William Ernest Morrison (1884 – 1951)

My grandfather William Ernest (Ernie) Morrison died when I was four years old and I had never met him because he and my grandmother had separated when my father was only twelve years old. Family members have indicated that he was a gentlemanly type who was generally well liked but because of such an early estrangement, little of the real details is known about him and his life. What we do know has been pieced together from oral history of family members and online records as more become available. My most recent discovery was a most exciting one, but before I get to that I will give a broad outline of his history.

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We know he was born on the Isle of Man in 1884 and his father had become a gardener on the large estate of Kentraugh and then at Government House (see my previous post for John Morrison). The 1901 census shows the family living at Kentraugh: John and his wife Margaret (nee Christian) and children John James, William Ernest, Lydia Christian, Edith May and Thomas Henry. Ernie, aged 16 years was shown as also working as a gardener. The next record of Ernie was when he married my grandmother Elizabeth Caroline Marian Thomasina (Briscoe) Ramsden, known as Carrie, in 1912 at Campsie, New South Wales. How and when he arrived in Australia had always been unknown until this latest discovery.

Following the marriage the couple initially lived with Carrie’s widowed mother on her 13 acre farm at East Hill, near Bankstown some 20 kilometres southwest of Sydney. Ernie apparently worked on the property for a while, since his occupation was given as farmer when he married. There, the couple had two children, firstly Lydia Emily Christian and then my father Alfred Ernest, but shortly before his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Briscoe, died in 1917, the extended family had moved into town at Leonard Street, Bankstown. When Alfred was born Ernie was recorded as being a stonemason.

By the early 1920s the family had moved again to a larger house in nearby Restwell Street, called Ellan Vannin but known as “The Ranch”. The large block included a tennis court where family and friends played and socialised. Also in this period Ernie established a fuel and produce business near the railway station in Bankstown with a succession of partners over several years, and there are a number of photographs of him and his delivery wagon. The business wasn’t to last more than a few years however and it has been suggested that Ernie was not a hard enough businessman, but somewhat of a “soft touch” in those difficult post-WW1 times, incurring too many bad debts to sustain the business. Whether this was a contributing factor is not known, but within a few years his marriage had failed and he had left Bankstown.

Produce Store in Bankstown, 1923

Ernie tried to meet and stay in contact with his children but this seems to have been denied by Carrie unbeknown to Lydia and Alfred although one remaining letter makes it clear that he missed his children but did not want to return to Bankstown.

Since that separation little is known of Ernie’s life except he worked at Sydney’s Central railway station as a “grill cook” until heart problems forced him to retire at the age of 61 years. It appears that he lived alone, renting a room in Riley Street, Sydney. in 1951 at the age of 67 his heart problems ended his life. His cremation was apparently attended only by his landlady and a small memorial plaque can be found at the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.

Nowadays among the advice given to researchers includes: revisiting sources periodically, and especially online resources which are continually be added to. Also to break through a brick wall in the family tree it can help to “go around the wall” by researching other family members such as siblings. My discovery resulted from following these bits of advice.

By researching his older brother I found a John James Morrison who in 1902 he had enlisted in the Manchester Regiment. His home address was shown and Kentraugh, his next of kin were parents John and Maggie Morrison, and was also his brother “Earnest”. This was definitely our John James. The surprise was that next the Ernie’s name was “Royal Marines”.

The next step was the records from the UK National Archives where I found a page about William Ernest Morrison. He had enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division, in September 1901 only a couple of months after his seventeenth birthday. The records showed that he served seven years on a number of ships. Firstly, there was the HMS Majestic, a battleship stationed mainly in the Mediterranean Sea, next was the sister ship HMS Caesar which was the flagship of the Channel Fleet, and lastly the cruiser HMS Powerful. The most exciting news was that Powerful became the flagship of the Australia Station (prior to the formation of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911), stationed in Sydney.

HMS Powerful (circa 1905)

This reasons for him deciding to stay in Sydney when he was discharged from service  in 1908 will never be known, but he must have seen a future for himself there. His life was not a very happy one, however the fact of his military service and how he came to Australia contributes greatly towards to our knowledge of my grandfather.

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