James Thomas Morisset – A Family Story
by Ronald and Margaret Thompson
Lieutenant Colonel James Thomas Morisset was my great grandfather x 3 and I am extremely proud of him, his achievements as a soldier, pioneer and family man.
Some years ago we were told of a family connection to James Thomas Morisset and that he was called “King Lash”.
This comment was the beginning of a thorough and extensive search of historical and family records to hopefully discover the true story of this remarkable man and his many descendants.
Firstly we wish to thank Mr Gionni Di Gravio, Chair of the Coal River Working Party at The University of Newcastle (Australia) for inviting us to write a family perspective of James Thomas Morisset.
Genealogy is often regarded by historians as light weight and not relevant but our research has thoroughly investigated the historical records of the day.
It is difficult to write this without addressing the hard criticisms written over the years and particularly in more recent publications continually denigrating the character of our ancestor. Some of these publications have been written over 100 years after the event. For those who quote Windross and Ralston who wrote a History of Newcastle should remember that their story is hearsay and they were not born when Morisset was deceased.
It is our view of his character that forms his life and his family. The attacks not only on James Morisset but also his family has caused immeasurable distress to many of his descendants whilst others struggle to understand the reasons for this treatment but more sadly there are probably descendants who have come to believe the outrageous stories.
The vast majority of stories about Morisset were based on hearsay or blatant untruths and copies from one bad publication to another without anyone really delving into the whole story or the historical records of the time which can reveal a different record.
We also have to state that we do not hold any credence to memoirs written many many years after the fact. Memoirs are at best simply unreliable and mostly based on hearsay.
One such memoir, which has been copied continually, was written by Captain Foster Fyans and the paper ridiculed the appearance of James Morisset. Fyans was known to his own family as the Frustratingly, Fanciful, Fictional Foster Fyans. These memoirs were unfinished, unedited, unreviewed and probably never ever intended for publication. We can hardly blame Fyans but we do abhor the continued abuse in the description of the facial injury to James Morisset caused whilst he was a serving soldier involved in combat for his country. What self-respecting author today would dare to publish any writing denigrating the appearance or injury to our soldiers who have been wounded whilst defending their country or assisting another country during the course of a battle.
It is our belief that if Morisset was so badly disfigured there would not be any prominent positions available to him and would he have found a beautiful wife in Emily Vaux. We have a copy of a letter written by a lady that James and Emily visited and welcomed to the settlement of Bathurst. This letter was sent to a friend in England and was full of local gossip and requests for haberdashery. At no point is there a reference to a horrible disfigurement of the Commandant. The letter stated that “Colonel Morisset was the Chief Magistrate and I know not what”. Mrs Morisset is described as “a remarkably ladylike agreeable little woman”.
The Life of James Thomas Morisset
James Thomas Morisset was born into a refined family and a life of comfort living in Brunswick Square in London. The only surviving son and eldest child of James and Jannette Morisset. The Verger of St Giles in the Fields, London kindly provided the baptism records for all the children of James and Janette. Another son, Thomas, was born in 1781 but no further records so we assume he died as an infant. The death notice in the London Gazette records James Thomas as the only son of James Morisset. James Thomas had 5 sisters who we have no doubt adored their older brother. The name of Thomas probably came from the brother of Janette who was Admiral Thomas Stone of the Portuguese Navy.
Our first news of James Thomas is at age 15 when he was a witness to the marriage of his half-sister Ann Tadwell.
The Morisset family were artisans – watch makers, enamellists, silver and gold smiths. His father, James Morisset, was a highly skilled goldsmith who crafted some of the most elaborate and exquisite presentation swords of his time.
A famous sword now held in the London Museum was crafted for Admiral Lord Nelson following his victory at the Battle of the Nile.
James junior was not destined to follow his father’s profession. He wanted action and excitement and maybe he saw that was possible in a Military career. The British military were moving into new territories such as India, Afghanistan, Africa and China and constantly defending their territories against their old arch enemy the French. Napoleon was on the move.
James became involved with young men of his age who shared enthusiasm for a military career. Most of them were fortunate in having aristocratic titles or family connections such as a relative already in the military. The method of appointment was by purchase if there was a vacancy.
In 1798 James Thomas Morisset wrote to Major General St Leger of the 80th Foot, the Staffordshire Volunteers requesting that an application be made to His Majesty The King for an appointment as an Ensign by Purchase. This request was granted on 28 January 1798 upon purchase of £400.00.
On 1 February 1798 he joined the Regiment in India and within 2 years he was promoted to Lieutenant, without purchase. The 80th were involved in the battle of Alexandria and the officers were awarded the Sultan’s Medal for Egypt.
The regiment was sent back to India and at some period James Morisset became ill and returned to England. A lot of illness amongst soldiers was caused by drinking the potent local brews.
Whilst on leave he purchased a Captaincy in the 2/48th Regiment this was at a cost of £1500.00. He was obviously a very keen soldier to pay this amount of money to become a Captain or more than likely he was assisted by his father.
This move put him on the battle front of the Peninsula Wars and he was awarded clasps for seven battles. He fought at the crossing of Douro, at Talavera and at the worst battle of the war Albuera. It was during the heavy fighting that he received a facial wound. It is not known whether it was an exploding shell or a sabre cut which caused the injury but in all he was lucky to survive as many soldiers lost their lives. The medics of the day which included the dedicated surgeon George James had a battle to provide sufficient medical treatment to the huge number of wounded. James Morisset was on the casualty list but the London Gazette recorded that he had been slightly wounded.
If he was as badly wounded and disfigured as is now the widely held belief he would not have continued to stay on the Peninsular to take part in further battles but he would have been repatriated back to England.
He soldiered on to fight in further conflicts at Vittoria, Nive, Orthes and Toulouse. He did have some relief as ADC to General William Inglis from 1813-1814.
A pension was awarded for his injury during the battle of Albuera.
Arrival in New South Wales
The year 1817 sees the 48th Regiment sent on duty to New South Wales and James Morisset arrived in August of that year. He spent time on duty in Sydney where he became a firm friend of the Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his family.
James Morisset did not have a problem with Macquarie’s policies of assimilating emancipists into society and he was willing to attend any functions that included ex-convicts unlike some of his fellow officers who preferred to shun people not considered of suitable class.
Governor Macquarie was obviously impressed with Morisset’s abilities and posted him to the penal settlement of Newcastle as Commandant. He was promoted to Brevet Major in 1819.
Commandant of Newcastle
Morisset’s command in Newcastle in 1820 comprised of himself as Commandant, two lieutenants, one assistant surgeon, three sergeants, three corporals and 78 privates in all 88 military personnel. With them were ten women and twelve children. A convict population of 671 men, women and children and he was also responsible for the care of settlers and their families.
The duties in Newcastle were onerous, difficult and disagreeable according to Commissioner Bigge after conducting an enquiry into the colonial society. James Morisset was meticulous in his administration which is noted by the number of letters he despatched during this period. Often he was requesting extra medicinal supplies, food or clothing for the convicts. We believe that he was a caring Commandant in a difficult position and he believed that he could reform convicts. It has been recorded that he did not favour flogging as a punishment and would rather find other methods of punishment.
Origins of “King Lash”
The term ‘King Lash” was attributed to a Captain Mark Currie. Who said that this remark was ever made by Currie and where is the truth in this statement?
We have not found any such evidence in historical records or written in a diary; not even an unreliable memoir, and can only assume this is another case of hearsay.
Captain Currie spent a short time in Newcastle when he took the Governor to visit and it is hardly likely that extreme and harsh punishment was carried out during the visit of then Governor Brisbane.
It has now been recorded in the diaries and by the descendants of Captain Mark Currie that he was not referring to James Morisset but to the general use of the lash.
If one reads the early editions of the Sydney Gazette it reveals that flogging was a constant and daily punishment in the town square in Sydney and this is prior to anyone who reoffends being sent to Newcastle. The sentencing was given by the sitting magistrates of the day.
There is no doubt that Commissioner Bigge saw men in working at the lime burners in Newcastle with scarred backs. This is the result of punishment inflicted in Sydney not in Newcastle. The use of leg irons was only for runaways and men sent to work at Lime burning were the men who constantly offended. Morisset had a Superintendent of Convicts who was responsible for enforcing discipline and punishment and at no time would the Commandant use the whip. In fact one of Morisset’s first things was to try and reduce the number of tails to lessen the effects of the lash.
It must be remembered that all punishments were set by the Government of the day and not by the appointed Commandants.
Commissioner Bigge’s View
The Bigge inquiry reveals that Morisset was a much more humane person and Commandant than his predecessor. Morisset banned the overseers from the use of sticks to strike the convicts which was allowed during the previous command. The Returns of Prisoners punished between 1819-1821 were no greater under Morisset than reports from his predecessor.
It was said that Morisset listened to all the woes of the convicts and was sympathetic to their needs. He was quoted as saying “he knew all their priggings”. As we know the word “prigging” is convict slang for thieving and Morisset would certainly have to know all about this crime in fact he probably meant that he understood the desperation of men and women who had resorted to theft.
John Bingle’s Observations
The Governor’s instructions to Morisset when he was sent to Newcastle was to develop the coal industry and open the settlement for business and development. This included the completion and further construction of the many buildings needed for a growing community. This was accomplished and we know that business was encouraged by the visit of Mr John Bingle who was impressed with what Morisset had to show of Newcastle and surrounds. Bingle in his memoirs written much later in life also mentioned how all stood to attention when Morisset passed. Anyone who is familiar with the Military would know that is a requirement to stand to attention and salute if appropriately dressed all superior officers and especially the Commandant. This rule would again have been enforced by Morisset’s Superintendant of Convicts and Sergeants.
Morisset was certainly strict with the amount of alcohol consumed and rationed its use by all very closely as he knew what unruly behaviour would result and law and order would dissipate rapidly. This would have been a very unpopular decision but vital for control of the settlement.
Relations With Aboriginal People
Morisset continued the tradition of employing aboriginals as trackers for chasing runaway convicts. Whether this practice was the correct one or not for the original owners of the land is debatable but there were good relations between the military and the native population but perhaps not so with the convicts who were tracked and returned to Newcastle.
Morisset certainly did not hesitate to punish anyone inflicting harm on the natives of Newcastle. He was probably the only Commandant or officer to send a convict for trial for the murder of an aboriginal elder. All trials of a serious nature were held in Sydney and Morisset had doubts about a conviction due to language and cultural differences but it was proved and the convict Kirby was executed.
The Cato Street Conspirators
We must mention the five Cato Street Conspirators who were part of a radical political group tried in England and sentenced to transportation. On arrival in New South Wales they were transferred to Newcastle. Morisset was warned they were possible troublemakers and they were to be placed in hard labour in the goal gang. Initially Morisset followed the order of the Governor but he found that from their quiet and orderly conduct he released them from the goal gang and they were employed in other duties. They did prove to be well-behaved prisoners and Morisset’s interest and understanding encouraged at least 3 of them to request transfer with Morisset to Bathurst. They were not the only prisoners to want to follow Morisset.
Reputation Among Contemporaries
Morisset was highly praised for his prompt and kind assistance to the Captain and Crew of the stranded brig “Calder”. He was also publicly praised for the kind reception and able assistance he provided to Mr William Smith of the First Public School and his party when they were inspecting branches of the Hunter River.
Governor Macquarie’s diaries record how much he valued the friendship and kindness afforded to him by James Morisset. He was praised for his diligence and the zealous and unremitting attention for the progress and advancement of Newcastle. The Governor was very pleased with the good order and regularity of all aspects of public service conducted at the settlement.
When Macquarie finally departed the Colony he penned a letter to the incoming Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane with a list of people he trusted and relied upon during his time in New South Wales – James Morisset was top of this list. Macquarie strongly recommended Morisset to the incoming Governor for Patronage, Protection and kindness. This is a strong indication that Morisset was sympathetic to the same ideals as Governor Lachlan Macquarie and therefore could not be the cruel and vicious person as some writers like to assume.
In 1823 the Sydney Gazette reported on the expedition of Major Morisset making the first overland journey from Newcastle to Windsor. An arduous journey taking 9 days through inhospitable country. His first camp on this journey was at a tree where now the township of Morisset exists. In 1978 the town celebrated a Back to Morisset festival and the main attraction was Major James Thomas Morisset. The guests of honour were a great grandson, Mr Christian Morisset and his wife Patricia.
A plaque dedicated to Major Morisset was unveiled by Mr Chris Morisset during a tree dedication ceremony. It was planned to declare the tree and surrounds a historic place.
Another arduous journey that was undertaken by James Morisset was to row in an open boat from Newcastle to Sydney Cove. The journey by sea took only eleven hours as reported in the Sydney Gazette in March 1822.
Construction of a Windmill
Whilst in Newcastle Major Morisset organised the construction of a windmill on a hill overlooking the port. It was built to replace the unsatisfactory hand mills that the convicts had to use to grind flour from their wheat rations. The windmill was demolished in late 1840 but this caused an outcry from shipping captains as the windmill was used as landmark for the approach to Newcastle. This is the place where the current obelisk is now standing.
The “Bogey Hole”
One lasting legacy of Morisset was due to his fastidious nature and unlike a lot of his fellow countrymen he liked to keep clean and therefore a bathing area was built and called the Commandant’s bath or Morisset’s bath. It is now known as the “Bogey Hole” which is the aboriginal word or meaning for bath or bathe. This is now a very popular swimming area of Newcastle.
The city of Newcastle should be very proud of its heritage and the people who made it the vibrant and industrial city it is today.
Morisset and the Historians
Many esteemed historians have written of Morisset and they wrote honestly and with the available records of the day.
Benjamin Champion , a noted Newcastle historian was amongst the first to write about Morisset although he did not have access to all records and he was not aware of all the Morisset family details.
Professor John Turner, an esteemed historian and author of Newcastle University, was a supporter of Morisset and he was known to refer to the book by Robert Hughes as “The Fatal Slur”
Dan O’Donnell who wrote historical stories on the History of Newcastle and the people. He encouraged us to write more about James Morisset.
John Delaney, a well-respected and valued historian of Newcastle. In his book on “Newcastle Its first 20 years”, he states that:
“ when one thinks of the highly paid executive of today, one has to wonder how they would have handled the onerous problems and the multiplicity of duties needed as Commandant”.
Mr Delaney also thought that Morisset was the best Commandant that Newcastle ever had. Such a pity the local historians of the Newcastle Herald do not have a similar view but prefer to follow the radical and unproven stories.
Modern day critics who might be horrified by the punishments dealt to convicts many of whom were hardened criminals transferred to places of secondary punishment (much like re-offending criminals in our gaols today) should look at the codes for discipline in the time period of the day and not be so quick to condemn such punishments. Law and order especially in the military was harsh and punishments more severe than dealt to convicts. Remember that up to World War 1 soldiers were executed for falling asleep on duty – that is harsh.
Morisset Sent To Bathurst
The 48th Regiment and Morisset in particular were due to return to England for a much earned period of leave. The 48th left but the Governor still had further duties for James Thomas Morisset.
There were problems in Bathurst between the settlers and the indigenous Wiradjuri people. The Governor was being harassed by the Sydney property owners who complained of their stock and stockmen being killed by natives. This of course was due to the rapid expansion of the Bathurst plains and more settlers moving into the area. The Wiradjuri people were led by a young and brave warrior named Windradyne who was doing his best to ensure the safety of his people and retain their tribal lands.
War Between European Settlers and Wiradjuri People
Morisset was sent into the fray to attempt some sort of reconciliation between the settlers and the native population. This was a very difficult situation and probably made worse by Brisbane proclaiming Martial Law. The biggest problem facing James Morisset was the lawlessness of the settlers who were intent on removing the aboriginal population from their land. Atrocities were committed on all sides and Morisset was extremely distressed when a group of settlers attacked and killed natives and he arrested the perpetrators and sent them to Sydney for trial. He was over ruled due to Governor Brisbane’s use of martial law. Morisset had Windradyne brought in and he kept him imprisoned for some time and we have no doubt this time was spent with Morisset trying to reason the Wiradjuri leader to surrender and save his tribe.
Some writers have tried to claim that soldiers were the main culprits in this confrontation but that is not true. The soldiers were foot soldiers and not only did they not have horses to pursue the natives, the majority of the soldiers could not ride a horse. Morisset tried in vain to order horses and saddles from Sydney but to no avail. The realisation by the rulers in England of the vastness of the land and this inability to search and pursue any criminals led to the eventual formation of the Mounted Police.
Luckily the natives knew their land and were able to escape detection on many occasions. Windradyne eventually gave up and attended the annual assemblage of aboriginals which was hosted by the Governor. No doubt Morisset attended this gala prior to leaving for England for a well-deserved rest and overdue leave.
The Bathurst Situation
Major Morisset received high praise in a report from Sir Thomas Brisbane to London in regard to his judgement, prudence and moderation in settling the situation in Bathurst.
The Sydney Gazette dated 6th January, 1823 published an editorial on hearing of the intention to relieve Major Morisset of his duties in Bathurst prior to his return to England. This paper wrote that an eyewitness reported,
“ that the improvements made at Bathurst by Morisset are truly astonishing. It said that the Commandant had not lost sight of the comfort of the unfortunate but deserving prisoners of the crown. He keeps them diligently employed, at the time looks to their necessities. Within about a quarter of a mile of the town, a neat street of comfortable huts or cottages have been erected, solely for the prisoners. The town is considerably altered for the better”
When Morisset first arrived in Bathurst he sent a report to the Governor detailing the state of the settlement. His report stated that very little was in the stores and an inventory would be sent as soon as possible. One complaint was that not a sheet of paper nor any certificates or reports forms were available. Morisset’s predecessor was William Lawson of the Blue Mountains fame and a veteran soldier. Lawson was more occupied with settling on his property “Veteran Hall” at Prospect than administering the settlement of Bathurst.
No Commandant was more prolific in generating meticulous reports and letters than James Thomas Morisset as can be evidenced by the large amount sent to the Governor and the Colonial Secretary.
Before we send James Thomas Morisset back to England on leave we must mention Johanna Deasey. There are a number of spelling for Johanna’s surname. We have not been able to establish the exact relationship of James and Johanna but we do know that Johanna gave birth to a son, Ambrose Gripus Australia Morisset and Ambrose was baptised on 6 Febuary 1825 at St John’s Church, Parramatta and his father’s name was recorded as James Thomas Morisset.
Did James know of the birth of Ambrose? This is an unknown but we do know that Johanna with her son Ambrose moved to Newcastle to stay with her mother in 1825. Johanna had another relationship with a William Innes and a daughter was born. Johanna married in 1828 to Thomas Davies an ex-convict and they had a number of children. Ambrose took his step father’s surname and he later married but there were no children. We did make contact with the descendants of Johanna who were pleased to know of a link to a well-known pioneer of Australia in James Thomas Morisset.
Departure from New South Wales
Prior to his departure from New South Wales, in 1823 Major Morisset had received a request from the Governor’s Secretary, Mr Hay, to write a report on Convict Control. We do not know the result of this report as we have been unable to locate such a copy.
Morisset did report for duty on his arrival in England and he requested an appointment as Commandant of the soon to be reopened penal settlement on Norfolk Island. This appointment was granted and Morisset was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
The penal establishment on Norfolk Island was decreed by the Government to be a place of secondary punishment and only habitual and the worst criminals were to be sent to Norfolk and they were not expected to leave the Island.
It is our belief that Morisset saw his time in Newcastle as one of successfully rehabilitating convicts and that his rapport with them led him to believe he could reform the prisoners to be sent to Norfolk.
Return to England (1825)
Major Morisset sailed from Sydney in January 1825 to return to England for a well-deserved period of leave. He was busy catching up with his family whilst on leave. At this time he met Emily Louisa Vaux who was the daughter of John Vaux and Elizabeth Louisa Liddiard. John Vaux was a retired Deputy Commissary General and Elizabeth’s mother was the sister of Lord Craven of Coombe Abbey in England. The Vaux family lived on the Isle of Wight.
In 1826 James was witness to the marriage of Emily’s sister, Julia Prudence Vaux and William Lukin. In 1827 he was again a witness to a marriage this time for his sister Eliza Morisset and Hugh Hughes.
James and Emily were married on 2 May 1826 at Newchurch Ryde, Isle of Wight. Their daughter who was to become my GG.grandmother was born in England. Janetta Louisa Morisset was born 28 Feb 1827 and she was baptised on 2 Apr 1827 at Sevenoaks, Kent, England.
Return to New South Wales (1827)
James and his family departed England on board the ship “Harmony” and arrived in New South Wales on 27 September 1827 where he was expecting to take on the role of Commandant of Norfolk Island.
Appointment to Norfolk Island
He did not foresee that this appointment would not cater for a married man and there was no accommodation available for his family. He was extremely disappointed and refused to leave without Emily. It was possible that he would return to London. The Governor ordered the construction of a new Government House with accommodation suitable for a family and women were allowed back on Norfolk Island. In the meantime James Morisset was given the position of Police Superintendant of Sydney. This was very interesting especially for the number of newspaper articles praising his handling of all cases brought before him when sitting Magistrate. Morisset also cleaned up the drunkenness which was causing chaos in the streets as especially amongst constables responsible for keeping law and order. No drinking establishments were allowed to open on Sundays. He was continually praised in the press for his studious, well-informed and judicious handling of all cases. He was always anxious to go by the law of the day and preferred not to sentence anyone to flogging. He did not wish to send women to the Government factory because of the hard labour involved. He ordered that any woman sent to the stocks was not to be exposed and to have her feet covered. There are many examples of his consideration in sentencing and always taking into account the length of service and previous good conduct of prisoners brought before the bench.
James and Emily had their second child born in Sydney during this period. Edith Julia Eliza Morisset was born on 25 November 1828.
Earlier in the year James and Emily were involved in an accident which caused them to be flung from their carriage with James suffering a severe cut to his forehead and Emily’s injuries to cause serious blood loss.
Departure to Norfolk Island (1829)
Prior to departure for Norfolk Island the Sydney Gazette of the day wrote their opinion of Colonel Morisset:
“regards the upright and impartial manner in which he discharged the important duties that he had to perform. Colonel Morisset was an inflexible, but just Magistrate and in the multifarious business which he had to transact we have scarcely heard an instance wherein his conduct did not give complete satisfaction to all parties.”
The Morisset family arrived on Norfolk Island in late 1829 and settled into life at Government House. It was interesting to read an article titled “Government House “A Living National Treasure” by Mr Bruce Baskerville. The article described the contribution made by Emily Morisset and there is no doubt Emily had good taste in her decoration of Government House on Norfolk Island. The furniture in the house was mostly brought to the island by the family. This wonderful building is available to viewing by the public on special open days.
Emily Morisset gave birth to three more children: firstly their son Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset, then two more daughters, Fleurette and Laura Theresa. It has been stated that Turtle Bay on Norfolk was renamed Emily Bay in honour of Mrs Morisset but no official record has been found of the naming.
Emily was no doubt very happy when her brother Henry Edward Vaux was posted to Norfolk as the Deputy Commissary. Henry was a graduate of Oxford College due to his patronage by Lord Craven. A well read and gentle person whose companions were his two dogs who always accompanied him on his fishing trips around the Island.
There were many daily distractions and visitors arriving amongst them the well-known botanist Allan Cunningham and in his diary he wrote how he was grateful for the kindness and the assistance given to him by Colonel Morisset.
Judge Dowling sent to the Island to hold court for convicts who had committed murder was also in praise of the kindness shown to him by Colonel and Mrs Morisset.
Lieutenant Foster Fyans arrived as second in command as he wrote that he was received by the Commandant and his lady, Mrs Morisset with much kindness. Foster also wrote that Colonel Morisset was friendly and affable which is in contrast to the person who was described as vicious and cruel.
In 1831, Mr Rennoldson the Commander of the Brig Queen Charlotte was accidentally shot during the accidental discharge of a musket by a guard. Colonel Morisset immediately had Mr Rennoldson taken to Government House for medical treatment. Distressingly for all concerned Mr Rennoldson died from the wound but mention must be made of a report in the Sydney Gazette at the time of the incident.
“The solicitude of Colonel Morisset and the attention he paid to the necessities of the unfortunate young man during his sickness, was characteristic of that philanthropy and benevolence which ever formed a prominent feature in that officer’s character.”
Downfall on Norfolk Island
Sadly Norfolk Island was the downfall of James Morisset in his endeavour to administer control and rehabilitation of the prisoners on the Island. Some of these men were habitual criminals, desperate and will attempt anything to escape life on an island where there is no escape. Times had also changed for Morisset as he now had a devoted wife and growing family to consider.
The only written account by a convict was that of Laurence Frayne. Frayne was no doubt a troubled young man with no respect for authority or his fellow man. He was an habitual offender prior to and whilst on Norfolk Island. His writing have been held up as evidence against Morisset but this is unreliable writing. Morisset attempted to talk to him on numerous occasions but the final offence was too much. Frayne broke into Government House where the Commandant and his family were sleeping. Frayne entered the rooms of two female assigned convicts and assaulted them sexually. These women were immediately returned to Sydney but all Frayne could do was boast of his conquest.
Frayne was later transferred from Norfolk where he continued with more offences.
Norfolk Island Mutiny
A mutiny occurred which would have caused terror amongst the families living on Norfolk as the plans the mutineers had for their victims is appalling and should confirm that these men were nothing more than murderers.
Colonel Morisset had made requests to be relieved of his position on Norfolk Island as it had become apparent to him that this was no place in which to raise a family.
Governor Burke denied his requests and in desperation in January 1834 Morisset wrote to Mr Robert Hay, The Undersecretary for the Colonies:
“I have been induced to take this step by the consideration of my large and increasing family, chiefly girls the eldest seven years and the youngest five months old, whom it becomes highly necessary to withdraw from an abode so unfit for them, as well as by the expectation of the Medical Officer here, that my health has considerably suffered from the constant harrowing nature of the duties of this Station.”
Morisset’s health deteriorated to such an extent he was bedridden and unable to enforce calm during the dreadful mutiny. There is no doubt that due to his age and the years spent in combat in India and the Peninsular Wars that he was suffering from what we know today as PTSD Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A common disorder amongst those who have suffered trauma in their lives and it is most common to soldiers. Sometimes the worst cases of stress occur many years after the initial trauma and new events can cause a severe breakdown.
James Morisset was almost immediately returned to Sydney for medical treatment and there was no time for Emily and the children to leave with him.
Emily and the children had the protection of her brother Henry and Lieutenant Fyans, his fellow officers and soldiers.
Family Returns to Sydney
Tragically this was not to last as Henry Vaux was swept off rocks whilst fishing and he was not seen again. His companion dogs leapt into the water but they also drowned. One cannot imagine how distressed Emily Morisset would have been at the loss of a beloved brother and her husband now desperately ill in Sydney. These events all happening within weeks. The family immediately packed and were on the next ship back to New South Wales.
Lieutenant Colonel Morisset was granted leave in order to recover and the family lived in Sydney until a position was granted as the Police Magistrate in Bathurst. His appointments included Commissioner of the Court of Requests and a Commissioner for Insolvent Estates and Visiting Magistrate to the goal at Bathurst.
Morisset’s applications for land grants were received with mixed results due to his arrivals and departures and the positions that he administered being between Military and Civil appointments. At one stage land was granted at an area originally known as Canberry Plains which was between the now known places of Canberra and Queanbeyan. This resulted in Morisset Street in Queanbeyan being named after James Morisset.
Morrisset Street in Bathurst also named after Lieutenant Colonel Morisset.
Another grant was north of Sydney in the area known as Brisbane Water but when Morisset discovered that it had been given to another grantee during his absence he withdrew his offer of the grant.
James Morisset obtained land in 1838 near Bathurst in the county of Wellington which today is near the town of Orange. This property of 2,560 acres was at Nandillion Ponds and was named by the Morissets as “Ammerdown”.
James and Emily Morisset later sold the property in the same year for a large sum of money to John Bowler. It is not known where the family were living in Bathurst or if they were in Kelso.
During his busy time as Chief Magistrate of Bathurst and surrounds James Morisset was involved in many community positions. He was appointed as a Director of the Bank of Australia which had opened a branch in Bathurst.
A serious blow to the family’s financial position was the collapse of the Bank owing many of its creditors. James Morisset had invested the sale of his commission and the property sale into this bank.
Emily wrote in a later petition that her husband as an appointed director or shareholder he felt responsible for loss of monies not only by himself but for all the others who had monies in the bank. Mrs Morisset said that her husband continued working and putting much of his salary back into the receivership. He may have been the only person to do this.
The following was written by Emily in a petition:
“Shareholder in the Bank of Australia by investing therein the whole of the proceeds arising from the sale of his Commission as well as of other monies which he had accumulated during his life became involved in the ruin which befell that Establishment and although not in fact a party to any of the transactions which were the immediate cause of the disaster, was, in common with the other Shareholders responsible for its liabilities and being so responsible not only lost the whole of the money which he had invested in the Bank but was obliged to part with all his other property and for some years gave up a portion of his Salary as Police Magistrate (his sole remaining source of profit) to pay off the portion allotted to him of such liabilities;”
Needless to say James Morisset continued to work tirelessly in his position as only a dedicated and conscientious person would do.
Family life continued and was mostly happy and socially active for the family. More children were born namely Otho, Rudolf, Ronan, Aulaire, Ada and Pauline.
Arrival of John Vaux
In 1847 Emily’s younger brother John Vaux arrived in Australia. John Vaux had been a member of the Honourable East India Company and he had been a ship owner and captain working for the Jardine Company. John Vaux sailed between India and Hong Kong with cargoes of opium for the Chinese trade.
John Vaux received civil positions in Bathurst and Hartley. A letter written by John to my ggreat grandmother Janetta prior to her marriage remains in the possession of Morisset descendants. Emily would have been thrilled to have her brother now living in Australia but this happiness was not to last.
The youngest child of James and Emily was Pauline Caroline Morisset, but sadly, Pauline died in May 1849 at age 2 years and 8 months. A family vault was built in the burial ground of the Holy Trinity Church of Kelso, New South Wales.
Another tragic event for Emily was the death in January 1851 of her brother John. He was found dead in Bligh Street in Sydney. Cause of death was not recorded but suspicion is that he died from an opium overdose or a mugging. John Vaux is buried in the Camperdown Cemetery in Sydney.
In August 1852 the worst event for Emily and her children was the death of their beloved husband and father James Thomas Morisset.
The Bathurst Free Press quote at the time of his death:
“ he has served his country with fidelity and zeal during the best years of a long life-time, in both of which he has seen hard service, and is not unworthy of its favourable remembrance.”
Mr B. Champion, the noted Newcastle historian in his writing to the Royal Australian Historical Society wrote the following:
“ In August 1852, Colonel J.T. Morisset answered his last roll call, having been on the active list for fifty-four years.”
It has not been determined how many financial difficulties faced Emily and the family at that time but Emily Morisset did submit a petition requesting assistance in the form of a pension due to the long and difficult service given to the country by her dedicated husband.
We have not been able to find the result of Emily Morisset’s petition but to quote B. Champion again:
“the family certainly deserved well of the Government”
In his last will and testament James Thomas Morisset bequeathed all to his dear wife Emily. Probate granted to Emily Morisset in November 1852.
Our Family Story
This is our family story of James Thomas Morisset and we have only taken notice of the facts written in historical records and ignored ravings and ranting’s in books and papers submitted by those who have used unreliable memoirs and have twisted quotes into their own interpretations.
As accused by one author of wanting to white wash our family this is not true as we can only judge a person by the historical records, family writing and the character of all family ancestors and descendants.
We believe that James Thomas Morisset was a truly remarkable man who is worthy of respect and admiration for the dedication of his long and meritorious service to this country. His achievements should be held up with pride and not denigrated by today’s writers.
Emily Morisset (nee Vaux)
In 1855 Emily and four of her children departed Australia for the port of London sailing on-board the ship “Cyclone”.
Emily’s elderly parents lived in Barfield Cottage, Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
Emily’s mother Elizabeth died in 1861 and her father John Vaux died in 1862.
Emily has now lost her beloved husband, a child, her parents and both brothers.
Emily remained living in Kent Cottage on the Isle of Wight with her daughters, Ada and Laura until they departed London on-board the ship “Duncan Dunbar” arriving in New South Wales in December 1862.
Two of Emily’s sons had also sailed to England but Aulaire returned in 1859 and it is not confirmed who the other son was but possibly Ronan and his return date unknown.
Emily returned to Sydney and eventually purchased a property in McDougall Street, North Sydney where she resided until her death in 1892. Emily is buried in the cemetery of St Thomas now known as the Heritage Listed St Thomas’ Rest Park in North Sydney.
Much more could be written on the life of Emily Morisset as she was obviously a remarkable woman and one of great strength of character. There is no doubt she was very supportive and protective of her beloved husband and she would be appalled to find that he had not been given the respect that he truly deserves by the historians and writers of today.
The Children of James Thomas and Emily Louisa (nee Vaux) Morisset
Janetta Louisa Morisset
The eldest child was who was born in England and Janetta is my GGreat grandmother. Janetta married in 1850 in the Holy Trinity Church of Kelso to Prosper John de Mestre. They lived in Millbank Cottage at Terrara, New South Wales. They had 6 children but sadly Prosper John died in 1863 leaving a young widow and children. Janetta remarried to a Shoalhaven Solicitor , Thomas Morton Richards who had emigrated from Wales. Janetta and Thomas had a son. Janetta was very involved in the local church in Terrara and later in Cambewarra. Following the death of her second husband Janetta moved to Sydney where she lived in Chatswood again becoming involved in church activities and teaching children at Sunday School. Janetta was also a member of the temperance society “Band of Hope”.
Janetta died in 1918 and she was buried in Gore Cemetery in Sydney.
Edith Julia Eliza Morisset
Edith Julia Eliza Morisset was born in Sydney and she was to become perhaps the rebellious child of the family or one of the most unfortunate. At age 22 Edith married James Cassidy, the son of an Irish catholic ex-convict. At the time of her marriage Edith was 5 months pregnant and she married in St Stephen’s catholic church in Bathurst. Edith had 5 children and it is not known what went wrong in her marriage but possibly infidelity on the part of her or her husband but Edith disappeared from her family.
It is known that Edith moved to Melbourne and changed her name to Emily Jane and she lived with a Thomas Mayflower Crispe. Both Edith/Emily and Thomas are buried together in the Melbourne General Cemetery.
Her family continued to look for Edith by placing advertisements in local newspapers.
Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset
Edric Norfolk Vaux Morisset born on Norfolk Island. Edric commenced his schooling in Bathurst but then went to the King’s School in Parramatta. In 1853 Edric was appointed to the Native Police Force and in 1857 he became the Commandant of the Native Police Force and Inspector of the Police in Queensland. Edric married in 1860 to Eliza Lawson at St Bartholomew’s Church in Prospect, New South Wales but Eliza was unable to cope with the Queensland heat and humidity in Rockhampton where Edric was based.
Edric resigned and returned to New South Wales to take up a position with the Police Force in Bathurst. Edric also served in Maitland and lastly in Goulburn where he died in 1887 and he is buried in the local cemetery. Edric and Eliza did not have children.
Fleurette Morisset was proud to have been born on Norfolk Island.
Little is known of her life but she first married in Bathurst in 1853 to Andrew Kinsman but just two years later at age 35 Andrew died. They had one son, Andrew who died in Newcastle in 1892.
Fleurette married second to Carl Reimenschneider who was born in Havana, Cuba and he became a naturalised Australian in 1856. They had 9 children.
It is in this family where we start to see the paranoia that existed in Australia during the period of the first world war all because of the name Reimenschneider which people associated with German sounding names. Whilst the family never had any connection to Germany it caused such pain that some of them changed their surname back to Morisset. Now we have the Morisset name being cast aspersions upon because of the sudden love affair of convicts.
Fleurette lived a long and by accounts a happy life in Sydney. She died in Stanmore in 1923 and she is buried in the Church of England cemetery at Waverley Cemetery.
Laura Theresa Morisset
Laura Theresa Morisset was another daughter born on Norfolk Island. Laura travelled to London with her mother in 1855 and returned to New South Wales in 1862. As Laura’s brothers Edric and Rudolf were employed in Queensland it is believed they met her future husband, Philip Frederic Sellheim. Philip Sellheim was born in Austria and he became a naturalised Australian at Bowen, Queensland in 1862. Laura and Philip were married in Balmain in 1865. Philip Sellheim had been exploring around North Queensland with William Dalrymple and Ernst Henry before settling on a sheep station called Stanmore. The sheep were not suitable to the Queensland climate so Philip moved onto managing the “Valley of Lagoons” station. He and Laura lived here with the assistance of Laura’s brother Ronan Morisset.
In 1874 Philip Sellheim was appointed to the Queensland Public Service and he was made Warden of the newly opened Palmer River goldfields. This area was truly pioneer country with all types including thousands of Chinese all vying for their search for gold.
In 1878 tragedy struck with Laura contracting gulf fever or malaria which lasted several days before taking her life leaving behind a devastated husband and a very young family. Laura was buried in Maytown on the Palmer River and thankfully her grave is kept in good repair by the Cooktown Historical Society.
Laura and Philip’s children were sent to live in Sydney with their grandmother Emily Morisset and Aunt Ada, sister of Laura. The eldest son was Victor Conradsdorf Morisset Sellheim born in Balmain and educated at Brisbane Grammar. Victor was a renowned figure in the Military and he had a very distinguished career in the South African War and World War I. He served on the Military Board with rank of Major General. He married Susan Henrietta Howell Griffith in Townsville and due to the numerous appointments held by Victor they had a very busy social life especially in Melbourne.
Again the paranoia of a German sounding name was raised and this time in Parliament questioning the integrity of a much decorated and brave soldier but this did not deter the affable Victor and he proudly retained his surname.
In 1827 Major General Sellheim resigned from the Army and he was appointed as the new administrator of Norfolk Island. Victor was extremely pleased to be following in the footsteps of his much revered grandfather James Morisset.
Sadly this appointment was not long as Victor Sellheim died suddenly of a heart attack in January 1928 and he was buried with full military honours in Kingston Cemetery on Norfolk Island.
Victor had inherited his grandfather’s medals which along with Victor’s own medals and awards are now held in safe custody at the Mitchell Library in Sydney being donated by Victor’s wife Mrs Susan Sellheim.
Casimir Vaux Sellheim the second son of Laura and Philip was born at the Valley of Lagoons Station in Queensland and he also served with distinction in the South African or Boer War.
He also completed special service during WW1 by leading Italian Reservists in Australia back to service for the Italian Army. Casimir did change his name to Morisset.
Leonore Isabel Sellheim youngest child and only daughter of Laura and Philip who was only 4 years of age when her mother died. Leonore was raised by her grandmother and aunt in Sydney and she remained living with Ada. Leonore married the Reverend Frederick Wilkinson in 1914.
Otho Bathurst Palmer Morisset
Otho Bathurst Palmer Morisset was born in 1835 in Bathurst. Very little is known of Otho but he was a Superintendant of Stock and he never married. His grave is at St Thomas’s cemetery, North Sydney.
Rudolf Roxburgh Morisset
Rudolf Roxburgh Morisset was the dashing and daring son nicknamed ‘Dosh’. He loved horse racing mainly as a jockey and his exploits at the racing track were well published. Like his brother Edric he was educated at King’s School in Parramatta leaving in 1852 after the death of his father. Also like Edric he was with the Mounted Native Police Force in Queensland. Rudolf held appointments as a Police Magistrate in many areas in New South Wales, namely Sydney, Wilcannia, Menindie, Hill End and finally at Deniliquin where he died and is buried in 1887. Rudolf married Margaret Clarke in Port Curtis and they had one son, Charles Seymour Morisset.
Ronan Kelso Morisset
Ronan Kelso Morisset was born in 1840 in Bathurst. Ronan was possibly the loner of the family but we do know that he adored his sister Laura and he spent a lot of time living with the family in Queensland. He was a drover moving many large herds of cattle from North Queensland stations to Cooktown and Cairns. He also took beef cattle to the goldfields of the Palmer River. Ronan also attended the King’s School but only for a short time and also left following the death of his father. We believe he travelled to London with his mother in 1855. Ronan was a storyteller and he was a very fastidious dresser and was always immaculately attired. Ronan lived in Kuranda in Queensland until senility saw him transferred to the Goodna mental institution in Ipswich. He died there in 1929 aged 89 years and is buried in the Ipswich General Cemetery.
Aulaire Liddiard Morisset
Aulaire Liddiard Morisset was born in Bathurst in 1841and he definitely travelled to London with his mother in 1855 before returning to New South Wales in 1859 on board the ship “Camperdown”. Whilst overseas Aulaire became aware of his ancestry and connections to the Craven family as this is reflected in the names of his children. Aulaire was also an officer with the Native Mounted Police in Queensland and he spent many years travelling his vast area of surveillance mostly on horseback. Towards the end of his career with the police he was charged with various accusations and had to face a Commission of Inquiry. The charges of anger and verbal abuse to his staff was no doubt caused by too many years in the harsh climate and arduous duties required in isolated areas of North Queensland. Perhaps he was suffering from the disorder known as “gone troppo”. Aulaire also spent time in Roma and Ipswich. He had married Elizabeth Macarthur in Bowen Queensland in 1877.
Aulaire’s lifestyle took its toll on his health and his marriage with his wife Elizabeth moving to live in Brisbane with their children whilst Aulaire remained in North Queensland with his policing duties. They had 7 children and Aulaire died in Townsville in 1919 and he is buried in the Townsville General Cemetery.
Ada Gulnare Morisset
Ada Gulnare Morisset born in Kelso in 1843. Ada lived with her mother in North Sydney and travelled with her to London in 1855. Ada also cared for her sister Laura’s daughter Leonore. Ada died at her home in North Sydney in 1912 and she is buried with her brother Otho at the cemetery of St Thomas in North Sydney.
Pauline Caroline Morisset
Pauline Caroline Morisset the last child of James and Emily Morisset was born in Kelso in 1846 and as mentioned she died in 1849 aged 2 years and 8 months. Pauline and her father James are the only members buried in the family vault in the Pioneer Cemetery in the burial ground of the Holy Trinity Church in Kelso, New South Wales.
This is our story of James Thomas Morisset and his family. All our research has been obtained from historical records, newspaper reports and letters. If there is any dispute with our presentation of this history please do not hesitate to contact us for further information.
Many years of research has been accumulated and we greatly appreciate all the kind assistance from many persons and organisations who have provided us with information.
Ronald and Margaret Thompson
9 thoughts on “James Thomas Morisset – A Family Story”
Wholeheartedly agree that Morisset has had a bad press, totally undeserved. This Peninsular War veteran was a tough, uncompromising character who actually served with compassion, especially on Norfolk. I had the privilege of holding his service medals including the award from the Sultan (these are held in the Mitchell Library) and I wrote a performed play (“Triangle Men”) which received some funding for costumes etc and the set which was designed and painted by local Newcastle artist Graham Wilson. The play was seen by a Newcastle audience over several performances with the support of the bicentennial committee in Newcastle in 1997. I have stood at the Colonel’s grave near Bathurst where he finally died.
I was very impressed by this biography and have e-mailed Ronald and Margaret Thompson to congratulate them. I’m researching the origins of ‘The Commandant’s’ or ‘Morisset’s Bath’ and its re-naming as ‘The Bogey Hole’. I hope to hear back from them, or anyone else who has information on the original ocean rock pool which inspired so many more.
Hi Hamish, Have you seen the NSW Heritage listing on the Bogey Hole? Here are some links I’m preparing for one of our Architectural student groups researching the King Edward Park area.
Name of Item: Bogey Hole, The
76. Morrisets Bath, Newcastle, 13th May 1841
1884 Plan for enlarging the Bogey Hole by William Hestlow, Chief Architects Office, Newcastle City Council. Received and referred to Improvement Committee 17/3/1884 adopted 7/4/1884 vide Improvement Committee report dated 24/3/19884 Edward S Holland Town Clerk. (Source: Newcastle Region Library).
Cliff overlooking Bogey Hole, circa 1884. (Photograph by George Freeman)
Bogey Hole (circa 1880s?) (Courtesy of the Mr. E. Braggett Collection)
1891 Ralph Snowball glass negative showing Bogey Hole
The Bogie ‘Stole’, Newcastle Beach, June 1908. (John Turner Collection)
mage from: Progressive Sydney as it stands today : a pictorial directory of its most attractive centres, in sepia. Adelaide : G.H. Baring, 1938. See: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/8641078409
The Bogey Hole Baths (1938)
Other Name/s: The Bogey Hole, Commandant’s Baths, Bogie Hole
Type of Item: Landscape
Group/Collection: Urban Area
Category: Swimming Pool – tidal
Location: Lat:151.78192337 Long:-32.93539082
Primary Address: Shortland Esplande, Newcastle, NSW 2300
Local Govt. Area: Newcastle
Statement of Significance
One of the two remaining constructed features from the days of the earliest European settlement in Newcastle, probably the earliest European-built work extant, it is a convict constructed baths hewn out of a rock face for Major James Morisset, a notable military figure from the early period of European settlement in Australia. The Bogey Hole is the first recorded European purpose-built ocean pool on the NSW coast. It forms a picturesque and interesting feature in the coastal landscape of King Edward Park and is of considerable social significance to the people of Newcastle. (Heritage Office)
Designer/Maker: Commandant James Morisset
Builder/Maker: Convict labour, 1819/20; enlarged to present dimensions by Newcastle Borough Council, in 1884
Construction Years: 1819 – 1884
Physical Description: A public baths hewn out of rock on a wave cut platform below the cliffs at Shepherd Hill.
Dimensions length (maximum) 10 metres x width (maximum) 6.5 metres. X depth (average) 1.5 metres.
Physical Condition and/or Archaeological Potential: Physical condition is good. Archaeological potential is nil.
Assessed as being ‘Fair’ condition in 1994 (EJE, App E). Date Condition Updated: 03 Feb 03
Modifications and Dates: 1884. Various weatherboard sheds and a brick toilet block were added over time, but all have since been demolished. The seaward side is fenced with stanchion and chain, date unknown.
Further Information: The Bogey Hole is currently incorporated into a public walk called “Bathers’ Way”, for which a Bathers’ Way Masterplan has been prepared by Council and some interpretative signage installed. There is a proposal to commission and install some piece of commemorative public art in the clifftop picnic area overlooking the pool.
Current Use: Public recreation
Former Use: Private recreation
Many thanks for this further information. I had seen the NSW Heritage listing but nearly all the images are new to me. These are much appreciated because they are very useful references for the artwork I’m considering creating.
I’m sure you would have included it if it were available, but in the absence of a photograph of convicts digging out the hole could you provide a contemporaneous image showing the clothing they would have worn? Would it have been the half-yellow, half-black uniform?
Margaret Thompson’s additional commentary was very helpful, but I’ve yet to find the reason why ‘Morisset’ wasn’t retained as the name.
For me this would have anchored the position of Australia’s first ocean rock pool as part of Newcastle’s heritage. Whereas ‘Bogey Hole’ is generic and could be anywhere.
The 200th anniversary last year would have been the opportunity to reclaim ownership of the original by reinstating the name ‘Morisset’s Bath’.
With best wishes and thanks again,
Hi Hamish, The origins of the Bogey Hole are obscure. The earliest image of it is from 1841, and that being the Conrad Martens drawing. The evidence that Morisset carved it out of the rock comes from the 1873 biographical work of John Bingle (The Past and Present Records of Newcastle). You can read it in full here: https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2012/08/31/origins-of-king-edward-park/ John Bingle was given a tour of the settlement in December 1821, and it was during this tour that Morisset told Bingle he had made the bath, and horseshoe path around what was to later become King Edward Park. Bingle paints Morisset as authoritarian figure, like that of a Roman Emperor. The carving out of a bath would not have been seen as “official” government business, especially at a time when austerity and public waste was being used as an excuse to remove Governor Macquarie at the hands of the Commissioner Bigge who was reporting on the state of the colony. So, the “Morisset’s Bath” as it was still known in 1841, would have been one of those things that was an open secret, and not an official public work. We would hope that all its names could be restored to it, as well as its history. Hope this helps, Sincerely, Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist.
The John Bingle account is most useful and clear confirmation that it was Morisset who built the Bath in its entirety without debt to his predecessor. His ‘unofficial’ constructions not being recorded officially is entirely logical.
Do you have any information about the likely dress of the convicts employed in the construction. Would it have been the half-yellow half-black uniform?
In my art work I may represent the labourers, hence my question.
And my intention is to use the name ‘Morisset’s Bath’ in some way.
To the best of my knowledge there aren’t any artistic representations of convicts in Newcastle that I can draw your attention to, you may have to do a TROVE search and see what exists. There may be descriptions recorded in The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh A Penal Exile in Australia, 1825-1844 by James Tucker located here: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301281.txt. Hope this helps, Gionni
Have downloaded The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh A Penal Exile in Australia, 1825-1844 Author: James Tucker (1803-1866) and will search for ‘convict dress/clothes/uniform’ when I’m back to my desktop. And will try a TROVE search.