The Athlone Letters
The Morry family arrived in Newfoundland permanently around the end of the 18th century, though Matthew Morry, the original immigrant, had been coming there seasonally for the fishery for at least twenty-five years before that. No one knows for sure where their original house was located, but it can be assumed that it was on the south close to the head of Caplin Bay, near where Matthew had obtained a grant for a fishing room in 1784 prior to relocating from Dartmouth.
Matthew brought only one son with him, his namesake, whom we call Matthew Morry II to distinguish them. As he matured, he too would have had at least one house of his own in Caplin Bay, but no one knows precisely where either. Voter’s lists position him initially on the south side (Rocky Park). Whether he remained in that location all his life is not known.
In the next generation, the third Matthew (Matthew Morry III, as we say) bought an existing house farther out the bay on the north side in an area then known as Athlone. How this came about is a matter of some speculation. The situation is best described by Kevin Reddigan on his Calvert Families website:
Matthew and his second wife, Elizabeth Coulman (Eliza), spent the remainder of their lives in this house and, when they passed away, it became the home of their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Morry. All their other children had long since moved or passed away. She was the last of the Morrys to live in Caplin Bay, now Calvert.
Miss Lizzie never married. When she passed away in 1930, the house, property, and all her belongings were left in a will written shortly before her death in favour of Leonard and Marcella Canning. The only potential heir was her brother Henry and by this time he resided in British Columbia. The Canning family had been associated with the Morrys at Athlone for at least two generations, but in exactly what capacity is uncertain. Alf Canning, the father of Leonard, lived at Athlone from an early age it seems and must have been of great assistance to Eliza Morry after her husband passed away, since none of her sons remained in Caplin Bay. This does not appear to have taken the form of an official adoption. Leonard and Marcella looked after Miss Lizzie in her declining years.
There was a feeling amongst some of the Morrys that at least the books and papers that had been passed down to Eliza through the generations should be returned to the Morry family. They would be of no value or interest to the Canning family. Efforts were made by my grandfather, Howard Leopold Morry, to effect this, but with only limited success. He did manage to retrieve a small number of personal letters that had been written to Miss Lizzie and her parents. There are in total nine of these and they are presented here as “The Athlone Letters”. In addition, there is one more letter that forms a part of this small collection and that is a letter written to Howard by his Aunt Josephine urging him to do what he could to secure whatever Morry books and papers he could from the Canning family. Reading this sets the tone for what actual transpired at the time.
While these letters are of no real historical value, they are a fascinating glimpse into the life of an outport business class family in Newfoundland at the time. All these letters are presently in my possession or that of my cousin Fredi [Mercer] Caines, the ones I have given to me by my father, who received them from his father and the ones Fredi has likewise coming from her mother and before her from Dad Morry. I am of two minds whether it would be wise to contribute them to The Rooms to be added to the Morry papers. While that would be the best way to ensure that they are not lost or destroyed when we are gone, they are insufficiently staffed to adequately deal with new accessions and it might be many years before they would ever be made publicly available.
A special note of thanks is owed to Enid O’Brien and Kevin Reddigan who struggled with me to decipher and transcribe the sometimes difficult writing in these letters.
This is the letter referred to above that sets the stage for the efforts made by Howard Morry to recover some of the Morry papers from Athlone after the death of Miss Lizzie in 1930.
Matthew Morry III was married twice. The first marriage is a tale of romance and tragedy. His intended, Elizabeth Chafe of Petty Harbour, lay on her death bed, dying of tuberculosis, and told her parents that she would die happy if only she could be married to Matthew Morry. Matthew agreed and they were married on July 18, 1838. Four days later, on July 22, 1838, she was laid to rest in her wedding dress. The letter above is from Elizabeth’s sister, Sarah, to Matthew. It is touching to read how much respect the Chafe family had for Matthew.
The letter above and the three that follow were written to Matthew Morry III by his brother William and sister Mary during the summer and fall of 1841, during which time Matthew was conducting a fishing expedition to “The Labrador”. It isn’t clear whether this was a one time only venture for the Morrys or if they were in the habit of exploiting this lucrative fishing opportunity while also managing their fishing interests in Caplin Bay, Ferryland and elsewhere.
An interesting aspect of this first letter is what it reveals about the somewhat rough and tumble nature of these young, unmarried men, drinking heavily and making ribald jokes at the expense of a gentleman who was soon to be, if he was not already, an ordained minister. William was a sea captain, so perhaps this was to be expected of him.
This second letter in the series makes interesting reading because it mentions most of the brothers who were the grandsons of Matthew Morry, the immigrant, and what they were up to at that time. There is some controversy over who the “Uncle Bill” is who is mentioned in the previous letter and again is mentioned here as being in Boston en route to New Orleans. Most likely it is their uncle William Saunders.
This third letter in the series comes from Matthew’s sister Mary this time. This is an extremely newsy letter and, once you decipher who all the people referred to are, it gives one a much greater understanding of happenings in the family and at home in the Ferryland area. We also learn a bit more about the adventures of “Bill” mentioned in the earlier letters.
This letter comes at the end of the fishing season on the Labrador when Matthew was presumably on his way home. But he was evidently in no hurry to get there and his brother is urging him on. In this brief letter some tantalising details are left unexplained. What was the cause of Matthew’s falling out with his men (crew)? Was Matthew really a bit too fond of the bottle? Read on!
This is a transcript of a letter believed to be from William Warner LeMessurier to his Sister-in-Law Eliza Coulman Morry, widow of Matthew Morry III of Caplin Bay, dated November 6th, 1860. As a widow, Eliza has become dependent on her male relatives, including her brothers-in-law, to help her manage her business affairs and avoid being taken advantage of, even, as in this case, by others related to the family. There is quite a gap between this letter and the series above written to Matthew before his second marriage to Eliza. It is a great pity that no more of the family and business correspondence survives to fill us in on the goings on during this 20 year period.
Letter from Ellen Coulman Jellard in St. John’s to her sister, Eliza Coulman Morry in Caplin Bay, Nov. 7, 1860
By strange coincidence, this letter was written the day before the one preceding. Unfortunately a portion of this letter is missing and this diminishes to a great extent the comprehension of what is being discussed. It appears that the other half of the letter may have been deliberately destroyed to prevent unwanted eyes from seeing it as the remaining section contains some comments that were personal in nature.
This letter and the one which follows were written to Elizabeth Ann Morry, the daughter of Matthew and Eliza, by Henry Corbin Le Messurier. Henry was not related to Liz, or Miss Lizzie as she was always known in her later years. He had two brothers and a sister who were married to two of Liz’s aunts, Mary and Priscilla Morry, and one of her uncles, Thomas Graham Morry, but they themselves were not related. Unfortunately this letter is incomplete and thus the full meaning cannot be interpreted. But as a married man with children, these letters to a young, unmarried woman written in a somewhat flirtatious tone are a bit astonishing. It seems clear that he bore some affection for her above and beyond the norm, though it most likely amounted to nothing more than that under the circumstances. Still, the fact that the two letters were written years apart indicates that his feelings did not disappear, whether they were reciprocated or not.
This letter is undated but certain clues indicate it was written shortly before Easter 1876. That being the case, and considering the manner in which the letter is written, it would appear that the relationship, whatever it may have been, between Henry and Eliza was a longstanding one. That said, when Henry’s wife died two years later there is no indication that any attempt was made for a second marriage to the subject of these affections.
Additional Letters from Robert Morry
The two letters that follow were not a part of the little collection of letters in the possession of Miss Lizzie at the time of her death but were closely related in the sense that they were written by Robert Morry during the time that he lived in Caplin Bay and hence are at least in part associated with Athlone. For this reason they are included here
This is a transcript of a letter found in the Morry Papers in The Rooms (MG 237, Box 1, File 6). In the index to the Morry Papers it is misidentified as being from N. P. Morry. No such person existed and it seems clear from the signature that the author of the letter was in fact Robert Morry (signed as R. Morry), who was indeed resident in Caplin Bay at this time. The land transaction that is being discussed is not entirely clear. It appears to be the sale of some land in Brigus (Brigus South, a part of Cape Broyle) to a William Badcock. But it is not clear who exactly owned the land that was being sold, Thomas Graham Morry II or Peter Paint LeMessurier, both of whom are mentioned as being empowered to receive the money and offer a Bill of Sale, or possibly Matthew Morry II, Robert and Thomas’s father and the father-in-law of Peter Paint LeMessurier. It seems most likely to be the latter as Peter and Thomas were appointed as the executors of the estate of Matthew Morry II in his will and he had in fact died earlier that year.
This letter was found in a different collection at The Rooms, MG 955 Box 18 File 26. The documents found in MG 955 are eclectic and not related to one another. They were temporarily deposited in this collection until an archivist could determine a more appropriate location for each item. Upon finding this letter, I made the suggestion to staff that it be relocated to the Morry Papers where the letter above, also from Robert Morry, is now found. It remains to be seen if this suggestion will be acted upon.
The letter helps to localize the home of Robert Morry in Caplin Bay in reference to the old Sweetland house and lands. Evidently, Thomas Graham Morry was empowered to sell these lands after the death of William Sweetland, his uncle by marriage. Robert is acting on behalf of himself, and also Father John Conway, who wished to jointly buy the premises, the Reverend Conway to build a Roman Catholic chapel, and Robert presumably to add to his holdings in that area. Here is a transcript of the letter.