John Morphett

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John Morphett
John Morphett 1885.jpg
John Morphett, c. 1885
Born (1809-05-04)4 May 1809
Died 7 November 1892(1892-11-07) (aged 83)
Cummins House, Adelaide
Nationality Australian
Occupation landowner; politician
Known for settler
Spouse(s) Elizabeth nee Fisher
Sir John Morphett, c. 1834
John Morphett, c. 1866
Sir John Morphett, c. 1880
Gravestone in West Terrace Cemetery.

Sir John Morphett (4 May 1809 – 7 November 1892) was a South Australian pioneer, landowner and politician.

Early life[edit]

Morphett was born in London, the second son of Nathaniel Morphett, a solicitor, and his wife Mary, née Gliddon, of Cummins, Ide, Devon, and was educated at Plymouth and Highgate Grammar Schools.[1] At 16 he was an office boy in the employ of a ship broker, Henry Blanshard. He then obtained a position in the counting house of Wilson & Blanshard.[citation needed] At 21 he left for Egypt and worked in the counting-house of Harris & Co in Alexandria. It was here that he met Colonel William Light. He returned to London in 1834, became interested in the South Australian colonisation schemes, and was an early investor in the South Australian Company; he was one of the first who paid £81 for a preliminary land order of 134 acres.[2] With his younger brother George, he set up an agency business and published a pamphlet declaing his intention of migrating to South Australia and his readiness to act for purchasers of land. He also advertised in similar terms in the Globe and Traveller, 30 July 1835.[3] In September 1834 he joined the South Australian Literary Association, and around the end of 1835 he attended the dinner given to honour Captain Hindmarsh's appointment as governor of South Australia.[4]

Arrival in South Australia[edit]

On 20 March 1836, Morphett sailed for South Australia in the Cygnet, which arrived at Kangaroo Island on 11 September 1836. On 5 November 1836, the Cygnet arrived at Holdfast Bay. Next day, with Lieutenant Field and George Strickland Kingston, he "discovered" the River Torrens. With others on the Cygnet, he also identified the mouth of the Port River, identified the suitability of Port Adelaide, and visited Port Lincoln with Light. At the crucial meeting on 10 February 1837, he played a decisive role in confirming the choice of Adelaide for a settlement.

On 15 August 1838 he married Elizabeth Hurtle Fisher, the eldest daughter of James Hurtle Fisher (later Sir James), whom he 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.

As a land agent for the South Australian Company, he secured valuable land for his family and clients; he was energetic, enthusiastic sensible and lucky, and profited greatly from a multitude of land transactions. A Secondary Towns Association was formed in England in 1838, and Morphett became the local Colonial Representative for that Association. In this capacity he often engaged the services of John Hill in exploring for survey sites, while also exploring himself. In May 1839 he paid £4,000 for a Special Survey of 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of land along the Hutt River, and in November 1939 he bought 8,000 acres on the River Murray which became the Wood's Point Estate. During November 1841, as one of the trustees for Lt. Col. George Gawler, Morphett selected land in sections 1553 and 1554 to the south of the Barossa South Survey.

In December 1839, Morphett was elected Director of the South Australian Railway Company. 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. Morphett was one of the originators of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society, presiding over the introductory meeting on 24 April 1844. In April 1846, he became a member of the Committee of management of the English Railway Company which proposed to lay a railway along Port Road. He was a director of the Adelaide Mining Company, and also a director of the South Australian Mining Association which owned the Burra mine. When the Adelaide Cricket Club was formed in 1853, Morphett became its Vice-President and his father-in-law, J.H. Fisher, its President.[2][3][5]

Political life[edit]

Morphett was appointed treasurer to the town corporation on 5 December 1840, and on 15 June 1843 was nominated as one of four non-official members of the expanded South Australian Legislative Council. In January 1845 he chaired the meeting called to protest the British government's proposal to send Parkhurst prison boys to South Australia. In September 1846, as a protest against the mining royalty bill being passed by the casting vote of Governor Robe, Morphett and the three other non-official council members left the chamber – in consequence the council was left without a quorum. In August 1851 Morphett became Speaker of the enlarged Legislative Council, and on 9 March 1857 he was elected a member of the legislative council at the first election under responsible government. He was chief secretary in the Thomas Reynolds ministry from February to October 1861, and on 31 March 1865 was elected President of the South Australian Legislative Council, a position he held until his retirement. He was knighted on 16 February 1870 for his services to South Australia. In February 1873 he retired from politics and public life. His sons Hurtle and John Cummins took over the running of his properties along the Murray.[2][3]

Personal life[edit]

Freemasonry filled a great part of Morphett's personal life. He was elected as a member and initiated into the Craft on 27 November 1834 in London when The Lodge of Friendship, a Lodge especially founded to become South Australia's first Lodge, held its very first meeting. Later he rose in position within the Lodge, (which is still in operation), ultimately to become its Master.

He returned to England twice: alone in 1846, leaving Mrs. Morphett at home with four daughters and a son; then in December 1855 with his wife, ten children and two servants.[6]


Morphett died at his home, Cummins House, Novar Gardens, on 7 November 1892. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, six daughters and four of his five sons.


Morphett had faith in the colony from the beginning: although he realized that for a period South Australia would be regarded as a pastoral colony, depending chiefly on its export of wool, as early as 1838 he had hopes of raising wine, olive oil, figs, maize, flax, silk, rice, indigo and tobacco.[7] Morphett supported Fisher and Gouger in their quarrels with Hindmarsh, later becoming a force in the Legislative Council, and he worked hard for responsible government. He took an active part in the formation of the Literary Association and the Mechanics Institute, and was an early supporter of St Peter's College. He was one of the earliest men to take an interest in horse racing in South Australia, and Morphettville Racecourse was named after him. Also named after him were the suburbs of Morphettville and Morphett Vale, Morphett Street in the Adelaide city centre, and the state electoral district of Morphett.

Cummins House[edit]

Cummins House, front, ca. 1900
Cummins House, rear, ca. 1900

On 15 May 1838, John Morphett used his preliminary land order to buy 134 acres of land bounded by Pine Avenue, Anzac Highway and Morphett Road, near the present Morphettville race course. On 13 January 1840, he was granted title to the land which he named "Cummins Estate" after his mother's Devonshire farm. He kept sheep and cows, planted fruit trees, vines and olive groves, and cultivated a variety of local and imported trees. A horse lover, he also kept a stud and was involved in racing. (He was one of the original directors of the Morphettville Racing Club, founded in 1847).[2][8]

Morphett's home, Cummins House, was designed by architect George Kingston. It was sited on the Sturt River and begun in 1842 as a five roomed red brick cottage. It was extended considerably in 1854,[9] and there were further extensions in 1906, 1945, 1977 and 1983.[2][10] Five generations of the Morphett family lived in Cummins House until 1977, when it was acquired by the South Australian Government. The house's website contains picture galleries of the rooms inside the house,[11] the gardens, and of the house itself.[12]

In 1919, the first sub-division occurred when land south of the Glenelg-North Terrace Railway Line was sold for a new subdivision for returned servicemen's homes. In 1921, the area, which also included that part of Cummins Estate where Cummins House is located, was renamed to Novar Gardens to honour Viscount Novar, (who as Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson was the sixth Governor-General of Australia from 1914 to 1920). Hence, Cummins House is located at 23 Sheoak Avenue, Novar Gardens, South Australia.[13][14][15]

A large section of the property was purchased by Immanuel College in 1949.[16] The remaining 32 acres were held until 1963, when ~30 acres, often referred to as "Cummins Park", were sold for housing, leaving 1.68 acres containing the home and the outbuildings.[5]

The fourth generation owner, Hurtle Morphett, offered this residence and land for sale but a satisfactory purchaser was not forthcoming. To ensure that the home would be saved, the SA Government purchased the house on the remaining 1.68 acres in 1977.[5]

In 1982, Immanuel College leased Cummins from the State Government, with the aim of restoring the property for use as a pioneer museum, and as an exhibition and performance centre. The lease was for 5 years. With the assistance of the Cummins Society, the West Torrens Historical Society, and the National Trust, the school spent about $30,000 a year on the restoration of the house from an empty shell.[17] At the end of the lease period, the State government offered the lease to the West Torrens Council, who agreed to take charge of the property "under certain conditions".[18]

Timeline of Cummins House[edit]

From To Owners/Lessees/Occupants/events
1836 John Morphett arrived in South Australia
1838 (15 May) John Morphett bought 132 acres of land by the Sturt Creek which he named "Cummins Estate"
1838 (15 August) John married Elizabeth Fisher
1842 1870 The 5 roomed "Cummins House" was completed and occupied by Mr & Mrs John Morphett and family
1854 Extensive additions to house completed
1870 1892 (John Morphett knighted.) House occupied by Sir John & Lady Elizabeth Morphett and family
1880 North Terrace to Glenelg Railway bisects area between Sturt Creek and Anzac Highway
1892 1905 (Sir John died.) House occupied by Lady Elizabeth Morphett and family
1905 1936 (Lady Elizabeth died.) House occupied by Mr & Mrs John Cummins Morphett and family
1906 Further extensions
1919 First subdivision. Land between Railway line and Anzac Highway sold for a new subdivision for returned servicemen's homes.
1921 Part of Morphettville renamed Novar Gardens
1936 John Cummins Morphett died
 ? 1963 House occupied by Mr & Mrs George Cummins Morphett and family
1949 A large portion of Cummins Estate sold to Immanuel College, leaving 32 acres (of the original 132 acres)[16]
1963 (George Cummins Morphett died.) ~30 acres sold for Housing, leaving 1.68 acres
 ? 1977 House occupied by Mr & Mrs Hurtle Cummins Morphett and family
1977 1982 Property purchased by South Australian State Government
1982 1987 Property leased by Immanuel College. Restoration commences
1987 now State Government offered the lease to the West Torrens Council, who agreed to take charge of the property "under certain conditions"



John was born on 4 May 1809 in London, England, the second son of Nathaniel and Mary, née Gliddon.[1]


His siblings included:

  • George Morphett (1811–1893).
  • Nathaniel Morphett (1807–1828)
  • Mary Morphett (1813–1830)


John Morphett (1809–1892) married Elizabeth Hurtle Fisher (1815–1905) on 15 August 1838 at Holy Trinity Church, Adelaide.

John and Elizabeth had 12 children with their first child stillborn.[19][20]

Married Lived Notes
0. Stillborn male
1. Mary William Mair 1840-
2. Amy Gawler Charles William May JP[21] (1831–1873)[22]
married 1861[23]
1841–1922 Seven children[24][25][26]
Buried with her husband in St. Judes Cemetery, Brighton[27]
3. Ada Fisher Henry (Harry) Lockett Ayers (1844–1905)[28]
Married 1866
1843–1939 [29] Harry was the second son of Sir Henry Ayers
4. John Cummins Mary Frances
married 1875
1844–1936 [30] – 2nd owner of "Cummins"[5]
Mary was youngest daughter of William Sanders
5. Adelaide Sturt George Henderson (1841–1886)[31]
married 1864 St Peter's Church Glenelg SA[32]
1846–1940 [33] Lived (and died) in New Zealand
6. George Cooper unmarried 1849–1868 Died aged 19[19][20]
7. Violet 1) Reginald Cobb
2) Robert Alfred Stock[20]
8. Charles Edward 1852–1926[20]
9. James Hurtle 1854–1919 [20][34]
10. Hurtle Willoughby unmarried 1855–1938 [35]
11. Marian Fisher Georgina 1) Edward Mammatt Colley
2) Frederick Goldsmid Levi (–1934)[36][20]


John Morphett's grandchildren included:
Child Lived Father Mother Born Notes
George Cummins 1876–1963 John Cummins Mary Frances SANDERS Adelaide 3rd owner of "Cummins"[5]
Arthur Hurtle 1877–1916 John Cummins Mary Frances SANDERS Adelaide [30]
Annie Elizabeth 1879 John Cummins Mary Frances SANDERS Adelaide
Bessey 1880 John Cummins Mary Frances SANDERS New Glenelg
Mary Eleanor 1882 John Cummins Mary Frances SANDERS Glenelg
Lucy 1883 John Cummins Mary Frances SANDERS Glenelg
Amy Mabel MAY Charles William May Amy Gawler Married George Walpole Leake (1825–1895) in 1893.[26]

Fourth generation[edit]

John Morphett's great-grandchildren included:
Child Birthdate Father Mother Where Notes
Audrey Cummins OBE 27 May 1902 George Cummins Violet Alice ANDERSON Mount Gambier Awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal in 1953, OBE in 1960.
She never married, died 8 October 1983[37]
Hurtle Cummins 31 March 1906 George Cummins Violet Alice ANDERSON Corowa, NSW Married Joan, daughter of Sir William Goodman on 16 March 1937,
4th owner of "Cummins", he sold the property to the State Government for ~$200,000 in 1977.

Fifth generation[edit]

  • John Cummins Morphett (1943-), last generation to live in Cummins, is the son of Hurtle Cummins Morphett


  1. ^ a b Reece Jennings, John and George Morphett, West Torrens Historical Society[dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e John Morphett,
  3. ^ a b c 'Morphett, Sir John (1809–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, Melbourne University Press, 1967, pp 261–262. Retrieved 2009-10-17
  4. ^ Serle, Percival (1949). "Morphett, John". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Information about "Cummins" and its first owner, West Torrens Historical Society,
  6. ^ Perry, Dulcie. Sir John Morphett : a South Australian colonist of distinction Cummins Society, Nover Gardens South Australia, 1992. ISBN 0646123262
  7. ^ J. Stephens, The Land of Promise, p. 49
  8. ^ About Morphett, Cummins House, West Torrens City Council
  9. ^ About Cummins, Cummins House, West Torrens City Council
  10. ^ Floor plan, Cummins House, West Torrens City Council
  11. ^ Picture Gallery, Cummins House, West Torrens City Council
  12. ^ Grounds, Cummins House, West Torrens City Council
  13. ^ Novar Gardens, West Torrens City Council
  14. ^ Ashley Walsh, John Morphett's Home, 24 May 2009,
  15. ^ Cummins House,
  16. ^ a b History, Immanuel College,
  17. ^ Fiona Baker,Cummins House restored to life, West Side, Messenger Press, August 1985. (Archived by West Torrens Historical Society at
  18. ^ Cummins: new lease, Westside Messenger, 1987, Archived by West Torrens Historical Society.
  19. ^ a b George Morphett (1848–1868),
  20. ^ a b c d e f password to access
  21. ^ Appointments, South Australian Register, 1 February 1868
    "Thomas Burgoyne. Esq., of Port Augusta; Charles William May, Esq., of Adelaide; and Pierce Rogers Warren, Esq., of Port Augusta, to be three of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the Province."
  22. ^ Death Notices, The South Australian Advertiser, 18 February 1873
    MAY.—On the 17th February, Charles William May, second Master of St. Peter's College, aged 42.
  23. ^ Marriage Notices, South Australian Register, 25 June 1861
    MAY-MORPHETT.-On the 24th June, at St. Peter's, Glenelg, by the Right Rev. the Bishop of Adelaide, assisted by the Rev. J. Stuart Jackson, Charles William May, Esq., of St. Peter's Collegiate School, Adelaide, to Amy Gawler, second daughter of the Hon. John Morpnett, of Cummins, Chief Secretary of the Province of South Australia, and grand-daughter of the Hon. Sir J. H. Fisher, President of the Legislative Council.
  24. ^ Amy Gawler Morphett, Dictionary of Australian Artists Online
  25. ^ Birth notices, South Australian Register, 8 April 1873
    MAY.— On the 7th April, at Cummins, the widow of the late Charles William May, of a daughter.
  26. ^ a b Marriage Notices, The West Australian (Perth, WA), 9 January 1893
    LEAKE-MAY.-On Saturday the 7th inst., at St. George's Cathedral, by the Right Reverend the Bishop of Perth, the Honourable George Walpole Leake, Q.C.. M.L.C., to Amy Mabel, second daughter of the late Charles William May, of St. Peters College, Adelaide, S.A.
  27. ^ List of headstones, St. Judes Cemetery, Brighton,
  28. ^ Henry Lockett Ayers,
  29. ^ Ada Fisher Morphett,
  30. ^ a b Arthur Hurtle Morphett, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  31. ^ George HENDERSON,
  32. ^ Adelaide Sturt MORPHETT,
  33. ^ Adelaide Sturt Morphett, This reference gives her birthdate as 23 May 1856. Elsewhere "Adelaide Sturt Morphett" is given as the name of George Morphett's daughter born on the Enmore 7 January 1846.
  34. ^ James Morphett,
  35. ^ Death of Notable Pastoralist, The (Adelaide) Advertiser, 19 October 1938
  36. ^ "Family Notices". News. XXII, (3,342) (South Australia). 6 April 1934. p. 3. Retrieved 24 March 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  37. ^ P. A. Howell, 'Morphett, Audrey Cummins (1902–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 March 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of South Australia
Preceded by
Edward Frome
John Jackson
Charles Sturt
Member of the South Australian Legislative Council
1843 – 1855
Served alongside: Multiple Members
Succeeded by
John Barrow
William Peacock
Judah Solomon
Political offices
Preceded by
George Waterhouse
Chief Secretary of South Australia
Succeeded by
George Waterhouse
South Australian Legislative Council
Preceded by
James Fisher
President of the
South Australian Legislative Council

Succeeded by
William Milne
  1. ^ George Cummins Morphett (1876–1963) was one of Sir John's grandchildren, and was the third owner of Cummins.
  2. ^ a b c Miss Dulcie May Perry (1919–1999), who retired as deputy principal of Brighton High School in 1978, was very active in the various historical societies in the City of West Torrens. She was also the councillor for the Morphett ward (1982–1989).