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MORRISON, Rebecca nee GREENWOOD (1837-1932)

MORRISON, Rebecca nee GREENWOOD (1837-1932)

Rebecca Greenwood

Rebecca Greenwood

The Yorkshire town of Haworth is known worldwide as home to the Bronte family but romantic literature was not its only creation, it also harboured the roots of Rebecca Greenwood, wife of founding College Principal, George Morrison (1830-1898).

Known simply as 'Mrs Morrison' to generations of students, Rebecca Morrison played an important, though little advertised role, in the evolution of the Geelong College. She guided the boarding and domestic establishment that underpinned the operations of the School. George Redmond in the 1911 Jubilee History of the College said of Rebecca that: 'She always took a vivid interest in the boys at the College, and her marvellous memory for names and faces lent a great deal of charm to the visits of old boys, who came back expecting to find themselves forgotten, only to learn that Mrs Morrison remembered them and many little incidents of their school careers. When the old boys came homing back every year, Mrs Morrison used to hold an informal levee, which was always one of the most pleasurable of the reunion functions.'

Despite receiving only three slight mentions in the College’s Centenary History, of all the family of Morrisons, hers was the longest association with the School, spanning almost 50 years from 1861 to 1909. Even after the transfer of the School to the Presbyterian Church, the tragic death of her son Charles Norman in 1909, and her subsequent move to Melbourne, she remained an ardently interested background figure.

Born in England’s east coast port of Kingston Upon Hull in Yorkshire on 8 April 1837, and baptised at the Fish St Independent Church on 22 June 1837, she spent her teenage years growing up in the small village of Crosby Garrett in Westmoreland on the edge of the Lake District. The family moved there from Hull sometime between 1842 and 1845. Rebecca’s mother, Jane Irving, the sixth daughter of a flax merchant, William Irving of Hull, had married John Richardson Greenwood (1806-1874), merchant, at Holy Trinity Church, Hull on 21 April 1836 just a year before Rebecca’s birth. Rebecca was the oldest of 5 children. The family later moved to Dollar in Clackmannanshire, Scotland between 1851 and 1857 although her father does not seem to have gone with them. However, after the death of her mother in October 1860, the family’s cohesiveness collapsed. Rebecca was to become the unifying force for the younger members of her family.

Rebecca’s father, John Richardson Greenwood is a shadowy and unresolved character. He was variously described as a merchant’s clerk up to 1842, then as a farmer in Crosby Garrett between 1845 and 1848 and finally as an annuitant in Crosby Garrett in 1851, which suggests he had given up farming by then. Unfortunately, he disappears from records and is not to be found in either the 1861 or 1871 census. He died, aged 67, on 7 March 1874 from an aneurism after several years of disability, in Oxenhope near Haworth and close to the house of his half brother, William Greenwood junior (1800-1893). His burial at Utley Cemetery near Keighley was arranged by his son Frederick in 1874. His burial service was conducted by the Baptist minister at West Lane Baptist Church in Haworth which suggests that he died a Non-Conformist and was probably a Baptist. At the time of his death his occupation was described as that of 'gentleman'. No memorial marks the site of his interment.

Rebecca’s grandfather, George Greenwood (1774-1856), a merchant and shipping agent in Hull had retired to Mossgill House, Crosby Garrett which his second wife Nancy Richardson (c1772-1852) had inherited from her father in 1806. George Greenwood was a lay Baptist preacher of considerable ability and had helped form a new Baptist church in Crosby Garrett by 1813. In that year he had built a new Non-Conformist Chapel adjoining Mossgill House which replaced the Old Independent meeting room in the house itself and which was used by both Baptists and Independents. His wife who came of a long line of Independents remained an Independent. Both George and Nancy died in Crosby Garrett and the local church records a great number of Richardson memorials. No doubt all this had a considerable impact on the outlook of the young Rebecca.

In a curious co-incidence, Rebecca’s grandparents, George and Nancy Greenwood of Crosby Garrett lived in a house named Mossgill. Mossgiel was to become the name of one of the College’s boarding houses and originates in the name of a Noble St property acquired by the School in 1962. Although tempting, there is no known connection between the two.

George Greenwood’s birthplace, Haworth, on the edge of the Yorkshire Pennine Moors was the focus of the Greenwood mill owning family. The various branches of this Greenwood family, who all trace their origins back to John Greenwood (1661-1738) of Bridgehouse, are recorded as owning over 30 textile and corn mills throughout West Yorkshire and Lancashire from the 1780s. Among them was John Greenwood the builder of Knowle House, Keighley.

Knowle House became the name of the location of George Morrison’s first Geelong College in Skene St. The name possibly derives from the naming of the house of Rebecca’s distant cousin, John Greenwood (1763-1846) at Keighley, Yorkshire though this linkage remains very uncertain.

In Haworth, with the demise of the Bridgehouse Greenwoods in 1848, the centre of attention became Rebecca’s uncle, William Greenwood Junior (1800-1893) of Old Oxenhope and Old Oxenhope Mill. He was a worsted spinner and manufacturer who had inherited the business of the mill at Old Oxenhope near Haworth in 1848 from his uncle, the brother of Rebecca’s grandfather, George. Constructed in about 1800 it was a small-scale mill and one of 34 mills built during a time of massive industrial expansion. It was possibly Rebecca’s uncle however, William Greenwood Junior who, of her other relatives, was to exert the some affect on the family.

Despite his own Baptist convictions, William Greenwood junior became acquainted with the Anglican Perpetual Curate, Patrick Bronte (1777-1861), who invited Greenwood’s election to be churchwarden as a vicar’s warden of the Established Church at Haworth in 1843 and 1845. Some people believe he may have been invited to be 'people’s warden' , which role was often filled by Non-Conformists in parishes like Haworth where Non-Conformists were in the majority. One story suggests that this was part of Bronte’s attempts to secure funding for the rebuilding of the church tower. The Brontes were visitors to the Greenwood home and William Greenwood is thought to be the Baptist friend Patrick once mentioned as living in Haworth. Sarah Greenwood (1811-1893), Rebecca’s aunt lived with William from about 1854 and a surviving letter from Charlotte Bronte thanks Sarah for lending Charlotte a copy of 'The Value of Health' by Mrs Ellis. This would have been in the brief period between 1854 when the book was published and 1855 when Charlotte died. While it is improbable that the teenage Rebecca met the Brontes, the Bronte’s literary success would no doubt have been closely observed as their identities became known to the reading public. Perhaps, a similar romanticism was to help inspire Rebecca’s voyage across the world to marry George Morrison.

William’s memorial of 1893 in the West Lane Baptist Church in Haworth proclaimed him as one, 'who maintained worthily the office of superintendent in the Sunday school; and for over 50 years that of deacon in the church; being loved and revered by all who knew him for his Christian liberality, gentle disposition, and Christ like deportment.'

One hundred and fifty years ago in 1859 a brief four-line marriage notice in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper announced the marriage, on the 7 December 'of George Morrison, Esq MA, Principal of the National Grammar School, Geelong, to Rebecca, eldest daughter of J Greenwood, Esq, of Dollar, Scotland' . Rebecca had probably arrived on the ship 'Monarch' only a few weeks before on 21 November 1859. How she first met George Morrison is unknown though it is possible that this meeting occurred at the local church at Dollar, Scotland not far from Stirling. George had previously been employed at the Naval and Military Academy, Gosport, Hampshire, England where no doubt his mathematical skills were of highly regarded value but had taken a position at the Dollar Academy - a choice he soon regretted.

Oddly, Dollar in Clackmannanshire, Scotland has a significant association with China and the young Rebecca may have told of this association to her children. In view of George Ernest ‘Chinese’ Morrison’s later fascination with China, the association is all the more curious. James Legge (1815-1897) perhaps Scotland’s most notable sinologist lived as a missionary in China and Hongkong returning to live in Dollar in 1867. He invited a Chinese scholar Wang Tao to Dollar who created several classical depictions of Dollar while he lived there and before they both returned to China in 1870. The image by Wang Tao of about 1868 depicts Dollar as viewed through a very different cultural filter.

George had written to his brother Alexander from Dollar, in April 1858, informing him of his intention to emigrate and intimating that he would prefer to teach in ‘some venture school’ not in competition with Alexander’s Scotch College in Melbourne. Despite telling his brother Robert of his ‘disgust at teaching’ , George was to accept a position with Alexander at Scotch after his arrival in Victoria, possibly aboard the ship 'White Star' , in November 1858. That his arrival was greeted with anticipation is evident from an advertisement placed by his brother Alexander in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper expectantly announcing 'Mr George Morrison AM First Prizeman in Classics, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and formerly Mathematical Master in the Royal Naval and Military Academy, Portsmouth, having just arrived from England will take charge of the mathematical department in this institution.'

Alexander had only arrived the year before on 26 July 1857 aboard the ship Essex to become Principal of the Scotch College in Melbourne. Rebecca’s marriage to George Morrison was possibly the first to take place at Scotch College. Together, the Morrisons were to have eight children - five sons and three daughters. Rebecca died at South Yarra in March 1932 – three of her sons; Charles Norman, George Ernest, and Arthur Robertson Morrison having predeceased her.

The death of Rebecca’s mother Jane, in October 1860, divided the family. Her younger sister Mary (1842-1947), emigrated to Australia (possibly in 1864), and became the Morrison’s housekeeper at the School. She lived with Rebecca at Toorak until her death at Melrose St, Mordialloc at 'the grand old age of 105' . Arthur (1848-1928), came to Australia in 1861, becoming one of George Morrison’s foundation year students. Arthur is recorded in the 1861 census as staying on holiday with Rebecca’s aunt and grandmother in Hull in April of that year. He became president of the Old Collegians Association in 1913. He married but had no children. Frederick (1845-1913), trained as a doctor in Edinburgh and, because he was disabled, never practiced. Instead, he lectured at the Leeds School of Medicine. He was recorded as staying with his uncle, William at Old Oxenhope in 1871. In 1880, he moved to Brampton, near Chesterfield in Derbyshire and became a corn merchant with his uncle, Thomas Irving. The following year, his uncle died and Frederick continued the business until his death at Brampton in 1913. William Irving Greenwood (1850-1862), Rebecca’s youngest brother and the baby of the family died in Hull.

Rebecca returned to Haworth during George Morrison’s final visit to Britain in 1894, together with her daughters Violet and Hilda. Her fifth son, Clive Morrison (1873-1943) was certainly there in 1895 as his photograph appears among the family papers of the Greenwoods of Old Oxenhope.

No account of Rebecca’s father John Richardson Greenwood in Dollar, Scotland has been found and he remains an enigma. Perhaps he visited Australia in his later years. It would be reassuring to think so. In February 1870, only a few months after the Morrisons bought their Newtown Hill property and commenced building their new and expensive school, a John R Greenwood, age 63, arrived in Melbourne aboard the ship 'True Briton'. Was this Rebecca’s father, finally, in his declining years, re-uniting with his daughter and re-establishing contact with his own family now settled in Australia?

In a postscript to this story, Rebecca Greenwood’s aunt Deborah (1813-1865), while living with her parents in Crosby Garrett, married a Baptist minister - William Fawcett (c1799-1875), in 1851 as his second wife. Her step-granddaughter was destined to re-enter the lives of the Morrisons many years later. Rebecca’s son George Ernest ‘Chinese’ Morrison appointed James Frederick Greenwood as guardian of his three sons should his widow die young. Unfortunately, this occurred when his wife, Jennie, died in 1923, soon after George Ernest’s death in 1920. James Frederick Greenwood had inherited Brooks Meeting Mill following William Greenwood Junior’s death in 1893. As an aged bachelor he regarded himself as totally unsuitable to be a guardian and their cousin, Cecily Deborah Fawcett (1869-1937), took on the role. 'Chinese' Morrison’s last surviving son Alistair Gwynne Morrison (1915-2009), died in Canberra in August 2009.

Sources: 'In Search of Rebecca Greenwood' by Con Lannan, Ad Astra June 2010 pp32-33 - The Geelong College gratefully acknowledges support and research by Robin Greenwood and David Morecombe (descendants respectively of the Greenwood and Irving families) assisted by David Morrison, a great grandson of George Morrison.
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