John Morphett South Australian History

John Morphett

John Morphett was born in London in 1809, the second son of Nathaniel Morphett, solicitor and Mary Gliddon a farmer's daughter from Cummins in Devon. At sixteen, John started work in London but when twenty-one he had enough of cold and wet England and left for Egypt where he met Colonel William Light. Well before the official settlement of South Australia, John Morphett had been a supporter of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and an investor in the South Australian Company. He had shown a keen interest in this experiment and was one of the first who paid £81 for a preliminary land order of 134 acres. While waiting in London for the first ships and migrants to leave for South Australia he became involved with the South Australian Literary Association and chaired many of its meetings.

The Cygnet, commanded by Deputy Surveyor-General George Strickland Kingston, left London on 20 March 1836 arriving on Kangaroo Island on 11 September 1836. Being a land agent, Morphett went along to examine the entrance to the future Port Adelaide and accompanied Light on his trip to Port Lincoln. Apart from being a land agent, securing valuable land for his family and clients, he was also interested in horses and racing and when the first races were held in Adelaide on 1 and 2 January 1838, which were attended by more than 1200 people, John Morphett acted as one of the Stewards. When the South Australian Jockey Club was formed in 1857 Morphett was either a Steward or a Director until 1881.

Later, in 1874 Morphett was one of the original promoters of the South Australian Jockey Club Company. Together with Henry Ayers, Thomas Elder, H.B. Hughes, Philip Levi, John Crozier and R.C. Baker they proposed the establishment of this company for the purpose of carrying on racing in South Australia. Its capital was made up of four hundred shares of £10 each. The land at Morphettville would be donated by Thomas Elder.

With an eye for further investment and profit, and to speed up the attraction of further capital and the opening up of South Australia, a Secondary Towns Association was formed in England in 1838. The object of this private enterprise venture was the 'seeking in South Australia of Special Surveys whenever it seemed probable that Secondary Towns might be established with advantage'. The local Colonial Representative for the Secondary Towns Association was John Morphett. When he arrived in South Australia with the first surveyors it had been said that he 'came to invest his own and others’ wealth in land', He eventually took out six Special Surveys.

Unfortunately, this method of selecting and buying land resulted in good land being picked out at an alarmingly rate, locking up surrounding land and making it useless for anyone else. A very good example of this was when John Morphett, as Colonial agent for the Secondary Towns Association, selected as the twenty-fifth Special Survey a strip of land 12 miles long and one mile wide, along each bank of the Murray.

On 6 March 1838, John Morphett was appointed a member of the Aborigines' Protection Board and served in that position for many years. Two months later, on 15 May 1838, Morphett used his preliminary land order to buy 134 acres of land near the present Morphettville race cource. That same year on 15 August, Morphett married Elizabeth Fisher, who had arrived on the Buffalo with her father James Hurtle Fisher and family. They had first met at the meetings of the South Australian Literary Association in London. They were married at Trinity Church, South Australia's first Anglican Church. They were to have five sons and six daughters.

The next year, 1839 proved to be a very busy year. Morphett was still investing in land and this time bought a Special Survey along the Hutt River. In October he was elected Vice-President of the Agricultural Society. A month later he bought 8000 acres on the Murray which became the Wood's Point Estate and in December was elected Director of the South Australian Railway Company. During November 1841 Morphett, as one of the trustees for Lt. Col. George Gawler, selected land in sections 1553 and 1554 to the south of the Barossa South Survey.

Morphett now started to look for a better residence and had a five roomed house designed by George S. Kingston. This was built on the Sturt River near Morphettville and named Cummins after his mother's farm in England. When it was finished, Morphett, his wife and their two small daughters moved in during 1842. As the family grew and more money became available extensions were made to the house in 1854, 1906, 1945, 1977 and 1983. At Cummins he kept sheep, horses and cattle and became one of the original Directors of the Morphettville Racing Club when that was formed in 1847.


Main entrance Cummins House


Inside main room


Inside main room


Servant quarters

At an early stage of South Australia's development John Morphett became involved in railways, mining, sport and politics. As early as February 1837 it was Morphett's vote which went a long way to establish Adelaide where it is today, rather than at Victor Harbor, Glenelg or Port Lincoln. In 1842 he became one of four members appointed by the Crown to assist the Governor and was also elected Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

In December 1840 John Morphett was appointed treasurer of the Adelaide City Corporation. In April 1846 Morphett became a member of the Committee of management of the English Railway Company which proposed to lay a railway along Port Road. Although this was vetoed by the government, his political career did not suffer from it. On 19 July 1851 Morphett became Speaker of the Legislative Council.

Morphett was one of the originators of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society, presiding over the introductory meeting on 24 April 1844. Another interest of John Morphett was mining. As a director of the Adelaide Mining Company he fought the government all the way to the Supreme Court to have Royalties removed from its mineral production. On 4 August 1848 the Court ruled in his favour and with the support of Lieutenant-Governor Young the tax was withdrawn. He was also a director of the South Australian Mining Association which owned the Burra mine and had one of its pumping engines named after him.

On 12 December 1851, Morphett, suggested to appoint a duly qualified Commission to examine into the geological formation of South Australia and more particularly the occurrence of gold. He also recommended that the terms, on which gold licences were to be issued by the government, should be printed in the next Government Gazette. For several years Morphett had a number of gold claims and leases in the Adelaide Hills.

When the Adelaide Cricket Club was formed in 1853 Morphett became its Vice-President and J.H. Fisher President. On 16 February 1870 John Morphett was Knighted for his services to South Australia and three years later retired from politics and public life. His sons Hurtle and John Cummins took over the running of his properties along the Murray. Sir John Morphett died on 7 November 1892 and was buried at West Terrace Cemetery.

The suburbs of Morphettville and Morphettvale were named after him. While Premier, Don Dunstan persuaded the South Australian Government to buy Cummins House to secure it for posterity as an important part of South Australia's heritage.

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