Morrell family in Wellington

Morrells in wellingtonWhen preparing the second class of my evening course on Wellington’s architectural heritage, I did some research to see if I could find out where my great-grandparents Samuel and Susannah Morrell had lived in the city. Most of my information on them has come from my research, rather than from ‘family stories’. My father wouldn’t have known his grandfather Samuel who died in 1919, and I didn’t know his eldest son Walter (my grandfather). I heard very little about either of them when I was growing up and have very few photos of Samuel and Susannah. So here is some of what I have found out.

Samuel Morrell (21 Nov 1850 – 23 May 1919) married Susannah Tankard (Bap: 12 Aug 1849 – 26 April 1935) in Burley Parish, Leeds, England on 16 Feb 1878. Their first child, Walter, was born on 6 June 1879, at Cheltenham Mount, Harrogate.

St Leonards shipSt Leonard’s – the ship they emigrated on. [1] See my post Morrell family in Wellington – 2 for more information on the ship and Wellington in 1880.

They departed from London on the ship ‘St Leonard’s’ on 23 May 1880 and arrived in Wellington on 22 August 1880. It is thought they first moved to Wainuiomata in the Hutt Valley, to join a fellow Harrogate family, the Woods. But this can’t have been for long, as daughter Sophia was born in Newtown, Wellington on 4 June 1881.

Newtown was and still is, generally, a working class suburb of Wellington, to the south of the centre. Apart from a few farms and houses, it only began developing once trams arrived – first steam trams (from 1878 to 1882) and then horse-drawn trams until the early 20th century. So if they lived there in the early 1880s, they were living in a fast growing suburb.

Daughter Florence was born in Wellington on 20 August 1882, but the fourth child, Samuel, was born in Blenheim on 30 April 1885. The last child, Phoebe, was born in Wellington on 14 October 1889. (There were no notices of these births in the newspaper; these details came from birth registers.) Samuel’s occupation was a bricklayer. In 1883 he is listed in the assisted immigrant records as paying part of the fare of the Robinson family – relatives of his wife, and his address was given as Austin Street (this is in Mt Victoria, Wellington). See my post on Chain Migration for more about these relatives.

Their time in Blenheim was probably short – he advertised as a bricklayer and seller of relevant products from January to April 1885; he was in High Street ‘opposite the Wesleyan Church’.[2] And a Mr Morrell conducted the choir at the Wesleyan anniversary tea meeting in April 1885.[3] But that seems to be it for Blenheim. In 1887, the Evening Post noted Samuel Morrell was on a jury in a fraud case in Wellington.[4]

In 1888, Samuel Morrell, of Wellington, applied for a patent ‘for improving the draught in chimneys and other flues and passages, also for ventilating rooms and other places’.[5] I found no more about this.

He also found time for singing – this reference is probably to him: in 1888 ‘the choir of the United Methodist Free Church, Courtenay Place, assisted by a number of willing friends having considerable musical and elocutionary talents, gave a very successful entertainment… yesterday evening… “You gentlemen of England”, Messrs Morrell, Allington, and Kershaw.[6] One of my brother’s thought Samuel may also have played the organ.

By 1890 it seems the family had moved to Elizabeth Street in Mt Victoria – most likely a sign of increasing wealth as properties were probably more expensive there than in Newtown; although the particular house they moved to was small. In 1890 the Assessment Court reduced the amount of S. Morrell’s property in Elizabeth St from £18 to £16 by consent.[7]

In 1891 more singing was reported – at a fund-raising concert for the Sunday schoolroom of St Mark’s (near the Basin Reserve, Mt Victoria) – a song by Mr S Morrell was well received.[8] Again, in June of that year S Morrell took part in a ‘glee and quartet’ for more St Mark’s fund-raising – this time for the choir.[9]

Also in 1891, son Walter, aged 12, passed First Grade freehand examination at Clyde Quay School, which opened in 1889 and was then located on Clyde Quay where the Central Fire Station now is.[10] In the 20th century the school moved to Elizabeth Street, but still retained its former name. In the 19th century Elizabeth Street did not go down as far as Kent Terrace – it was only made from Brougham Street to Austin Street, which, of course, means the street numbering is not the same as today.

Nevertheless, according to the Post Office street directories for 1898, Samuel Morrell lived in the last house on the left (going up from Brougham) before Austin St. The map below is from 1892 and I have arrowed the last house. I think the house is still there but has been changed in the front. It is currently for sale, which is how I happen to have a photo of the rear, which (apart from the stucco cladding) looks older than the front – it has double-hung sash windows and its shape appears to match the ‘footprint’ seen in the map. Even today, it is described as a two-bedroom cottage.

Elizabeth St 1892 map  Elizabeth St and surrounds 1892 map

The second map (1892) shows a larger area, and from this you can see that Mt Victoria (to the east of central Wellington) was a mixture of small workers cottages, large houses and some empty sections. When Wellington sections were originally sold off in 1839 (in London), one-acre town sections were often bought by speculators who had no intention of emigrating. Even by 1892, some are still empty. This map is available online from Wellington City Archives at: But my photograph comes from a little booklet published by the Mt Victoria Historical Society, called ‘Streets of Mt Victoria’ (1999).

In 1893 a new invention by Mr Samuel Morrell was reported[11]:

Morrell window sash news item 1893

In 1894 he is listed with many others as a licensed ‘drain connector’ under the City Corporation’s Sanitary By-law.[12] Sanitation in Wellington was becoming an increasing problem with overcrowding in the inner city, and diseases such as cholera and typhoid were not unknown.

In 1895, Samuel (‘a Wellington bricklayer’) petitioned Parliament for an extension of time in which he can protect a patent sash fastener.[13] In 1896 more was reported about his sash fastener.[14]

Morrell window sash 1896

And in 1897, the Evening Post noted that:

“The passengers for London by the Aotea tomorrow include Mr Samuel Morrell, of Elizabeth Street, who has arranged to visit the Old Country for the purpose of superintending the making of a modified form of his ingenious sash fastener. He will afterwards travel throughout Great Britain and introduce his patent to all the leading builders and architects. The fastener, which is really an excellent invention, is being manufactured in large quantities by Mr Thos Sanders of Ladywood, Birmingham, and is, we are informed, selling well. Mr Morrell has spent a great deal of time and money in bringing his contrivance to perfection and is now in a fair way of being recompensed for his efforts.”[15]

In 1899 a house of four rooms (‘easy distance of GPO’ [that’s the General Post Office]) was to let for a few months by applying to “Morrell” at Evening Post – I don’t know if this was Samuel or not; but its size would be about right for his Elizabeth Street house.[16]

college stIn 1900, the City Assessment Court in its annual sitting dealing with appeals against valuations reduced Samuel Morrell’s College St valuation from ₤45 to ₤43. So, by now it seems they have moved a short distance to College Street – this is on the Te Aro flat. It is now a mixed residential / retail / light industrial area with no old houses.

In 1901 (2, 3, 6, 7 May) an H Sanson of Clyde Quay took out an advertisement in the Evening Post for a week apologising to Samuel Morrell of College Street for ‘accusing him of taking more timber than was his just right from Clyde Quay on 30 March. I acknowledge that it is proved to my satisfaction that he was entitled to it.’

This photo of the family (parents and their five adult children) was taken in 1905.

morrells1905Walter is on the left, his brother Samuel on the right. Florence and Sophie at the back and youngest daughter Phoebe sits between her parents.

In 1910 (still at College St) Samuel took a compensation case against the Harbour Board for land they had taken. It related to a section near Miramar wharf which he bought in 1905 for ₤451 (so, perhaps his invention was paying off!). He received the Board’s notice in 1908 and hadn’t built on the land in the three years he had owned it. The Board offered ₤475, but Samuel claimed ₤650. A government valuer claimed land values had declined in the preceding few years. The Court awarded Samuel ₤495, plus costs.[17]

On 14 September 1912 Samuel and Susannah moved to 44 Rongotai Tce, Wellington. This was located in the eastern suburb of Kilbirnie. It was the extension of electric tram services to these slightly outer suburbs that led to their development in the early 20th century. The Kilbirnie tram tunnel opened about 1905 (now Mt Victoria bus tunnel) and Kilbirnie began to grow soon after. So, once again, they are located in a fast growing suburb.

Rongotai Tce with arrow 1947The house (approximately where the arrow is) was ‘transferred to Her Majesty the Queen’ in 1952 for the purposes of an aerodrome. At least 60 houses were moved (and some demolished) to make way for an extension to Wellington airport – in fact the alignment of the runway was changed from east-west to north-south. It is thought the Morrells house was moved. Certainly Rongotai Terrace disappeared under the new runway. But by then both Samuel and Susannah were dead. Their unmarried daughter, Florence, owned the house.

This image is a detail from: Rongotai, Wellington. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-11414-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

wynnweddThis wedding photo was taken in 1915. The groom in the centre is Willie Winn, who was a relative. I’m fairly sure he was Samuel’s nephew – the son of his youngest sister Isabel who married William Winn in 1888. In the 1891 English census, William and Isabel Winn were living in Brearton, Yorkshire, he was a farmer, and their son William was one-year old (that would make Willie about 25 when he married). There was also a daughter, Dorothy, 4 months old in 1891. Willie died in Hawera, New Zealand, in 1939 aged 49. (See my post Growing up in Wellington for some memories of my father’s time at the Winn farm near Hawera; and Morrell family in Scotton, Yorkshire, for some information on the previous two generations in England.)

Susannah is sitting next to Willie, the groom. It is likely Samuel’s family were his only relations in New Zealand, which might explain such a small wedding group. Willie’s wife, Lydia, was left money in my great-aunt Florence Morrell’s will in the 1960s – she was described as her ‘cousin’s widow’. The group includes my future grandmother, Winifred (nee Read) and Samuel Morrell at the back on the left. Florence is the one with the hat; perhaps she was a bridesmaid. My grandfather Walter is sitting on the ground on the left with his son Bob on his knee (my father isn’t yet born); Ruth and Gwen (my aunts) are sitting in the front; and the other two women are my great-aunts Sophie in front and Phoebe at back holding her daughter Joyce. Samuel (my great-uncle) is on the right holding his son Morris.

susannahMorrellThis image from 1932 shows Susannah aged 83, at Rongotai Terrace with lilies. She died on 26 April 1935.

Walter Morrell

Their eldest child, later my grandfather, was Walter Morrell who had his first birthday on the ship that brought him to New Zealand with his parents in 1880. He married Winifred Alice Read on 28 December 1905 at Christ Church, Victoria Avenue, Wanganui. His occupation was joiner.

There are photos of the church, the bride and their wedding cake in my post on a NZ Edwardian photo album. This report appeared in the local newspaper:

“The bride … was charmingly attired in a dress of cream silk, embroidered voile, trimmed with crepe de chine and chiffon ribbons and sprays of orange blossoms and wore a handsome embroidered veil, which, by the way, was a gift of her mother. She was attended by five bridesmaids, Miss V Read, her sister, and Miss Sophie Morrell, sister of the bridegroom, wearing white silk muslin dresses, with lace hats trimmed with green straw and chiffon roses… and the Misses Bessie Read, her cousin, Norah Smith, cousin to the bridegroom, and little Connie Heighton of Wellington. The bridegroom’s gift to the bride was a handsome gold cable bracelet…

Messrs S T Morrell, of Wellington and Rowan of Brisbane attended to the important duties of groomsmen… Some very pretty dresses were worn, amongst them being … Miss Flossie Morrell, green canvas voile, with white chiffon hat [and] Miss Phoebe Morrell, white nun’s veiling, trimmed with cream lace, and large white hat …

The presents … included a pickle cruet, the gift of the bride’s workroom mates at Messrs J Paul’s establishment, a handsome silver afternoon tea service from the Good Templar Lodge… The happy couple left by the afternoon train en route to New Plymouth, where the honeymoon will be spent”.[18]

The honeymoon could only have been a couple of days as on 30 December they purchased house furnishings (carpet square, linoleum, and blinds) in Wellington for their 32 Stanley Street, Berhampore house.

On 15 September 1908 Alexander Graham, of Ohiro Rd, wrote a testimonial for Walter:

“Walter F Morrell served an apprenticeship of five years and was altogether a few days short of nine years in my employment, then a shortage of work caused him to engage with other employers.

In my service his work was mostly joinery and stair building but since leaving me three years ago his work has I understand been mostly framing and general building work.

I can recommend him as a quiet unassuming but capable workman conscientious and trustworthy. If I required a foreman or representative at a distance I could with confidence entrust him with the duties.”

Given these dates, he must have started his apprenticeship in about 1896.

This photo shows their four oldest children (my father is the youngest in this photo – his younger sister Evelyn has not yet been born). The date would be about 1920-1.

morrells1921 Another testimonial was dated 6 September 1924 from Irvine & Burr, builders and contractors, 27 Margaret St, Wadestown:

“This is to certify that Mr W F Morrell has been continuously in our employ for the past 6 years – for the last three years he has been our foreman. We have found him to be of sober habits and of excellent character. He has exceptional qualifications as a tradesman and we have no hesitation in recommending him to anyone requiring a competent and trustworthy man.”

And another from 10 September 1924 from W Kelly, joiner and staircase builder of 46 Riddiford Street, Newtown, said “This is to certify that Mr W Morrell has been in my employ for five years. During this period I have found him to be of sober habits and excellent character. He is a competent tradesman and I can thoroughly recommend him to anyone requiring a trustworthy man.”

One of my brother’s remembers that Walter worked for Stacey and Co. timber merchants and joiners of 180 Adelaide Road, Newtown, and not long before he retired, he lost some fingers in some machinery there.[19] Interestingly, Stacey’s was one of the donors thanked by the Unemployed Women Workers’ Association for donations during the depression.[20]

In 1955 Walter and Winnie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. A few weeks later Chris Richards, building contractor sent a letter – “we read in the Dominion about your golden wedding celebration, and my wife and I send to you our best wishes… It is many years since we were at Wrigley and Kemp’s, Wally, but I have some very pleasant memories of that period, and I must say that many of the things that you taught me how to do have been extremely useful to me during the time that I have been working. I am now in business in Levin …”


Memorial plaque at Karori Cemetery

Walter died 12 December 1958 and Winifred died 18 May 1972. This plaque is in Karori Cemetery’s small crematorium. It includes names and dates of Walter’s parents, wife and eldest daughter.

There is some more information about the Morrell family in New Zealand,  including photos, in my NZ beach culture post. There is more information on the Morrell family in Scotton, Yorkshire (before emigrating) in a later post.



[1] Henry Brett, White Wings (volume I), The Brett Printing Company Limited, 1924, Auckland, The ship sank in 1883.

[2] Marlborough Express, 15 January 1885, Page 3

[3] Marlborough Express, 4 April 1885, Page 2

[4] EP, 14 April, p. 3

[5] Otago Daily Times, 4 July 1888, p. 4

[6] Evening Post, 20 June 1888, Page 2

[7] Evening Post, 8 March 1890, Page 2

[8] Evening Post, 11 February 1891, Page 2

[9] Evening Post, 3 June 1891, Page 2

[10] Evening Post, 12 Nov 1891. Information on the school from a Mt Victoria Historical Society newsletter.

[11] Evening Post, 28 September 1893, Page 3

[12] Evening Post, 8 February 1894, Page 3

[13] Evening Post, 14 August, p. 3

[14] Evening Post, 11 April 1896, Page 2. NZ patents from the 1890s have been digitised, but I couldn’t find it with some simple searching (assuming Samuel did register his patent.)

[15] Evening Post, 26 March, p. 4

[16] Evening Post, 11 December 1899, Page 1.

[17] Evening Post, 19 December 1910, Page 6

[18] Wanganui Chronicle, 2 January 1906, Page 7

[19] The address comes from two news items: Evening Post, 4 November 1927, Page 8 & 23 January 1941, Page 10

[20] Evening Post, 3 May 1932, Page 14


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