By the 1880s John George Morris was well established at Bowral, having moved there in 1873 with his wife Sarah and three step-children. They were Wesleyan Methodists. As told previously, despite ongoing poor health he became a well-respected auctioneer and real estate agent, owned stores and an auction mart, and was active in cultural and civic matters. He died in 1891, at age 49, while serving as Bowral's mayor.
There being no known family history, photos or biography of him, early newspapers are the main source for this continuing overview of the influence he had in the town's development.
In August 1883 the Sydney Mail advised that a newly issued list of magistrates included five belonging to the Berrima District, and whose appointment to the commission of the peace has given general satisfaction, in particular that of JG Morris of Bowral, "there currently being no resident magistrate in the township, and he in every way well fitted for the position; we have now within the police district of Berrima 25 justices of the peace, which is a very fair number for a population of 8,000."
The NSW Municipalities Act of 1867 had conferred wider powers than an 1858 Act instituting a limited form of local government. In the 1880s the district's towns began a push for municipal status, this being achieved by Bowral in 1886, Moss Vale in 1888 and Mittagong in 1889. Eventually these local councils were amalgamated into Wingecarribee Shire Council in 1981.
Read the previous installment about JG Morris here.
To oversee local affairs at Bowral before the creation of a municipal council, a 'Vigilance Committee' was formed in the early 1880s with JG Morris as chairman. Such committees existed in various NSW localities from around 1880, not as 'vigilante' groups, but as committees elected by residents to look after general progress and welfare.
In November 1883 a Bowral Vigilance Committee deputation consisting of McCourt MLA, Mitchell MLA, and Messrs H M Oxley, JG Morris and W Charker visited the Postmaster-General with a petition requesting that a post and telegraph office be erected at Bowral. They then visited the Minister for Justice to present a petition for the establishment of a Court of Petty Sessions in the town, and also called upon the Colonial Secretary to request that a piece of land be purchased for a recreation ground at Bowral. All three petitions were subsequently agreed to.
It is worth noting that the Evening News (Sydney) reported in September 1884 that, at upcoming Bowral Vigilance Committee elections, all unmarried females who were householders or leaseholders would be allowed to vote. Surely this was not common practice at the time. An historical overview of the Bowral Vigilance Committee will be provided in a later series.
By 1884 many new buildings were going up in Bowral and boarding houses were expanding to cater for the growing number of visitors. That year the government bought land fronting Bong Bong Street for Bowral's post office building, which eventually opened in May 1887. Until then JG Morris' Mart accommodated the postal business conducted from 1882 by JD Sheriff, the town's first official postmaster.
In August 1884 the Vigilance Committee sent a petition to the government signed by 140 persons asking that Bowral be granted municipal status. A Bowral Free Press report in September said there was a very strong and almost unanimous desire for it and had been brought to a head by the proposal to form a municipal council at Moss Vale.
Bowral was gazetted a municipality on February 18, 1886 when, as noted by Jervis in 'A History of the Berrima District' the town's population numbered about 1,200 with about 240 habitations. Councillor nominations were called for on April 8, 1886, and 24 candidates entered the contest. JG Morris topped the poll with 66 votes.
On April 10 the new council gathered at the School of Arts to elect the first mayor, the nominees being John Lang Campbell and JG Morris. Campbell won by five votes to three. Afterwards Campbell commented that it was a "very great honour because he was the youngest among them" and added that not only would he be the first Mayor of Bowral, but also the first in the Berrima district.
JG Morris served as an alderman until his death in 1891, and twice as mayor.
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society - compiled by PD Morton. Part 3 of a 4-part series. To be continued.
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