Frederick Clift Morry
Frederick Clift Morry
Daguerreotype In Care of C. J. Morry
Frederick Clift Morry is a bit of a man of mystery in the Morry family. He was the son of Matthew Morry II and thus a first generation Newfoundlander. But even in that generation the connections of Mother England had not been severed. The family members travelled back and forth regularly and he and his brothers, if not his sisters as well, were educated in England.
Born in Caplin Bay on the 20th of January 1827, he was a product of a period in the family history when there was great wealth and privilege. One only needs to view his image (above) to know that he led a pampered life and enjoyed the best of everything, despite the rather harsh conditions in which they lived in Newfoundland. He and three of his brothers, John Henry, Matthew III and Robert, for whom we have portraits to consult all bear the air of well cared for if not spoiled heirs to the family fortune.
This is an account of his brief life as told to Aunt Jean (Jean Morry Funkhouser) by her father, Dad Morry (Howard Leopold Morry):
“Your Uncle Fred left school in England and went to Australia to the gold fields when he was eighteen. He got some gold and invested in sheep. Had a big sheep ranch. He was coming home for a visit. Lizzie (Miss Lizzie in Caplin Bay, his niece) had a letter from him and his will. He left all to her as she was his favorite niece. She never got the ranch and only 1500 pounds of his money. It was a six months voyage to Australia at that time and ’twas impossible to get to do anything about the will. Well he got sun stroke on the way home. He was going to the gold rush in California in 1849. He jumped into the Indian Ocean crazy with sun stroke. He had a long black cloak lined with Red silk or satin and a big silver clasp in the neck of it. When the boat rowed up and the man grabbed it, He [Frederick?] just reached up and undid the buckle and sank. Lizzie had the cape. So, Jean, your ancestors were wild men. Guess the Scotch blood.”
In fact there is an element of truth but also an element of fancy to this story, as there was in many of Dad Morry’s stories. He also used to love to scare us with ghost stories based on persons and events in the families past. One he told, but perhaps did not expect anyone to really believe, was a version of the above story that seemed to catch on in Ferryland for a while. It was that Fred drowned in the Indian ocean and months later his cloak washed up on the beach in Ferryland!
As more recent evidence has been found, we are better able to make the facts outweigh the fantasy in this story.
It is true that he went to Australia. And quite probable that it was to try his luck at the Australian gold rush. We know from voting lists and newspaper records that he eventually wound up in the area around modern day Geelong, just outside of Melbourne, in state of Victoria today, but in those days a part of Queensland. I discovered on Ancestry.com a record of Frederick Clift Morry on a voters list in Barrabool Hills, Barrabool Parish, Kardinia Division, the South-western Province, Australia dated 21st July,1856 to 30 Jun, 1857. This was the first solid evidence I have ever found backing up the old family history that he travelled to Australia and became a sheep farmer there. It also pushes back his date of death at least until 1856-57. I had previously thought he had died around 1850.
We know that his neighbours included a member of the Holdsworth family (Benjamin Holdsworth), the Morry partners in Ferryland and Dartmouth, Devon. It is speculation, but they were most likely school chums who got the gold rush bug and headed off together. Dad Morry’s timing is probably incorrect in stating that he left England when he was 18. That would be in 1845 and the gold rush only began in 1851.
I also found online in the Victoria Government Gazette, March 19, 1858 and again April 9, 1858 this notice:
Dissolution of Partnership
It is hereby mutually agreed that the partnership hitherto existing between Mr. John Highett and Mr. F. C. Morry, is this day dissolved by mutual consent.
All debts due up to the 7th October last, will be discharged by F. C. Morry, who will also receive all moneys due up to that date, and all debts subsequently by Mr. Jno. Highett.
Geelong, 1st February, 1858.
Fred C. Morry
T. M. Sparks No. 453
John Highett was a personage of some note in Australian history.
Elsewhere on the Victoria Government site ( http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/re-member/bioregfull.cfm?mid=416 ) it indicates that John Highett had as his former partner, “William Clark Haines, one of first settlers of Barrabool Hills, Geelong district; with John Highett took up land there early 1842; dissolved partnership 1846; then renting nearly 3000 acres in 49 farms which he mostly sold off in 1850s;” Haines was a Member of the Legislative Assembly after that for many years.
Another website ( http://home.vicnet.net.au/~manshs/Mansfield%20Historical%20Society%20-%20History%20of%20Mansfield.htm ) on the history of Mansfield, Victoria has this to say about brothers John and William Highett:
“The main street, Highett Street, is named after William Highett, who was a squatter on the Maindample pastoral run. He came from Tasmania with his brother John, who grazed stock near the Dandenong Creek and named the Melbourne suburb of Highett. John Highett later settled at Geelong and named his property Highton, now a Geelong suburb, after his family’s farm at Weymouth, England. His son, Francis, built Highton Manor at Mansfield in 1896, which has been converted to a motel and restaurant.”
So far it hasn’t been possible to learn how long Frederick Clift Morry and John Highett were partners. However, another website of the Geelong heritage Centre ( http://www.geelongcity.vic.gov.au/common/Public/Documents/8cbd8269743b7a7-Geelong%20Advertiser%20Index%201850-1866%20A-E.pdf )extends the dates back a little by providing online an index to the contents of the GEELONG ADVERTISER INDEX 1850-1866 A-E: In regard to the “Barrabool Water Mill (Highett’s) 1 January 1856 Frederick C. Morry advertised that the mill was open – agent for J. Highett?”
The question mark implies that the transcriber was not aware they were partners and not that Morry was Highett’s agent. So we now know that, in addition to holding land for raising sheep in that area, Frederick was also involved in a partnership pertaining to the operation of the Barrabool Water Mill with John Highett.
The same source also informs us that: “21 October 1854 Chapman & Buchan contractors for Highett – in course of erection.” In other words the Mill was only built in October 1854 and it is likely that the partnership began at that time or shortly afterwards. By 1863 D. W. Petrie and then Walter Synot were making arrangements for access to the Mill on behalf of Highett. As we now know the partnership between Highett and Morry was dissolved in 1858 and indeed we can assume that Frederick died sometime shortly after that.
What we don’t know and will probably never know is whether he did indeed die by drowning in the Indian Ocean on his way home. And if he did, whether it was accident, suicide or murder, for his stash. It is clear that Dad Morry’s timeline was also off in regard to Frederick being on his way to the California Gold Rush in 1848 when he lost his life. That gold rush began in 1849 (thus the nickname 49er, for the miners that took part). It is possible, though there is no evidence whatever to support the conjecture, that Frederick went to the California Gold Rush first and then on to Australia for its later gold rush.
A footnote to the short but interesting life of Frederick Clift Morry pertains to the origin and the history of the daguerreotype shown above. This small portrait encased in its velvet case in the possession of Aunt Jean, as the family historian of her day. It isn’t certain whether she came by it while home in Ferryland for a visit or whether Dad Morry brought it to her for safe keeping on one of his many visits to the his family in the States. In any event, the portrait, which was very much worse for wear after a century and a half of neglect and careless treatment, was passed to me by Aunt Jean’s daughter, Karen, for safe-keeping, in my capacity as the family historian of this generation. I was immensely honoured and touched by Karen’s generosity in sharing with me one of only a few family heirlooms from that period.
Pepperpot or Pepperbox Revolver
I had previous noted, before receiving the actual portrait and having only seen photographic copies of it, that Frederick was holding in his hands a unique kind of handgun. Some online research quickly led to the realisation of the importance of this, beyond what it said about Frederick’s rakish personality. This handgun is what is known as a Pepperpot. It had three to six barrels (six in the case of the one held by Frederick) which can be manually rotated to fire shots in rapid succession. Before the invention of this type of weapon, all handguns were capable of firing one or at most two shots. Guns like these came into use and went out of use in a very restricted time period, allowing for a fairly definitive dating of the image. The reason they ceased to be built was that the Colt revolver was invented, making them obsolete. Therefore it can be said with some certainty that the portrait was made between 1835 and 1850. That may or may not assist in identifying where the portrait was made. By 1850 Frederick would have been making his preparations to leave England for the Australian Gold Rush and one can imagine that he would have considered an essential part of his kit to be a means of self-defence, heading into what could be a pretty lawless situation. So judging from his fine clothes and his decision to show off this probably newly acquired weapon in the portrait, I would judge that this portrait was made in England rather than Newfoundland or Australia.
Being gravely concerned that the condition of the daguerreotype was bad and getting worse, and thinking that if it were restored I might be able to donate it for display in the Newfoundland Museum, I began to search for someone who could assist in such a delicate and somewhat arcane type of restoration. I quickly came upon the name of Mike Robinson in Toronto. He a number of colleagues at Ryerson University had developed a new technique for gently restoring damaged daguerreotypes. I contacted him and much to surprise and joy he volunteered to restore the daguerreotype for free if it could be used as a classroom project for his students at Ryerson. I of course quickly assented.
Over the academic year of 2009-2010 Mike and his students made a thorough study of the damage to the daguerreotype, determined what was reparable and what was not and made the feasible improvements. This included restoration of both the case and the image itself.
Mike’s detailed report on the process he followed is provided here: Pre and Post treatment Condition Report
The results went far beyond any preconceived expectations we had. The only disappointment was that the class was unable to pinpoint the location of the manufacture of the portrait as had been hoped.
Shortly after receiving the restored portrait back from Mike in July 2010, Fred travelled back to Newfoundland with me for the first time in 150 years. I showed him to all the family and made my pitch to Mark Ferguson, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Provincial Museum Division of “The Rooms”. Unfortunately, mark was not able to offer any definitive encouragement that the portrait of Fred and those of his three brothers for whom portraits also exist could be used to form the centerpiece of a display on the families of 18th and early 19th century fish merchants on the southern shore as I had hoped. So for now at least, Fred remains in my hands for safekeeping.