Indentures and Other Land Transactions

Release of Plantation to Robert Holdsworth from John Robbins, 1765

It has only recently come to my attention that there was a generation of landholders in Ferryland who held grants to property there between the time of the Baltimore and Kirke families in the 1600s and when the Carters, Morrys and others came on the scene in the late 1700s. Conventional wisdom would have had it that it was impossible for anyone to obtain a Crown grant in those early days because the West Country merchants, who held much sway at Court, did not want settlement to take place and possibly interfere with their virtual monopoly over the fishery. But somehow, as this document reveals, grants were obtained in this period between the first settlement of the Colony of Avalon and when Matthew Morry arrived. And it was these original grants that were eventually bought up by other merchant families such as the Holdsworths.

This document, which was transcribed from an original held at The Rooms by an unknown editor, to whom we give much thanks, gives a clear understanding of the land tenure in the Ferryland North Side at the time that Robert Holdsworth first came on the scene. At that point, his brother Arthur did not hold lands in the area and it is yet to be discovered when he acquired the plantation adjacent to the one purchased by his brother in this transaction.

In July 2018 I stumbled upon the original or a contemporary court copy of this Indenture at The Rooms in the file series known as “Special Items Collection” (MG 956). In reality this collection is merely a holding place for unrelated documents awaiting proper cataloguing and filing in the appropriate location. While the documents are there (sometimes for many years) they are virtually impossible to locate due to the lack of an accurate file indexing of contents.

Here is that original Indenture.

Official Copy of Matthew Morry I Petition for Grant of Land in Caplin Bay, 1784

In 1784 Matthew Morry petitioned Governor John Campbell for permission to have undisturbed use of a parcel of land in Caplin Bay for the purpose of prosecuting the fishery efficiently from year to year. This was not strictly speaking a request for a grant — grants were not be being given out in those days. But it did constitute a precedent for others to follow since land for fishing rooms had not been set aside on even a year to year basis before this time, let alone as a semi-permanent arrangement such as this. The document shown here is a digitised image of what is believed to be a true copy of the petition made at the time. This document is held by Fredris Caines and one exactly like it and seemingly of the same vintage is found in the PANL Morry Papers. A transcript of the paper is also available.

Indenture — Michael Bryan to Nicholas Brand, 29 Dec 1811

The standard business practice of the day between merchants and the fishermen and bye-boat keepers they supplied was that, in the spring of the year, the merchant would provide the necessary provisions for the fishery and in the fall, after the harvest was sold, a settlement would be made. In order to provide some security against the inevitable bad season when the fish did not come and the merchant was left holding the bag for a debt that could not be repaid, provisions were made through indentures such as this one to, nominally at least, turn over as collateral for an extension of the loan properties such as a house and land. Of course both parties fervently hoped that this would not be necessary and that the debt would be repaid. However, in this instance, it is noted that several years would be needed for Nicholas Brand to eventually recover this debt. And in all likelihood Michael Bryan would fall behind even further, since it undoubtedly took him several years to run up this amount of debt. So it is possible that Brand did eventually wind up having to claim the collateral property and attempt to sell it to recover his costs.

Indenture — Richard Grant et al to Matthew Morry & Co., 13 Dec. 1813

The standard business practice of the day between merchants and the fishermen and bye-boat keepers they supplied was that, in the spring of the year, the merchant would provide the necessary provisions for the fishery and in the fall, after the harvest was sold, a settlement would be made. In order to provide some security against the inevitable bad season when the fish did not come and the merchant was left holding the bag for a debt that could not be repaid, provisions were made through indentures such as this one to, nominally at least, turn over as collateral for an extension of the loan properties such as a house and land and, in this case, even the boats and related equipment. Clearly it was not in the interests of the merchant to accept this collateral as payment because it would mean the debtor would have no choice but to get out of business and move somewhere else, which would be to no one’s advantage, including the merchants. How this was resolved when it occurred must presumably have been by some form of extension to the time to make repayment.

Indenture — James Hayly to Wm Sweetland, 11 Aug 1814

Again, here we have another of this form of Indenture providing security against a loan from a merchant to a fisherman, this time the merchant being William Sweetland. A more typical indenture between fisherman and merchant covering a single season of furnishing the wherewithal to prosecute the fishery with payment expected at the end of the fishing season, assuming a successful fishery that year.

Mortgage of Lands – John Morry and Matthew Morry I, 1816

This document, transcribed by Kevin Reddigan, is a bit hard to follow until you know more of the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Matthew Morry I and the John Morry in question. There were so many Matthew Morrys and even more John Morrys in the family that it is easy to get confused. This John Morry was actually Matthew’s grandson, who was also his ward after the death of his parents, since he was still a minor at the time. Later he had business interests of his own in Newfoundland, though he evidently resided primarily in Dartmouth. This much is clear, John’s father, also named John, left a sizable fortune to his widow, who in turn left the remainder to their only son, John Junior. And John Junior’s grandfather managed, or possibly mismanaged this fortune, in the interests of the son theoretically, but also to the advantage of Matthew Morry and Company. A large amount of this money for those days day (£650) was “lent” to assist him in developing Matthew Morry’s business in Newfoundland. Later John Junior was forced to pursue the recovery of these funds in court in England. Despite this, John Junior was somewhat of a favourite of his grandfather it seems from other documents (no small wonder!) and in fact is buried in the same plot with him in Forge Hill Cemetery, or at least is recognised on the same monument.

For more Morry papers transcribed by Kevin visit his excellent site which highlights the early residents of Caplin Bay (now Calvert):

Bill of Sale, Ann Morry to Matthew Ryan, Aquaforte, 1832

We can almost never be sure which generation we are dealing with in the Morrys because they tended to recycle the same names over and over again. In the case of this transaction, Matthew Morry I, the immigrant, and his son Matthew II were both married at this time to women named Ann (or Anne). So which Ann Morry was selling her land in Aquaforte? A good guess is that this is Ann [Carter] Morry, daughter of Robert Carter, who married Matthew Morry I. Why? Because there is no evidence that Matthew Morry II ever lived anywhere but in Caplin Bay. One interesting thing that this bill of sale tells us is that by 1832 Matthew had moved his domicile to Ferryland from Caplin Bay. We know Ann [Carter] Morry had a good deal of property in Ferryland so this seems to support which of the two was selling the property in this instance.

Indenture — Arthur William Olive Holdsworth and John Morry & Peter Paint LeMessurier, 1844


This document was transcribed with great patience and professionalism by Greg Walsh of the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am greatly indebted to him for performing this service, which goes far beyond what is expected of the staff at the Archives. If you borrow the document to use elsewhere please be sure to give recognition to Greg and the Archives for their efforts and assistance.

This indenture is the beginning of a complex series of land transactions and loans pertaining to the transfer of the original Arthur Holdsworth land and house to various members of the extended Morry family and their in-laws and business partners (see below). From what can be ascertained, it would appear that the house and land was purchased originally as a part of the business dealings of John Henry Morry and Peter Paint LeMessurier, who were not only partners in various business ventures but also brothers-in-law (Peter married Priscilla Morry, John’s sister). However it came to pass, it was John who actually occupied the house and lands. But soon afterwards, in 1853, it seems that there was a need to raise capital for business reasons and these two gentlemen “mortgaged” the house, lands and all the contents and even livestock to John’s mother-in-law, Ann Coulman Winsor. From here on there is a cloud of mystery surrounding the occupancy of the house and lands.

Anecdotal information passed down by word of mouth has it that John and his family continued to live there, despite having conveyed title to his mother-in-law. What, if anything, Peter Paint LeMessurier got out of the transaction is unclear. My grandfather, Howard Morry, says that he remembers visiting his grandfather’s house for meals, which were always formal affairs, with everyone dressing, including wearing white gloves, and maids scurrying around. Afterwards he would curl up in one of the huge and deep window sills to snooze in the sun. However, his father, Thomas Graham Morry III, never lived there as an adult, having built his own house nearby after returning from his adventures in Fort Garry.

Indenture John Morry and P P Le Messurier to Ann Winsor May 16 1853

Papers pertaining to an indenture between John Morry and Peter Paint LeMessurier on the one part and Ann Winsor of Aquaforte on the second part, dated May 15, 1853 indicate the Holdsworth property was originally bought by them (John and Peter) jointly from Arthur William Olive Holdsworth on May 3, 1844 and, through this indenture, they then conveyed title to Ann Winsor on May 15 1853. This original document is held by Fredris Caines but there may be other original copies on file in The Rooms or at the Supreme Court that have not yet been seen. It seems clear that John and Peter overreached in buying the Holdsworth property and could not make the final payment. John’s mother-in-law seems to have bailed them out and become de facto owner of the property, though John and his wife and family continued to occupy it until she finally conveyed ownership to John’s son, Thomas Graham Morry (see below)

Bill of Sale of Nash Premises (Caplin Bay) from Arthur W. O. Holdsworth to Matthew Morry, 1855

Although this bill of sale refers to Matthew Morry Senior as the purchaser, this is not Matthew I, the emigrant, but rather his son Matthew Morry II. The reason he is referred to as Matthew Senior is because his son Matthew (Matthew Morry III) was also involved in the family business in this region at the time. Matthew I, the emigrant had died in 1836 and in fact Matthew II, the purchaser in this transaction, was dead within a year of having taken possession of the property. It is interesting to note that the Morrys were still interested in acquiring property in Caplin Bay this late into the middle 1800s as they centre of gravity of the family’s business interests had pretty much shifted to Ferryland by then.

This text was transcribed entirely by Kevin Reddigan. He has been meticulous to leave in the spelling errors as they appear in the original text. For more Morry related papers transcribed by Kevin visit his fantastic website on the history of Caplin Bay (Calvert):

Indenture — Ann Winsor to Thomas Graham Morry III, 1881

It is unlikely that Ann Winsor ever moved to Ferryland from Aquaforte to take up residence in the Holdsworth house of which she effectively became owner following the bailout of John Morry and Peter Paint Le Messurier’s debt (see above). It also seems she was never reimbursed for this debt or she would have been transferring ownership back to these two men rather than her grandson. In any event, the house and lands did return to the possession of the Morrys through another indenture between Ann Winsor and her grandson, Thomas Graham Morry, in 1881. This original document is held by Fredris Caines but there may be other original copies on file in The Rooms or at the Supreme Court that have not yet been seen.

Grant to Thomas Graham Morry of Land on the Morris Marsh Road, August 29, 1890

In need of more and better land on which to farm, Thomas Graham Morry made application for a grant inland from Ferryland. The size of this grant was 22 acres, a sizeable piece of arable land, but in later years it was subdivided initially in two parts, one for Dad Morry and one for his brother John. After John’s death, his portion was divided amongst all his children, making each part very small indeed. Dad Morry’s portion was eventually sold to Uncle Howard by Uncle Bill (see below). This land eventually became known to everyone in the village as “Morry’s Farm”, though indeed several other Ferryland residents acquired land in and around the same area at more or less the same time.

Indenture — Thomas Graham Morry to Alexander J. W. McNeily, May 1, 1895

The long and circuitous route of ownership by the Morrys of the lands and premises formerly belonging to Arthur Holdsworth does not end with the transfer back to the Morrys from Ann Winsor. In fact, she still exerted enough control over the property after returning it to Thomas Graham Morry, her grandson, in 1881, that she was responsible, at least in part, for him conveying complete title to the property, in trust, to his wife Catherine [White] Morry. In this indenture, Alexander J. W. McNeily simply is acting as the Trustee for Kate, not as the actual new owner. But even here there is a subtext to this curious transaction. In 1894, Thomas Morry lost his entire fortune in the collapse of all Newfoundland banks that took place that year. So, while it may have been true that Ann was responsible in part for this Indenture being formed, it was at least equally a measure that Thomas took to prevent those to whom he owed money from confiscating his property.

Conveyance — T G Morry & John Morry to William Grant, 12 June 1936

Over the years, bits and pieces of the original Arthur Holdsworth lands bought by John Morry and Peter Paint Le Messurier in 1844 wound up being sold off to other residents of Ferryland in need of some land on which to build a dwelling or erect wharves or flakes. The conveyances for most of these transactions are lost to time, and they were perhaps never formally executed by being registered at the Registry of Deeds. But one such conveyance does still exist at the Registry — the sale of a portion to the north of the property, originally occupied by John Henry Morry (1869-1960) but sold to William Grant in 1936 as a condition of the Codicil to the Will of John’s father, Thomas Graham Morry, which required him to give up his present house and lands in return for receiving his father’s house and a goodly portion of the Holdsworth lands surrounding it on the east side of the Back Lane (now referred to as Holdsworth Lane). The funds thus raised went to the estate and what was not needed to settle the debts of Thomas Graham Morry went to his son Bert (Albert Graham Morry), with whom he lived in his declining years in BC.

Howard Morry to William Morry, June 1957

Coming closer to the present day, here we see the conveyance by which all the remaining Holdsworth lands in the possession of Howard Leopold Morry (Dad Morry) were passed on to his son William Minty Morry (Bill) during Dad Morry’s lifetime in order to give free rein to uncle Bill to manage the fishery business and related farming. It was shortly after this time that Dad Morry built his “Wee Hoose” on land belonging to my father, Thomas Graham Morry, in order to have a place of his own to retreat to when he felt like being on his own. Note that this conveyance only represents less than half of the original Holdsworth purchase, most of the rest belonging at this time to Dad Morry’s brother, John, and bits and pieces along the main road and back lane having been sold off over the years to other Ferryland residents, some of whose names are mentioned in the description of the property here being transferred.

One thing of note in this conveyance is that it did not recognise that the land on which the Wee Hoose would later stand, the so-called “Three Corner Meadow”, did not belong to Dad Morry because it had been left to my father by his grandfather in the Codicil to his will. The fact that Dad Morry had forgotten about this helps to explain the error he made when in his own will he left the Wee Hoose and the land on which it stood to Uncle Howard, a problem that took years for us to finally rectify. In fact as I write this on June 1, 2016 I am still in the process of having surveyed and registered the small piece of land known as The Knoll which Uncle Howard swapped for the Three Corner Meadow to correct this problem.

In order to fully understand the present ownership of the remaining portions of land that had originally been willed to Howard Morry by his father, Thomas Graham Morry, there are three more transfers or conveyances of more recent vintage that need to be taken into account:

Bill of Sale – William Minty Morry to Howard George Morry, January 14 1978

This conveyance has never been registered at the Registry of Deeds. That is not uncommon in Newfoundland, though less so today than in the past. It cost money to register a deed or indenture and, moreover, many people it demonstrated a lack of trust between the parties. A man’s word was his bond, so why bother involving the government? In this transaction, Uncle Bill was selling to Uncle Howard the Big Meadow, surrounded by the main road, the Middle Lane, the Back Lane and properties already sold previously in earlier generations to other residents of Ferryland mentioned here, as well as a portion expropriated by the Department of Transportation but evidently never used for any purpose. The other part of this conveyance relates to a large portion of the “Morry Farm” that had come to Uncle Bill from Dad Morry (see above). The latter was never Holdsworth lands but was instead granted to Thomas Graham Morry by the Crown on August 29, 1890 (see above).

Indenture House and Lands — William Morry to Mary Morry, June 10 1996

As a result of a divorce between Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat, the latter acquired the house originally built by Dad Morry after the war and the lands immediately surrounding it. Uncle Bill retained the remainder of the Holdsworth water lots and lands not so conveyed or sold previously or subsequently to others.

The same property was then sold after the death of Aunt Pat by her heirs Peter and Paula Morry via Peter Morry to Stan and Fredi Caines, who presently occupy this property, and this conveyance was registered at the Registry of Deeds on October 10, 1997.

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You are visiting the website of the Morry family of Newfoundland, ex Devon

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We hope that this site will serve as a link and a gathering place for the scattered remnants of the Morry Family, whose ancestor, Matthew Morry, came from Stoke Gabriel via Dartmouth Devon, England, to Newfoundland to make a living in the fishing trade some time before Sept. 1784. At that time we know he was granted land for a fishing room in Caplin Bay (now Calvert) near Ferryland, a tiny fishing village on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore that we, his descendants, think of as our family seat.

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