Morry, January 10 1871
As discussed above, the plan to sell of estate of Matthew and Ann Morry II and divide the proceeds amongst all their children continues to proceed under the guidance of executors Thomas Graham Morry and Peter Paint Le Messurier. Robert Morry seems to be taking these plans as a personal attack and Thomas responds to these allegations in this letter.
We also learn that Robert and his family have occupied his parents’ house possibly since his father died, but certainly since Ann went to live as an invalid with her daughter Priscilla Ann and her husband William Warner Le Messurier in St. John’s. This could have happened as early as the death of Matthew II in 1856 or Roberts marriage to “Vic” Winsor in 1858. It sounds as if they have been living rent free all this time and neither Robert’s mother nor his siblings have received anything as a result of this arrangement. Yet now Robert appears to be suggesting that it is unfair to deprive him of this property, which by rights belonged to his sister, Priscilla Ann, and after her death to her husband William or their children. Thomas wisely leaves this for Robert to sort out with William as it seems that the rest of the family have agreed this part of the estate should not form a part of the division.
A piece of land known as Gorman’s Meadow seems to be the real sticking point for Robert. He has apparently been using it rent free and does not want to give it up but cannot afford to pay what it is worth to the estate all at once. Therefore as executors, Thomas and Peter have agreed that it must be sold at auction.
Again, the rest of the letter is dedicated to brief reports on family well-being and local news.
Thomas Graham Morry to Robert Morry, July 31 1873
The last of three letters between these two brothers concerning the estate of their late parents.
It appears these two have resolved their differences and are working together to resolve some other estate-related concerns. We learn that Fred Carter (Sir Frederick Bowker Terrington Carter, later the Prime Minister) has been engaged as the lawyer to settle the estate. He has no personal involvement, which is just as well under the circumstances, but of course the Carters and Morrys were intimately connected to one another through various marriages. It appears that there is a person claiming squatter’s rights to a part of the property along the beach. This is property originally granted to Matthew Morry I back in the late 1700s, but which was granted to him at that time on condition that it continue to be used for the fishery. Since no one in the family is involved any longer in that pursuit, or so it seems, this person may have just as much right to use it as do any of the Morrys. Thomas does not seem to be aware of this weakness of his defence of the “ownership” of this property. Carter would likely tell him as much when he examined the grant.
The proposed auction of the remainder of the estate has yet to take place and is now slated for the coming October or as soon afterwards as possible, whether it be sold as a unit or in parcels, but in no circumstances for credit. The deal or deals must be cash on the barrel head in order to pay off estate-related debts and to provide a share to each of the heirs.
There is mention of Father Conway wanting a portion of the property where there once was a cellar and battery. This is news to me as I was not aware that Caplin Bay was ever provided with armament.
The Mrs. Lockward referred to is Esther Graham, daughter of Peter Paint Le Messurier and Mary Morry. She married Rev. John Lockward and by this time they had only one child, Jane, though later the family would grow to 10 children. The Mrs. Noel she is going to visit is her sister, Eliza Ann Le Messurier who wrote the first letter above. Evidently, at this time, her husband, Rev. Canon John Monk Noel, must have been the minister at St. Mary’s on the south side of St. John’s Harbour, explaining why they had to go “across the Bay”. Emily was the youngest and last daughter of Peter Paint Le Messurier and Mary Morry. She never married.
William Warner Le Messurier to Robert Morry, February 18 1873
The author of the earliest letter in this collection has come back some seven years later with another epistle, this time from his new home in Montréal. Actually I know from his other letters to other family members that William Warner Le Messurier was a prodigious letter writer so it is somewhat surprising that there are only two from him in this collection. This is reinforced by the opening of this letter which indicates that William has written at least two other letters to Robert since the last time Robert reciprocated. Perhaps Vic had others she did not share with Anna or had not transcribed at the time that she allowed Anna to copy the others.
We again get a glimpse of the fact here that Robert’s business affairs are not doing well during these years. We also learn that John, Benjamin and Arthur Morry have been to St. John’s. It seems to in some way imply that their business in Ferryland is not going well either and they are looking at alternate income or financial support. The “Gault Brothers” reference is a mystery. William had a wry and unusual sense of humour exhibited in such arcane references in his letters. This company was a major Montréal-based provider of clothing made from local Canadian textiles such as woolen socks. Maybe William was implying they were wearing out their socks walking the boards worrying over their businesses. But the Gault Brothers were also principles in the new Sun Life Assurance Company and numerous banks so it may have been simply a reference to their looking for loans.
Other topics discussed simply relate to family matters of little import.
There are three brief notes transcribed on one sheet in Vic’s notes, copied by Anna. I will deal with the three in chronological order rather than the order they appear on this sheet of paper.
D P Le Messurier to Robert Morry, 3 February 1874
Although the writing in the first brief note/telegram is indeed very difficult, I am certain that the sender is not D.P. Le Messurier but rather P.P. Le Messurier, Robert’s brother-in-law, Peter Paint LeMessurier. The people of whom he speaks are the Rev. Lockward (not Lockwood) and his wife Priscilla, Peter Paint Le Messurier’s daughter. They were delighted with their “trip”, not their “snip”. This identification is further confirmed when we read that Mr. Tom Hutchings is very unwell and called for Lockward (i.e. the Minister). Peter Paint Le Messurier is the grandson of Capt. George Hutchings and Thomas Hutchings is one of his sons, that is, Peter’s uncle. But he in fact lived on for another decade after this dire warning.
D W O’Mara to Robert Morry 5 June 1877
The next note in chronological order is of little consequence. It simply shows that Robert was at this time a pensions commissioner. As alluded to above, his business ventures had failed and he relied very much upon these government appointments to make ends meet. In this capacity for Caplin Bay he evidently received his instructions from the J.P. based in Ferryland.
Illegible Signature to Robert Morry, 8 Oct 1887
This note, from a person whose name cannot be made out, shows just how hard it is by now for Robert to make ends meet. He has made arrangements with someone in town to sell on his behalf braces of partridge at 2 Shillings 6 Pence a brace. After a commission to the seller and the cost of shipping, there wouldn’t be much to reward Robert for his trouble in obtaining the birds.
Washington Hill Winsor to Vic, 9 March 1877
Washington Hill Winsor, ca 1870, taken in Portugal
Maria Victoria Matilda Winsor, Robert Morry’s wife and generally known as “Vic”, received this letter from her brother, Washington Hill Winsor (or Winser). Like many of the Winsor men and not a few of the Morrys, Washington was a seafarer and the Captain of a number of seagoing vessels that sailed the seven seas. According to this letter, he had just been to visit his sister in Caplin Bay and had returned to St. John’s in preparation for his next voyage to the West Indies, presumably carrying salt fish and returning with rum and molasses and other tropical delights.
His voyages would also take in ports in the US either en route to the West Indies or on the return, there to convert some of funds earned from the sale of the salt fish into other hard-to-get commodities in Newfoundland such as the butter that he mentions, asking that Robert Morry to take down a firkin to his mother in Aquaforte.
The Harriet he mentions is his wife, Harriet Chafe of the Petty Harbour Chafe’s. At the time of writing they had a growing family, which makes some of the allusions in this letter particularly hard to grasp. He refers to his desire to write to Liz. This is Elizabeth Ann Morry, later known as Miss Lizzie, who he was unable to visit in Athlone. There is an old rumour that the two of them were either engaged or at least were interested in one another in their courting days. Washington wanted to marry her but for whatever reason she would not have him. He threatened to kill himself by throwing himself off the end of the wharf and when she again refused he did in fact jump off the wharf, but obviously did not die. From this letter, and despite the fact that he was now a married man with a family, it is clear that he was still interested in Liz (who never married) and, not only that, but his interest was known to other family members including his sister. This was particularly risque for outport Newfoundland in those days.
This letter gives an ominous presage of disaster to come for Vic and her husband Robert. Washington mentions that he was unable to visit Athlone, the home of Robert’s brother, Matthew Morry III’s widow, Ann [Coulman] Morry and her daughter, Lizzie. The reason he was unable to go there was because they had “sore throat, Typhoid fever and all that sort of thing”. Epidemics were common in Newfoundland in those days and the worst of them carried off many people each year, especially children and the elderly. The following winter, Robert and Vic would lose five of their children to Diphtheria having already lost three others to various childhood illnesses. There is no indication that the current epidemic claimed any lives at Athlone but one of Matthew and Ann’s children, Priscilla Ann, born in 1848, is a mystery, since no death or burial record has been found for her. We know she did not outlive her parents so it is possible this was when she died.
The Peter and Cate he mentions are his adopted brother/ 1st cousin (actually the biological son of Matthew Symonds Winsor and Charlotte Taylor who died and left him an orphan) and Peter’s wife, Catherine Mary Flynn. Cate was evidently sickly and did die relatively young around 1883.
It is interesting that when Washington Hill Winsor drowned at sea five years after this letter was written, his widow married his true brother, also named Peter, and had two further children by him. All a bit confusing!
The John Graham mentioned was another sea captain, married to Ann Coulman Winser, the sister of Washington and Vic. Later he and his wife and possibly some or all of their family moved to Everett, Massachusetts where they both died. He mentions the “old woman” leaving their house as it is not grand enough for her. Ann [Coulman] Winser (the mother of the same name as her daughter) was indeed a person of considerable personal means and used to living in style. She was a mother-in-law of both John Henry Morry and his partner in business, Peter Paint Le Messurier and, when they could not afford to make the final payment on the Holdsworth premises they had bought in Ferryland, it was Ann who made the payment and claimed the property as her own. She never occupied it and eventually turned it over to John Henry’s son, Thomas Graham Morry, for a dollar, on condition he not occupy the Holdsworth house as long as his two maiden sisters, Flossy and Fanny, remained single and might want to make use of it. They never did and the house eventually fell into ruins and had to be taken down after WWI by Thomas’s son, Howard, my grandfather.
Ann [Coulman] Winser, ca 1890
Johana Tunchion (?) to Vic (possibly), 23 March 1882
This letter is of little importance but is included here simply to record the fact that it was amongst this collection of letters.
The writer’s name is difficult to make out but appears to be Johana Tunchion, a name not found in Newfoundland either then or now. Most likely Vic Le Messurier Badcock incorrectly transcribed it since it is almost illegible. The person seems to be only partially literate and her forename as well as her surname appear to be misspelled. I believe her actual names is Johanna Hutchings. Furthermore, the person to whom the letter is addressed is not found at the beginning of the letter nor anywhere in the body so I am only assuming that it was written to Vic [Winsor] Morry because there is a queer allusion to her not wanting the recipient to go to Aquaforte for some reason. Of course Vic was from Aquaforte.
Helena Morry to her Mother, 19 April 1898
We can gather from this letter that Lena (Helena) Morry was then returning to Caplin Bay from St. John’s where she was visiting her mother, Vic [Winsor] Morry. At that time Vic was living with George Le Messurier, husband of her eldest (and only other surviving) daughter, Robertha Ann. Why she was living there is unclear. We know that is where she died in 1906 but I had not thought that she had moved to St. John’s that early. Furthermore, her husband, Robert Morry, here referred to by Lena as “Pa”, is still living at home in Caplin Bay. He is ill at this time and clearly could have used the assistance of his wife, though she too may have been too ill to travel. He died barely one month after this letter was written.
It is interesting that even as late as 1898 it was necessary to travel from St. John’s to Caplin Bay by steamer rather than by road. Or at least it was more convenient. There likely was a track, if not a road, but it would be difficult to find anyone who would take you by horse drawn carriage that far over a poor road.
Lena was 18 when she wrote this letter and seemed to be quite proud that she attracted the attention of young men on board and in the town and village and could count on their assistance whenever needed.
The Henry Winsor [sic] and Sarah of whom she speaks are Henry Charles Windsor and his wife Sarah Judith Cross. They were married seven years at this point. Henry was 14 years her senior, prompting the question about whether she was his daughter. Henry was doubly related to Vic as a first cousin and as a second cousin. Relationships in these remote tiny villages in those days resulted in many such multiple connections.
The Clara and John mentioned were Clara Isabella Morry and her husband, John James Windsor. John James and Henry Charles were brothers and both lived in Aquaforte at this time, though John James moved later to St. John’s, where both he and Clara died. Why they did not share the carriage to return to Aquaforte is unclear. Clara was my great grandaunt.
The Doug, May and Kate with whom she had a meal of tongues for her tea are unknown and probably are friends, not relatives. Similarly, the Alice who has tidied the house where Lena and her father live is a housemaid not a relative. It is interesting that they now have a small number of milk cows and heifers as well as ducks and hens. Not that long before this letter was written Robert Morry went bankrupt and all of his livestock had been auctioned off to pay his debts. He has seemingly recovered financially before his death.
Robert Morry to Vic, 24 Jan 1897
Robert Morry to Vic, 6 Apr 1898
The final two letters in the collection were written by Robert Morry to his wife, Vic. They are written more than a year apart and the last is written the month before he died. It is clear that they have been living apart for some time and there is no explanation for this as he addresses her as “your very affectionate husband”, suggesting that there has not been a falling out between them.
In the first letter, which is much longer and newsier since he was in good health at that time, though he had been sick that winter. Apparently, Vic’s mother, Ann [Coulman] Winsor, is living with him in Caplin Bay, though earlier on it was intimated in a letter to Vic by Washington Hill Winsor, her brother, that their mother was not content with the humble living conditions in his home and it is doubtful Robert’s property was more lavish. At this stage she has been a widow for almost half a century and it appears she was moved about from the home of one child to another.
As in the letter above from Lena to Vic, here we learn that Alice, the housekeeper, is more of a burden than a help to Robert. Her full identity is not revealed other than the name Alice and that she has siblings (or friends?) named Polly and Annie who come around regularly and offer no additional help.
The “poor Jim” or “little Jim” who died that morning is unknown. I have no record of anyone in the family dying on that date. It appears that he may have been working for Robert and there is an allusion that seems to imply he was from King’s Cove.
The Annie Morry referred to may be the daughter and only child of Thomas Graham Morry and his wife, Eliza Le Messurier, that is, Robert’s niece. She was a spinster and a private teacher living in St. John’s at this time and may well have been staying at the home of George Le Messurier where Vic was then then staying.
The second letter clearly shows Robert’s deteriorating health just a month before he died. It is short and the handwriting has deteriorated badly. It is hard to say if he knows how near death he really is. It seems likely, though he does say he will write again and apparently that never happened. He says that Alice, the maid, is at least treating him kindly for a change and that his mother in law, Vic’s mother, is well. He mentions some business matters involving George Le Messurier and John Windsor and I suspect this has to do with his mother in laws finances as he does not speak openly of it in the letter. He concludes by chastising Annie Morry, his niece, for not writing. This is most probably the last letter he ever wrote.