MORRIS, EDWARD, businessman, politician, and office-holder; b. in 1813 in Waterford (Republic of Ireland), son of Simon Morris; m. in 1852 Katherine Howley of St John’s, Nfld, and they had one daughter; d. 3 April 1887 at St John’s.
Edward Morris was educated at St John’s College, Waterford. In 1832 he came to Newfoundland to join the firm of his uncle, Patrick Morris*, which was engaged in passenger transport and the provision trade between St John’s and Ireland. Edward looked after much of his uncle’s business and made frequent trips to Europe on its behalf. Patrick Morris, however, was winding down his firm in the 1830s and liquidated it in 1839. Three years later, Edward Morris established himself as a commission agent and auctioneer in St John’s, but he was apparently unsuccessful and gave up the businesses in the late 1840s. About 1842, through the patronage of his uncle who was then colonial treasurer, he had been employed by the Savings Bank, which at that time was part of the Treasurer’s Department. In 1851 Morris’ diary records him as living modestly with his father on a small farm near St John’s. He became cashier, or general manager, of the bank in 1852 and retained that position until 1886.
After his arrival in St John’s, Morris immediately became part of the Irish Catholic élite in the city and was soon prominent in the Benevolent Irish Society. He was also keenly interested in politics. His uncle had been a leader in the agitation which helped to gain representative institutions for Newfoundland in 1832 and he himself was a cousin of John Kent*, a prominent Liberal since 1833 and premier from 1858 to 1861. Edward would have liked to sit in the assembly of Newfoundland as both his father, who represented Placentia in the 1840s, and his uncle had done. Bishop John Thomas Mullock*, however, forbade him to run in the 1855 election, having already decided who was to represent the Liberals before Morris declared his candidacy. This was a severe disappointment to Morris but he accepted the decision with characteristic resignation, and his loyalty to his church and to the Liberal party was not shaken. His family connections and his long association with the Benevolent Irish Society brought him a reward in May 1855 when the new government of Philip Francis Little* appointed him assembly reporter. In 1858 he was named by Governor Sir Alexander Bannerman* to the Legislative Council and the same year was elected president of the Benevolent Irish Society.
He had now a position of minor eminence in St John’s and moved to a good address. For 15 years he worked indefatigably for the charitable and social interests of the society, and managed the Savings Bank scrupulously and efficiently. In the Legislative Council, Morris was one of the few members to support confederation with the other British North American colonies during the late 1860s. He gradually gained seniority in the council and became president in 1870 despite objections from Governor Stephen John Hill*: the president of the council acted for the governor in the latter’s absence and Hill considered Morris to be of an inferior social standing. Morris remained president for 16 years, however, and, although Hill secured the chief justice as administrator, he twice acted as chief administrator, in 1870 because the change had not yet been made and in 1883 because the chief justice was absent.
Morris’ diary reveals him as an honest and kind man. Lacking ambition or great intelligence, he achieved his success through the efforts of friends and family connections. Always conscious of this help, and realizing that he could never penetrate the inner circle of St John’s society, Morris was usually uncomfortable at formal occasions, and happiest when playing cards, talking and drinking whisky punch with friends. His was a quiet life of modest achievement.
Arch. of the Archdiocese of St John’s, Edward Morris diary (mfm. copy at Maritime Hist. Group Arch.). Maritime Hist. Group Arch., Morris name file. PRO, CO 194/179. Newfoundlander, April 1839, 22 Sept. 1842. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 6 April 1887.