Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 18, June 1974


Visitors to the home of the late J.B. Morris of Karangahake (and later Waihi) may remember the picture of an old lady that graced the place of honour over the mantelpiece in the sitting room. I can still hear J.B. explaining; "That was Granny Bennett. When my mother died I was 9 and she took me to live with her at Mahurangi Heads. My son Bennett was named for her".

Granny was the wife of Capt. Bennett of the American whaler "Hannibal" and she and her young family were among the settlers ordered to the warships when Hone Heke was active in 1840. Among the hastily packed bundles was her precious clock, but she had thrown the family silver down the well. (It was never recovered!) Years later her daughter Elizabeth married James Morris and their eldest son was John Benjamin who went to live with his Grandmother when the children were scattered. Times were very hard and he often spoke of how the Maoris helped them and of how he left home in search of work when he was 13. After a period in the Mangawhai Kauri Bush, and bush in the Gisborne Area the sea called him, and he spent some years around the coast in scows till he was attracted to the Australian Goldfields returning to N.Z. with both "nuggets" and cash.

His next venture was timber milling in the Waitara district where he married Catherine Amelia Kane and their children Bennett, Alma and Harry were born there. In 1898 gold reports attracted J.B. to Karangahake and he sent for his family when he had built a house (now Muirhead's) for them on Rahu Road, then the main road to Waihi. Another son (Charlie) was born there but when he was 10 days old Mrs. Morris died. Their great friends, Mr. and Mrs. Meagher, brought up the child as their own and King Meagher continued to care for the Morris family till the end.

In 1903 J.B. married Maude Wyatt, the daughter of the first English Master at the Auckland Grammar School, and his bent for individual projects led him to bush work again, with a team of 20 Bullocks and the establishment of a Sawmill. Then he discovered Cinnabar on his property and tried to develop the mining of it but the project was not successful.

Having an engineering certificate, J.B. began working 6 days a week in the Crown Battery, continuing till it closed in 1920 when he had the contract for dismantling it. Later he and his son Harry, (assisted by Fred Dare and Albert Nelson) opened up the adjacent Crown Quarry, supplying metal throughout the district. This continued for several years until the heavy railway freight forced closing. After Harry's tragic death in 1924, Ben assisted his father in the final year. (Charlie (Meagher) had died in 1920 after a long illness, and Alma had married Lawrie Turnbull. They lived at the White Rocks farm (now Bradford's) for many years before moving to Auckland where Alma died in 1946 leaving four children).

Men who have once "mined" find it difficult to resist the lure of gold and J.B. Morris was the man who with others in the 20's opened up the old Dubbo Mine on the south side of the Karangahake mountain peak. He built a small Battery there and the results attracted the attention of some well known Auckland businessmen who purchased the Claim in which. J.B.M. retained some shares. He then took over another part of the old Crown workings where he employed several men and achieved such promising results that he built a treatment plant on the site of the present picnic Area - once part of the town. A good friend, the late Mr. Ben Gwilliam assisted with refining and assaying but there were tremendous difficulties and set backs. In an effort to solve these, two employees, John Cotter and Jim O'Brien, became working partners with their gallant old friend, thus sharing losses as well as profits, the firm being known as "J.B Morris and Coy".' Among the local men who worked there were: Jack Milroy, Kel Goldsworthy, Jack Clarkin, Jack O'Brien and others. Finally the venture closed.

The years had taken toll (J.B. was then in his 80's) and when in 1940 Mrs. Morris' health made it impossible to continue to live on Rahu Road, they bought a neat little home in Pipe Lane, Waihi where they maintained their well known hospitality and their interest in Karangahake. Mr. Morris had served its Anglican Church, was Chairman of its School Committee and had represented it on the Ohinemuri County Council. He was a J.P., a Life Member of the Masonic Lodge and Past Master of the Oddfellows. His old Maori Bible and Dictionary were his dearest treasures during his later years, enabling him to act as interpreter when needed. On the eve of his death in 1946 be dictated a farewell letter to friends of his youth; and so passed a remarkable and revered old man. His widow died in 1950 in her 90th year.

OUR CONTRIBUTOR: MRS. NEZZIE MORRIS a member of the noted Waipu McLeod family, attended the Auckland Grammar School and took up teaching. It was while she was on the Staff of the Netherton School that she met Bennett Morris who had served with distinction for nearly 4 years during World War I, both at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He was twice mentioned in despatches and was awarded the meritorious Service Medal. In 1926 Nezzie and Ben married and lived in Mackaytown before moving with their daughter Isobel to Waihi till 1945 when Ben's health broke down and they decided to live at Whangamata. There he interested himself in boating and fishing when health permitted, but he passed away in Waihi Hospital in 1966 after a very long illness. Mrs. Morris now lives in Waihi where she has many friends.