Monday, January 25, 2010

Non Omnis Moriar. 'I shall not altogether die.' Horace 65-8 BC: Odes

JOHN AND HANNAH MORRISON - Pioneers of Cooroy On a recent holiday on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, my husband David and I drove to Cooroy, a small town inland from Noosa. We went to Cooroy in search of the graves of my great great grandparents, John and Hannah Tait MORRISON who both died in 1927. John and Hannah are official 'Pioneers of Cooroy and as such their descendants are entitled to a Pioneer Certficate once they have proven descent. The photo above, is John and Hannah's headstone after David had carefully removed 80 years of lichen, which had made it almost impossible to read the inscriptions.

Two years ago, I had never heard of John and Hannah Morrison, much less imagined that I would visit their resting place in January, 2010. I had known since 1999, after obtaining the marriage certificate of my maternal grandparents, Hilda Lillian Weston and Ian Cuthbert Reece-Hoyes (married in 1929), that Ian's mother was Florence Morrison, born in Strathfield, Sydney. There were quite a few Florence Morrisons born in Sydney around her estimated birth date, but none born in Strathfield so I had no way of knowing which was 'my' Florence. My research into this side of the family had hit a 'brick wall'. My mother had passed away and because her parents had divorced when she was three years old, I knew nothing of her father's family. So, Florence was forced to 'rest' in an archive box while David celebrated the fact that I had Sydney origins. The discovery that Florence Morrison was a 'Strathfield girl', in his eyes, considerably weakened , my 20 year old argument that I 'belonged' in Queensland and not in Sydney where we live.

Almost two years ago, on Facebook, I found a Reece-Hoyes relative, a first cousin to my mother, Leonard Alwyn (Len). We arranged to meet in Brisbane and thence began our journey into the past together. Pictured below is Len, myself and my sister Reece at our first meeting in Brisbane, Queensland.

Several times, I had tried, unsuccessfully, to find a marriage certificate for Florence Morrison and my great grandfather ( Len's grandfather), Leonard Cuthbert Reece-Hoyes., estimating the date to be prior to the birth of my grandfather, Ian in 1910. Ian's birth certificate, issued in 1910, gave Florence's age as 24 years and this information enabled me to narrow 'my' Florence down to three possible births in Sydney.

My sister Reece and I arranged to meet Len and his wife Jan in Brisbane. What more appropriate place to meet than the Queensland State Archives, where after coffee and an instant rapport, we spent much of the day researching, discovering, and learning how to use the unfamiliar micro-fiche machines (under the stern and watchful eye of the archive attendant who was less than impressed with, what I am certain she thought, were our attempts to destroy her machines!). By the end of our day, after much fun and some frustration, we were amazed at what we had collected. We had begun with the information already known to us, which was, that my grandfather Ian was born in 1910, Len's father, Leonard John, was born in 1917 and a younger brother, Lawrence had been born in 1921. What a surprise to discover three sisters, Yvonne Florence, born in 1913, who lived only a short time, Mabel Lenore who had died in 1920 and Alwynne Jean , born in 1916, who had died of convulsions in 1918. The discovery of this last sister was a special find for Reece and myself as our mother's name was Alwynne Jean and now we knew for whom she had been named. I also discovered the reason I had not found Florence's marriage, as she and Leonard Reece-Hoyes did not marry until 1913, three years after the birth of my grandfather Ian.

Among the Archive records, we found School Admission records for Ian and Len Reece-Hoyes . These were fascinating as they showed the boys, Ian and Leonard living in Cooroy in 1922 and 1924, in the care of a Nurse Morrison at a Private Hospital. In 1917 we discovered Ian attending the Chermside State School in Brisbane. A phone call to Len's father Len senior, revealed that he recalled living in Cooroy with his maternal grandparents as a young boy. His grandmother had been a nurse and he remembered some aunts who were nurses as well. What a blessing that we still had someone to ask questions of. The memories that Len senior, now in his 90's,( pictured above) shared with us filled in many gaps and proved invaluable. The names of Florence's parents, however still remained a mystery.

On my return to Sydney, I searched the Births, Deaths and Marriages online service that is available for NSW. I chose two births, one of which I felt was certain to be my Florence and ordered the birth certificates. I 'sensed' immediately that I had found the right Florence, when on one certificate, I saw the family's address; Morwick Street, Burwood. This street is situated right on the cusp of Burwood and its neighbouring suburb of Strathfield. This Florence Morrison was born on the 10 th of August, 1885. Her parents were, John MORRISON, 38 years, Contractor, born Aberdeen, Scotland and Hannah, formerly GAIR, 38 years, born in Northumberland, England. Meanwhile, Jan Reece-Hoyes, in Queensland, had sent away for the marriage certificate of Florence Morrison to Leonard Reece-Hoyes. The state of Queensland, has yet to introduce an online service for Birth, Death and Marriage records and so we had to wait for the certificate to arrive via 'snail mail.'

The arrival of the much anticipated marriage certificate for Florence Morrison to Leonard Reece-Hoyes caused much jubilation as it proved beyond doubt that we had found Florence's parents. Of course, this certificate also opened up a whole new branch of the family tree with our discovery that Leonard Reece-Hoyes had been born in New Zealand to Elizabeth Morley and James Berry HOYES. We felt as though we had opened Pandora's box with an intriguing mystery (how and why did Hoyes become Reece-Hoyes) as well as new clues tempting to distract us. For the moment, however, we decided to remain on the trail of John and Hannah Morrison. There were questions which needed answering. How did they come to be living in Cooroy after Florence was born in Sydney? When did they come to Australia? On which ship? Did they come together or with their families? The most vital lead that the marriage certificate provided was the link we needed to go back in time: the birth places of John and Hannah. John was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and Hannah, in Northumberland, England.

Before we ventured back to Scotland and England, we decided to gather as much information about the Morrison family here in Australia as we could. It was our hope that we might collect 'clues' that would assist us in our search into the past in the UK. One thing to consider was that names of children are often passed down from one generation to the next and sometimes, an unusual name or a surname used as a middle name provides crucial keys to unlocking the past.

Another search of the NSW BDM's online, resulted in finding the birth of another son to Florence(pictured above) and Leonard Reece-Hoyes. Wallace Dalkeith was born in 1930 in Ballina, NSW and died a few days later. Lawrence Reece-Hoyes, (1921),brother to my grandfather, Ian and to Leonard , also had a son called Wallace and a daughter named Yvonne. Two brothers had named children after siblings they had lost. An even greater surprise awaited us as a further search of the NSW BDM's revealed that John and Hannah Morrison had been blessed with a son also named Wallace Dalkeith in October 1892. The names Wallace and Dalkeith were filed away as possible links to Scotland and the Morrison family. A search of NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages online, found the following children born to John and Hannah Tait Morrison (the middle name of Tait made searching much easier as there were more than one Morrison couple with the names John and Hannah): Colin R-1879, George-1881, Minnie-1883, Florence F-1885 (my g grandmother), and twins John and Jessie born in 1887. As Colin R was born in Newcastle, a timeline began to appear. John and Hannah were living in Newcastle, NSW in 1879 and by 1885 were living in Morwick Street, Burwood, a suburb of Sydney. The death of son George in 1892 aged 9 years showed that John and Hannah were still residing in Sydney at that time.

The time had come to take the search to England and Scotland where the couple had come from. Assuming that the couple had followed tradition and married in Hannah's home parish in Northumberland, I searched the Northumberland parish records through as well as council websites in Northumberland which had put historical records online. Success! John and Hannah were married in South Shields, Co Durham, Tyne and Wear in the October to December quarter of 1868. Encouraged by my success so far, I sent for a copy of the certificate from the GRO (British Register Office). Not sitting idle, while awaiting the arrival of this document, we thought about the large gap between the marriage of John and Hannah in 1868 and the birth in Australia of their 'first' child, Colin R in 1879. It seemed likely that other children had been born to John and Hannah in England. I searched for possible births of earlier children in the UK and soon found four more children. Through website, I found that Martha Ann was born in 1870, Alice J in 1872, Elizabeth in 1874 and John William in 1877, Due to the expense of obtaining certificates from the UK I did not send for copies of these but was pleased that I now had a definite timeline for John and Hannah's arrival in Australia. The last child born to John and Hannah in Northumberland, was John William, in 1877 and the first child to be born in Australia was Colin R in 1879. This meant that the Morrison family left the UK sometime between 1877 and 1879. This narrow window of time helped greatly in finding the ship on which they travelled to Australia.

Searches of passenger lists to NSW proved fruitless and it was only when in desperation we broadened our search to the online Victorian Unassisted Passenger Lists that we found John and Hannah. One thing I have learned since I began searching for ancestors is to always look beyond the obvious. John and Hannah Morrison arrived in the port of Melbourne on the ship 'Kent' in the hot month of December, 1878. Martha Ann 7yrs , Alice J 5yrs, Elizabeth 3yrs, and John W 1yr, travelled with their parents to begin a new life in Australia. Whether it was their original intention to travel to Sydney, we will probably never know, but we do know from the birth of Colin R, that the family were living in Newcastle, NSW in 1879, in the year following their arrival in Australia. My husband David suggested that Newcastle may have attracted the Morrisons because of links to the city of Newcastle in Northumberland. It appears that by 1885 when Florence was born, John William had died as the certificate states that one male child was deceased. Another son named John was born to John and Hannah in 1887. The Morrisons lost another son, George in 1892. We can only imagine the grief that John and Hannah felt at the loss of these children.

Using records such as Electoral Rolls and School Admission records, we were able to reconstruct a timeline of John and Hannah Morrison's life in Australia. They arrived in Melbourne, Victoria in 1878, were living in Newcastle, NSW in 1879. By 1903, according to the Queensland Electoral Roll, some members of the family were residing at Harlin Road, Ipswich. Hannah and daughters, Jessie and Minnie were recorded as carrying out domestic duties. Son, John was working as a machinist while his father John was, at that time, a carriage builder. Daughter, Martha Annie was recorded as being a Nurse. In 1908, the family was still living at the same address in Ipswich. The 1913 Queensland Electoral Roll shows John Morrison working as the Mill Manager at the Stuart River Mill, Nanango, Wide bay. With him were Hannah ( home duties), Jessie (home duties) and John, whose occupation was still a machinist. The Stuart River Mill was a sugar mill. Often the occupation of a person provides valuable clues to finding them in a past census, but as John had been a carriage builder in 1903 and was now a Manager of a Sugar Mill in 1913, we suspected that this would be of no help in our search in the UK. It was more likely that he obtained work wherever he could.

We knew that John and Hannah were living in Cooroy in 1922, to 1924, from the School Admission records of their grandsons Ian and Leonard (Len senior) who were living with them. The 1925 Electoral Roll shows the family living in Cooroy with John and Hannah who were both retired by this time. Daughter, Martha Ann, and Elizabeth (assumed to be the wife of son John ) were both Nurses in Cooroy. Len senior has shared with us his memories of a large house in Toowoomba where he spent time with his grandparents. He remembers tennis courts and maids. Exactly, when John and Hannah may have lived in Toowoomba remains a mystery.

The private hospital opened by the Morrisons was in Maple Road Cooroy, backing onto Hospital Lane. Researchers into the history of Cooroy, have produced a book entitled, 'Pioneers of Cooroy', From this work we have learned that John Morrison was a part owner of the Butter factory in Cooroy. This building ( pictured below) remains an important feature in the town and now provides a facility for the arts. The hospital was situated in a building which had previously been a private home. Today there is still a private hospital on the Morrison's hospital site in Maple Road.

There is much more we would like to know about John and Hannah Morrison's life in Australia and our search is by no means complete. We know very little about the lives of John and Hannah's children. Martha Ann was living in Cooroy in 1925. She would have been 55 years old in that year, so presumably she did not marry. Colin R was found on an Electoral Roll, living in Melbourne around the same time. One day, we hope to know more about Florence's other siblings.

When David and I visited the Cooroy Cemetery, we had no idea where the grave of John and Hannah Morrison was located. We had seen a photograph taken by Len Reece-Hoyes and his wife Jan, the previous year when they passed through the town. Len had cleared quite a lot of rubbish from the uncared for, but significantly large grave. We found the grave sitting on the side of a hill in a very pretty location. Sadly the Headstone was covered in 83 years of lichen and dirt which made reading the inscription almost impossible. The words, 'Hannah Tait and 'Morrison' were clear enough to establish that this was the grave we were looking for but it was sad to see the deteriorated condition of the grave.

A visit to the local hardware store armed us with the correct cleaning products and David set to work restoring the headstone. We had no idea of the surprise that awaited us. David had suspected that the headstone was granite but as the lichen came away and the stone began to shine in the sunlight, we saw just how beautiful the engraved stone really was. Gradually the wording became clearer and whiter against the black granite.

After quite a few hours of hard work, we could see clearly that the result was worth the effort.

Below, left, is the headstone, pictured during the early stages of cleaning with the inscription becoming clearer. In the photograph to the right and below, I am standing at the grave of my great great grandparents John and Hannah Morrison in the picturesque Cooroy cemetery. The stone beneath the headstone is a lovely block of sandstone just waiting for someone to come along and clean the lichen and dirt off it. We ran out of time on this recent trip, but perhaps we might find the time to tidy up the rest of the grave on our next holiday? It is so important for graves to be cared for. I did not ever meet John and Hannah, yet I feel, now that I have seen their beautiful grave and headstone, that I 'know' them and that they will not be forgotten.

This is the story of John and Hannah Morison from the time they arrived in Australia, as we know it so far.

Len, Jan and I have also taken a journey back in time and discovered the ancestors of Hannah Tait Morrison (maiden name Gair). We know that Hannah's middle name of Tait was her mother's surname. We have traced Hannah's Gair family in Northumberland to the early 1700's and the Taits, so far, back one generation. This is a work in progress and by no means completed. John's family tree has, as yet, proven somewhat more difficult to trace, but we do not give up easily.

We have traced the families of some of Hannah's siblings in England, forward to today. Her sister Ann mmarried a James Turnbull and we are currently attempting to make contact with this branch of the family. Recently I made contact with the great great granddaughter of Ralph Gair, Hannah's youngest brother. Deborah lives in Newcastle in the UK not far from where John and Hannah lived. Hopefully, together we will all go on a new journey of discovery. Our journey with John and Hannah Morrison has truly taken us to the UK.

In my next blog entry, I will show how we used Census records, Parish Records, Marriage and Death Records and Christening Records to research and to create the story of the lives of our Gair and Tait ancestors.


  1. Hello Sharn,

    I have been reading your blog and find it very interesting. I too have alzheimers disease at a young age in my family. I am wondering if through your researching you found out if your mother got it through genetics? or any info. After all its interesting to find out our family history but the most important thing is finding out what diseases and illnesses lie in our family history.

    Cheers Tara

  2. My email address is

    Any info would be great. I'm not sure on how to go about tracing family illnesses or if it even can be done.

  3. Sharn, Please contact me at regarding Family History of John Nerger (aka Nargar) if you would like to share family history info. I am a descendant of Gottlieb Nerger who was my Great Grandfather.
    Hope to her from you,
    Bob Hogan

  4. Hello Sharn

    I have only just come across your blog and was most interested to read the fascinating story of your great uncle Rex Hoyes. Your research is admirable and I congratulate you ! I have also done some research into the Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft firm during his tenure in the war years and have pieced together a story worthy of the tv series in the UK called 'Foyle's War' (now, sadly, finished). Initially based on report files found in my late father's wooden trunk covering his posting as head of an AID team at Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft between June 1940 and the end of 1941, this led to discovery of the National Archives file on the 1944 bribery case. This was an embargoed file and I applied for its release under the FOI Act (which had just been passed)- three weeks later the file was opened to public access ! I am afraid to say that all the records show great uncle Rex to be a bit of a rogue but that the conclusion of my research was that whatever the means, he did secure the Seafire contact for COA and some 500 were built before the war ended, making a valuable contribution towards the war effort. As you know, he was acquitted of the charges in January '44 but lost his job immediately afterwards.I am hoping to have the article published soon. One excellent bit of news is that the only COA built Seafire XV in flying condition took to the air again in the 'States in July - no doubt Rex would have raised his glass !!

    My email is