Morphett, John (DNB00)

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MORPHETT, Sir JOHN (1809–1892), pioneer and politician of South Australia, son of Nathaniel Morphett, solicitor, was born in London on 4 May 1809, and educated at private schools for a mercantile career. Becoming connected in business with the so-called Adelphi party who took the lead in settling South Australia, he purchased land in the future colony, went out in the Cygnet, a pioneer ship of the South Australian Company, landed at Kangaroo Island on 11 Sept. 1836, and was present at the proclamation of the colony. Having devoted himself to the acquisition of land for himself and others, and established himself as a general merchant, he took an active part with the survey or, Colonel Light, in laying out the town of Adelaide, and aided in the inauguration of a regular government. The next year (1838) was full of public work; he made a trip to Rapid Bay, then almost unknown, and reported on the district to the government; on 6 March he was appointed a member of the committee for the protection of aborigines; he founded the Literary Association and Mechanics' Institute, promoted the formation of the South Australian Joint-Stock Assurance Company, and took the leading part in a public meeting (there was as yet no legislature) respecting the survey of the colony and taxation. In fact he was during this and the following years identified with the whole growth of the young colony. In various letters, which were published locally, he sent home at this time sound advice for future colonists.

On 5 Dec. 1840 Morphett was made treasurer of the corporation of Adelaide, and in April 1841 a justice of the peace. On 15 June 1843 he was nominated by the crown to the first legislature of the colony, and although he was prominent in pressing the reform of the council and in opposing transportation in 1851, he was again nominated as a member when the council was reconstituted in that year, holding office as speaker from 20 Aug. 1851 till 1855. When in 1857 an elective constitution was granted, he was among the first eighteen members elected to the legislative council. He was chief secretary in the Reynolds administration from 4 Feb. to 8 Oct. 1861, but on no other occasion was he a minister of the crown. He did not care for party politics, and in March 1865, after his re-election to the legislative council, was chosen for the office of president. He held this position till 1873, when his term of office expired, and he did not seek re-election. The remainder of his life he passed in comparative seclusion, though he still sat on the boards of certain companies, notably that of the Bank of South Australia. He was knighted on 16 Feb. 1870. He died at his residence, Cummins, Glenelg, on 7 Nov. 1892.

With an admirable capacity for business Morphett combined considerable culture and a love of sport. He presided in April 1844 at a meeting out of which arose the Royal Agricultural Society of South Australia. He was a great patron of the turf, and in the early days of the colony often rode his own horses. In 1837 there were but two horses in the whole colony, and one was Morphett's. On 12 Jan. 1838 he entered a horse for the first Adelaide races.

He married, on 15 Aug. 1838, the daughter of Sir J. Hurtle Fisher, who preceded him as president of the legislative council. She and nine children survived him. One of the three sons is clerk of the legislative council. A brother, who also went out for a time to South Australia, is now living in England.

Morphett Street in Adelaide, Morphett Street at Mount Barker, Morphettville, and Morphett Vale were named after him.

[South Australian Register, 8 Nov. 1892; Mennell's Dict. Austral. Biog.]

C. A. H.