John Morrison (1855 – 1915)

John Morrison was a Manxman. Our Morrison family came from the Isle of Man, not from Scotland as would commonly be assumed, but from that small dot in the middle of the Irish Sea with its rich Celtic and Viking history. He was christened at St. Anne’s parish church on July 23, 1855.

By way of digression, the name St. Anne is a example of the Anglicisation of the Manx culture which over the centuries was similar to that occurring in Scotland and Ireland. The parish was originally named for St. Sanctain, a 6th-century Manx bishop, said to be a disciple of St. Patrick who originally came from the north of England. The name seems to have become confused with St Ann(e) once memory of this obscure Saint had disappeared. Today it is generally known as the parish of Kirk Santan.

St Sanctain’s Church

Another example of Anglicisation relates to the name Morrison which only came into common use on the Isle of Man from about 1800 when surnames also became more stablised. Ancestors of our Morrisons were known by many variations over the centuries including MacGilborr in the 16th century and then tending to be recorded as Mcillvorrey and later Mylvorrey. John’s grandfather was born in 1788 as Patrick Mylvorrey but he died and was buried in 1862 as Patrick Morrison.

Little is known of John’s early life. He married Margaret Christian at the age of twenty-five and raised a family of five children, with another dying in infancy. He worked as a fisherman for a number of years and then as a railway plate-layer, until at the age of about thirty-five he turned to gardening. By 1891 he was living with his family at Kentraugh Mill presumably at the Kentraugh estate where he worked as a gardener for  about the next twelve years. The owners of Kentraugh had included the notable Qualtrough and Gawne families. As well as the outdoor staff the large household sustained up to 12 indoor servants – governess, butler, housekeeper, footmen etc.

The Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute suggests that Kentraugh appears to have been an older five-bay farmhouse that was enlarged in the period 1815–1820 to become one of the island’s premier estates. The Kentraugh “villa” was built of freestone, taken from the quarries of Mostyn, Denbighshire, North Wales. A noble colonnade extended along the entire front of the building, “upwards of ninety feet, supported by eight massive columns of the Ionic order.”

The various owners of Kentraugh were known as keen agriculturalists. A 1842 guide to “the Isle of Mann” described Kentraugh as possessing “the most extensive shrubberies and hot-houses in the Island” and the 1846 Slater’s Directory noted that “the gardens and pleasure grounds are delightfully laid out.” 

Kentraugh House and Grounds 1969, Photographic Archive, iMuseum, Isle of Man

Gardeners were very well respected and much sought after by the Gentry, often they moved from family to family probably for better pay and maybe a larger garden and to have men working under them.

By about 1903 John had become gardener at Government House, “Bemahague” in Onchan, which was the home of the Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan. Bemahague, originally a farm, was supposedly built between 1820 and 1830 and extended in 1904 (after purchase by the Government). The house commanded “a fine view of the whole bay” and the grounds covered approximately 12 hectares some of which is lawn and gardens with most of the rest being grazing land.

There may have been an earlier building at Bemahague because a July 2004 Manx National Heritage Library article refers to it in a Mutiny on the Bounty connection. “On February 4 1781 at the Onchan parish church, William Bligh, later commander of the Bounty, married Elizabeth Betham, whose family lived at Bemahague, Onchan.”

This photograph is indeed Government House in the Isle of Man and is published in the book ‘Governors of the Isle of Man since 1765’ by Derek Winterbottom and is captioned Bemahague in the 1880s. ( National Library of Ireland on The Commons: Photographer: Thomas H. Mason)

John showed his flowers at all the Chrysanthemum shows in Douglas and Castletown where he won prizes every time, and an example is seen in comments on the 1908 Chrysanthemum Show in Douglas, that appeared in the local newspaper: ‘Mr. J Morrison the Governor’s gardener made a big step forward in this section and by his wins must have made his Excellency a proud visitor at the Show.’

John must have been a very respected man as this would have been one of the most prestigious positions on the island to be the head Gardener for the Governor.

John is believed to have died in 1915 and buried in Onchan cemetery.


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Norma Beryl (Bray) Morrison (1920-2005)

On this day, November 28, ninety-nine years ago my dear mother, Norma Beryl Bray, came into this world.

A young Norma

Born at Hurstville, she was the first of two children to Alfred Ernest Cornelius and Clarice Belle (Bryant) Bray. At about the age of two the young family moved to Restwell Street Bankstown when Alf qualified for a War Service home following World War 1. Bankstown was still a developing suburb at that time and Restwell Street was initially a strip of concrete pavement with no shoulders of kerb and guttering running down from the railway station.

Norma used to recall fond memories of growing up in Bankstown with her best friend Jean two doors away, her brother Doug and the school just up the hill. Recreation included the girl guides, mushroom hunting and family picnics to the Georges River or on trips on Alf’s old motor launch that he kept at Picnic Point. As a teenager Norma developed an interest in swimming when the new Bankstown Olympic pool opened in 1933. This later turned to competitive diving and she was a contender to represent in the Commonwealth Game, until an accident at home. Her father had fired buckshot at rats in the backyard and hit her in the knee. This sapped her confidence and she didn’t return to diving.

After graduating from the Domestic School she learned typing and shorthand and worked in the City. In her social life she enjoyed evening dances either locally or in the City at venues like the Trocadero. She was “stepping out” with her boyfriend Ernie “Skipper” Jordan at dances and watching him play football.

Norma was 20 years old when WW2 broke out. Ernie tried to enlist in the army with his football mate Alf Morrison, but his widowed mother was ill and needed his assistance. Later he decided to join the navy and was assigned to the HMAS Sydney. The sinking of this ship in November 1941 and loss of Ernie was devastating to Norma and she took quite a time to recover. It almost certainly influenced her decision to join the WRANS in October 1942. She was an early enlistment in this new service, number WR120, and spent the next four years as a cook at HMAS Harman at Canberra and later as a Petty Officer at HMAS Rushcutters in Sydney.

WRAN Norma Bray, WR120

After the war she teamed up with Alf Morrison who had returned to Bankstown after three and a half years as a prisoner of war in Changi and on the infamous Burma Railway. They were married on 13 July 1946 and were united for 49 years until his death in 1995 raising four children.

Norma and Alf’s Wedding, 1946

Alf was a carpenter and built the first family home at Auburn Road Yagoona. The family moved to Narooma on the NSW coast for five year before returning to Sydney where Alf built a home at Sutherland were they lived for the next ten years. During this period Norma raised her children, supplemented the family income when necessary and looked after Alf as health problems, resulting from his wartime incarceration, started to surface.

Norma and daughter – First baby born in Crown Street Women’s Hospital in 1949

As they approach retirement, the decision was made to move to Sawtell on the NSW north coast where Alf built their final family home. With the two younger children finishing school, Alf finally retired with a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) pension. This was not an easy period for Norma but she renewed her interest by becoming a Guide Leader and embracing “outside” fishing.

The couple’s final house moves were to the Central Coast where after trying to cope in their own home, they moved into the Lake Haven Masonic Village. Alf’s health condition was progressively deteriorating but they were able to undertake some overseas travels to Singapore and Thailand proving both a joy and therapeutic to both of them. Norma made several very close friends at the village and she threw herself into volunteering at Legacy for which she was later commended. Lake Haven was the venue of many family gatherings for Christmases and birthdays for her dispersed children and growing number of grandchildren.

Norma and Alf in Singapore

Alf died in 1995 at the age of 79 years and in Norma’s ten final years she enjoyed many holiday trips with her Lake Haven friends. She was dearly loved by her family and friends for her selfless approach to life.

Today the ashes of both Norma and Alf lie together with commemorative plaques at the Toukley RSL gardens. Although somewhat “out of the way”, her children often stop to say hello.

 

Victoria BC

James Cook -Victoria BC

The early ferry from Seattle landed us in Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia at lunchtime. That gave us only a day and a half to get to know this delightful city, and this was nowhere near enough time to do it justice.

It enabled us time to walk around the eight block by eight blocks of the downtown area and take in the friendly relaxed atmosphere. We admired the architecture of its main buildings around the harbour front and smiled to see the statue of James Cook who claimed the island for England in 1778.

There were two main highlights of Victoria for me, a family reunion and the Butchart Gardens.

A Morrison Reunion

This was a reunion, if that is the right word, at least 400 years in the making. Using one of the latest tools to family historians, DNA testing, I had some time ago been able to make contact with a very, very distant cousin. Like me, my Morrison cousin also had his roots in the Isle of Man however the available written records going back to the 1700s were not enough to provide a family connection, but Y-DNA testing was. It showed that we are related but it seems our common ancestor must have lived in the 1600s or even the 1500s.

Isle of Man Flag

As part of our trip we arranged a lunch get together with Gary, his wife Vicki, Jenny and I and we got to know each other a little and will definitely stay in contact.

The Butchart Gardens

A short bus ride from Victoria is the Butchart Gardens, the most popular tourist attraction on the island.

Here I was intrigued to discover a civil engineering connection and, considering my own career in that area, it made our visit even more meaningful to me. We learned that Richard Butchart was a Canadian pioneer in the manufacture of Portland cement, the main component in the manufacture of concrete. He purchased hundreds of acres of land on the Saanich Peninsula because of its limestone deposits; limestone, in turn, being the principle ingredient in Portland cement. Once the limestone had been exhausted the site was left with ugly scars on the landscape and deep quarries. It was then that Richard Butchart’s wife Jennie started what was to became her prized gardens.

The Sunken Gardens

Over many years, and originally for her own benefit, she was able to transform the site (of 55 acres) into an amazing array of mass planting of flowers, the original Japanese garden, a large rose garden and the impressive sunken garden in the former quarry, complete with its display water spouts. As the gardens were progressively developed, more and more visitors were eager to look at them and eventually through popular demand a commercial enterprise came into being.

The gardens definitely lived up to all our expectation and even exceeded them. It was a most relaxing couple of hours. Our day was topped off with a boat ride into the adjoining waterways of Tod Inlet on the sunniest day we have had so far on tour.

 

 

 

 

Lest We Forget

On Friday I attended a funeral. Weatherwise, it was a rainy bleak day befitting the sadness we feel when saying a final goodbye to someone. Otherwise it was a day of happy recollection and celebration of the long and full life of Verdun Henry Walsh, who in his 99 years had touched many people, demonstrated by the large gathering.

I had not known Verdun as well as most at the funeral, only having met him on a dozen or more occasions over the years. Those occasions were Anzac Day reunions of the 2/12 Field Company RAE in which both Verdun and my late father, Alfred Ernest Morrison, had served during WWII. Not only had they served together but they had also been prisoners of war (POWs) together after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Initially in Changi gaol, Verdun was shipped to Japan where he spent the duration of the war, while Dad was part of F Force on the notorious Burma Railway before returning to Changi.

Alfred Ernest MORRISON

Alfred Ernest MORRISON

The day was particularly poignant for me because later this week will be the 21st anniversary of my father’s death at 79 years of age. Like most POWs, Dad did not speak of his war experiences except for a few humourous episodes. So even with my own reading and research I have only a superficial knowledge of the hardships that he would have experienced.

It also makes me sad to realise how little I really know of my many aspects of my father’s life, and that after 21 years how many of my memories of my father are tending to fade. Family history research does help to fill some of the gaps, and also provide a means of preserving details of the lives of my ancestors and particularly the close family that I knew and loved.