Friday, 01 May 2009 15:12

Sir John Morphett

The following biographical details of Sir John Morphett includes information on both his personal and political life. 

Personal Life

• 1806 – Sir John Morphett’s father Nathaniel Morphett, a solicitor for the Legal Firm of Desse, Dendy & Morphett and Sir John’s mother, Mary nee Gliddon, were married.

• 1809 - Sir John Morphett was born in London on May 4.  Sir John was one of four children.

Sir John attended the Plymouth and Highgate Grammar School, but he left at the age of 16. Following this he worked in a ship brokering office until he was 21, before spending the next three years of his life working for the Harris & Co counting-house in Alexandria, Egypt.  While here he also acted as American Consul for six months.

It was during his time in Egypt that Morphett became friends with Colonel William Light.

Similarly, while in Beirut Morphett meet Dr. Edward Wright who stimulated Morphett’s interest in the proposals for the new colony of South Australia.

Once in Adelaide, Sir John, with his brother George, worked as partners in their Stock and Property Agency. 

• 1838 – Morphett married Elizabeth Fisher, eldest daughter of Sir James Hurtle Fisher, on August 15, in Trinity Church, North Tce.  Together they had six daughters and five sons. 

• 1842 – Sir John and his wife moved into their home Cummins, situated five miles outside of Adelaide.  

Morphett also bought land near Wellington on the river’s entrance to Lake Alexandrina, expecting that this would eventually become another major town. 

• 1875 – When the Sturt River overflowed, causing the flooding of Glenelg, the Glenelg Council argued that the breach occurred on Morphett’s property.  Hence, the local citizens petitioned the House and Morphett was forced to remove the trees lining the Cummins property. 

• 1978 – Plans were drawn for a new train track and Morphett gave permission for this to run through his property. 

• 1892 – Morphett died at his house Cummins at Morphettville, on 7 November.  He was survived by six daughters and four sons.   The Morphett vault is situated in the West Tce. Cemetery. 


The Settlement of South Australia

• 1834 – After the declaration of the South Australia Act 1834, Morphett announced his desire to migrate to and his ability to purchase land in South Australia.  “By 1835 he was one of the most energetic advocates of the new province.”

• 1836 – Morphett came out to South Australia on the boat the Cygnet and landed on Kangaroo Island September 11.  Here he spent some time exploring the island and its suitability for settlement while waiting for Col. Light’s team of surveyors to return from the mainland.

While at Nepean Bay, Morphett explored Kingscote, Penneshaw, American River and Cygnet River.

Morphett was able to take two short visits to the mainland and this helped him, and Col. Light, confirm that Kangaroo Island did not provide suitable land for a major city; rather, they needed to continue exploring other potential sites on the mainland. 

• 1836 – After leaving Kangaroo Island for the final time, Morphett travelled on the Rapid which landed at the Patawalonga Mouth on November 5.  This team was one of the first group of Europeans to camp on the Adelaide Plains. 

While at Rapid Bay on November 6, Morphett was anticipating the arrival of the first migrants on board the Africaine whom he would have to help establish.  Also on board was Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger. 

On November 7 Morphett, along with Lieutenant Field and Sir George Kingston, continued the search for an appropriate space for settlement.  It was at this time that they came across and named the River Torrens.

• 1837 – During the debate about the site for the city of Adelaide between Governor Hindmarsh and Colonel Light and Sir James Fisher, Morphett was clearly on the side of the latter two.  “At the crucial meeting on 10 February 1837 Morphett's votes were decisive in confirming the site of Adelaide.”


Political and Business Life

• 1837 – Morphett joined a committee who were united by their dissatisfaction with Sir Hindmarsh’s governance and his interference with the choosing of the final site for the city.  “Hindmarsh later complained that Morphett was largely responsible for his recall.” 

• 1839 – Morphett was involved with surveys to determine the most suitable crops for South Australia and “he believed that wool-growing was more suited than agriculture”.

Morphett was appointed director of the South Australian Railway Company.  He was also a member of the Adelaide Committee of Management of the English Railway Company and it was within this role that he suggested the laying of rails along the centre of Port Rd.  This proposal was rejected as the space, originally allocated for a canal, was also used by grazing animals and it was feared that they would become disturbed by the sounds of the train. 

Morphett helped to found the Adelaide Mechanics’ Institute and the first local insurance company.

• 1840 – Sir John became treasurer of South Australia’s Municipal Corporation.

• 1842 – Having gained a reputation for his quality imports of cattle and sheep, Morphett became Chairman of the Board of the Chamber of Commerce. 

• 1843 – Once the first Legislative Council was appointed, Morphett was elected one of its seven members.

• 1844 – Morphett helped to found the Agricultural Society.

• 1846 – Opposing the proposed mineral royalties policies, Morphett, along with three others, walked out of the Council in protest.  At this time he was also Director of SA Mining Company and owner of Burra Burra Mines

Morphett introduced a bill to allow government money to aid the Church and, despite intense debate within Parliament and the public arena, it was passed. 

• 1846-47 – During the later part of 1846 Morphett travelled overseas, likely in order to spend time with his elderly parents who died a few years later.  Morphett did not return until the end of 1847.

• 1849 – When the document allowing self-government arrived from Britain, Morphett proposed changes.  Essentially arguing for a Hose of Lord for South Australia he wrote that the Upper House should be compiled by “hereditary members nominated by Her Majesty” .

• 1851 – After the first public elections were held for the Legislative Council, Morphett, as a nominee of the Crown, was selected by the Members to become Speaker.

• 1857 – Morphett was elected Member of the House and he sat the full, eight year term.

• 1861 – Morphett was Chief Secretary of the Thomas Reynolds Ministry, but he resigned once he failed to attain the necessary support to dismiss Benjamin Boothby.

• 1865 – Morphett was appointed President of the Legislative Council.

• 1870 – Morphett was knighted.

• 1871 – The South Australian Cricket Association was formed and Morphett served as one of the early Presidents.

• 1873 – Morphett retired from politics.


Involvement in Sports

• 1838 – Morphett, along with Col. Light, James Fisher and Charles Fisher, hosted the first horserace meet on January 1st and 2nd.  Between them they had seven horses.  The event was a huge success and was the catalyst for the creation for the South Australian Jockey Club years later. 

• 1853 – Morphett’s property Cummins provided the space for the first reported cricket match in South Australia on the Easter Monday, March 29.   Eleven days later, The Adelaide Cricket Club was formed with Morphett as one of two Vice Presidents.  James Fisher acted as President while John Baker served with Morphett as the second Vice President.

• 1857 – Morphett served as Steward for the South Australian Jockey Club. 

• 1858 – Morphett became Chairman for the South Australian Jockey Club.

• 1859 – Morphett’s horse President was the winner of the meet.  

• 1871 – The South Australian Cricket Association was formed, and Morphett served as one of the earliest Presidents.

After retiring from politics, Morphett continued to serve as Director or Steward of the South Australian Jockey Club until 1881.

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