Morrison, James (DNB00)

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MORRISON, JAMES (1790–1857), merchant and politician, born of yeoman parentage in Hampshire in 1790, began his career in a very humble capacity in a London warehouse. His industry, sagacity, and integrity eventually secured him a partnership in the general drapery business in Fore Street of Joseph Todd, whose daughter he married. The firm latterly became known as Morrison, Dillon & Co. and was afterwards converted into the Fore Street Limited Liability Company. Morrison was one of the first English traders to depend for his success on the lowest remunerative scale of profit. He thus endeavoured to secure a very rapid circulation of capital, his motto being 'small profits and quick returns.' He made an immense fortune, a great part of which he expended in buying land in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Wiltshire, Yorkshire, and Islay, Argyllshire. Southey saw him at Keswick in September 1823. He was then worth some 150,000l., and was on his way to New Lanark on the Clyde with the intention of investing 5,000l. in Robert Owen's experiment, 'if he should find his expectations confirmed by what he sees there' (Southey, Life and Correspondence, v. 144-5).

From his earliest settlement in London Morrison was associated with the liberal party in the city. In 1830 he entered parliament as member for St. Ives, Cornwall, which he helped to partially disfranchise by voting for the Reform Bill. He did not return to his offended constituents, but in 1831 he secured a seat at Ipswich for which he was again elected in December 1832. He was, however, defeated there on the 'Peel Dissolution' in January 1835. On an election petition, Fitzroy Kelly and Robert Adam Dundas, the members, were unseated, and Morrison with Rigby Wason headed the poll in June 1835. At the succeeding dissolution, in July 1837, Morrison remained out of parliament, and in the following December on the occasion of a by-election for a vacancy at Ipswich, he was defeated in a contest with Joseph Bailey. In March 1840 he re-entered the House of Commons as member for the Inverness Burghs, and was again returned unopposed in the general election of 1841, but on the dissolution of 1847, his health being much impaired he finally retired.

On 17 May 1836 Morrison made an able speech on moving a resolution urging the periodical revision of tolls and charges levied on railroads and other public works. In 1845 he moved similar resolutions, and again in March 1846, when he finally succeeded in obtaining a select committee for the better promoting and securing of the interests of the public in railway acts. His draft report, not altogether adopted, was drawn with great skill, and many of its principles have been adopted in subsequent legislation.

Though an entirely self-educated man, Morrison possessed considerable literary tastes, which were exercised in theformation of a large library. He was likewise a lover of art and made a large collection of pictures of the old masters, Italian and Dutch, together with many fine examples of the English school. Dr Waagen, in his ‘Treasures of Art in Great Britain’ (supplement, pp. 105-113 300-12), enumerates thirty pictures of Morrison in his house in Harley Street as of the highest value. The pictures at Morrison's seat at Basildon Park, Berkshire, Waagen also describes as a ‘collection of a very high class.’

Morrison died at Basildon Park on 30 Oct. 1857, possessed of property in England valued at between three and four millions, besides large investments in the United States. By his marriage to Mary Anne, daughter of Joseph Todd, he had, with other issue, four sons, Charles (b. 1817), of Basildon Park and Islay; Alfred (b. 1821) of Fonthill, Hindon, Wiltshire; Frank (b. 1823) of Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent, and Strathraich, Garve, Rossshire; and Walter (b. 1836), formerly M.P., of Malham Tarn, Settle, Yorkshire (Walford County Fam. 1893, p. 733). The second son, Alfred, is known as an enthusiastic collector of autograph letters and engraved portraits.

Morrison published: 1. ‘Rail Roads. Speech in the House of Commons,’ &c., 8vo, London 1836. 2. ‘Observations illustrative of the defects of the English System of Railway Legislation,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1846. 3. ‘The Influence of English Railway Legislation on Trade and Industry,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1848.

[Times cited in Gent. Mag. 1857, pt. ii. pp. 681-3; Ward's Men of the Reign, p. 645; Names of Members of Parliament, Official Return, pt. ii.; MacCulloch's Lit. Pol. Econ. p. 205.]

G. G.