Our History: Grandma Morris, Centenarian (1820-1920)

24 Aug 2023

Image: ‘Grandma Morris’ (reproduced from Northern Star, 12 April 1920).


Ann Morris (28 April 1820-1 November 1920) 

by Julia Gilchrist

In researching the earliest women of the New South Wales churches of Christ, some women leap out from the page: 

“Grandma Morris, born in London in 1820, died one hundred years later in Roseville, on Sydney’s north shore.” 

In ‘Grandma Morris’ story, we hear how doing things a little differently can seed a legacy which lives far beyond your lifetime.

Ann was the mother of Ellen Elizabeth Ashwood and grandmother of Miss May Frances Ashwood, both of whom were former Presidents and Secretaries of the NSW Sisters’ Conference.

May was the exceedingly generous philanthropist and benefactor of Ashwood Aged Ladies Home in Pendle Hill and Ashwood Hospital in Dhond, India. (Read May’s story). 

Ann’s life raises important questions for us today: are strong women are born or are strong women made? Or is it a mix of the two, enhanced by the encouragement of the people around them?

H.G. Harward’s biographical sketch in the Australian Christian, 1 April 1920 quickly conjured a deeper visual and felt ‘sense’ of the earliest days of the church of Christ, specifically City Temple in Sydney.

“One hundred years ago on, on March 23, 1820, a baby girl was born in the parish of St. Saviour’s London. On the register of births her name was recorded as Ann Morris. On March 23, 1920, at Victoria St, Roseville, Sydney, the child of a century ago celebrated her hundredth birthday. To her relatives and friends, she is known as Grandma Morris. 

And to how few of earth’s millions it is given to live one hundred years. What a remarkable century it has been! The most unique in the millenniums of the past. Remarkable for its progress in science and art; for its development in discovery and commerce; for its advancement in education and invention; for its achievement in communication and transportation.  

To have lived through the wonderful experiences these changes have wrought; under the reign of five monarchs of the British Empire from George IV to King George V., from the time of the slow communication by the post boy to the rapid message of the wireless telegraph; from the days of travel by stage coach to those of the airplane; from the time of the slow sailing ship to the fast travelling steamer of modern days; has been the experience of the subject of this brief sketch. 

As a child, from the window of St. Thomas’ Hospital, where her mother was a nurse, she saw the first train start on its trip from London to Greenwich. Ann Morris was married at Trinity Church, Newington, London, on September 4, 1847.

Unlike most married women she did not change her name in the ceremony, and through her long life has spelt it in the same simple way. Six years later, with her husband, three children, mother and brother John, she sailed for Australia in the ship “Mirza-Poer.” After an eventful voyage, including a mutiny on board ship, a safe arrival was made at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) on February 1, 1854. 

Housing conditions were almost as unfavourable as they are today, and this family showed its foresight by bringing out two houses of four and two rooms ready to fit up on arrival. The Rolls Royce car of that day was the useful spring dray which they also shipped from the old land. 

For many years the family home was in Richmond, Victoria. Here Mr. Morris worked at his trade as a hatter, and in 1856 started in business for himself in Bridge Road. Five children were born in Richmond, two dying in infancy. 

It was under the ministry of H.S. Earl in 1867 that Grandma Morris first became associated with Churches of Christ, uniting with the church at Lygon St, Carlton.  For more than half a century she has been faithful member, living a life fragrant with the spirit of Christ.  

About 1890, with her son Tom, she came to Sydney, and from that time has been in fellowship with the churches of that city. Until a few years ago it was her great joy to meet with the brethren at the City Temple. 

“We talk of human life as a journey, but how variously is that journey performed. There are those who walk on velvet lawns, and smooth terraces, where every gale is arrested and every beam is tempered. There are those who walk on the Alpine paths of life, through stormy sorrows and over sharp afflictions.”  

In the one hundred years, Grandma Morris has travelled over many a rough path, and climbed many a steep hill; there have been many days of storm and trial along the way; suffering and affliction have often come to her. But through it all she has been safely kept.  

For the past twenty-five years she has lived with her daughter, Mrs. Ashwood, where comfort and the loving care of dear ones have doubtless helped to lengthen out her days. 

“The mother lives again,” says Smiles, “in her children. They unconsciously mould themselves after her manner, her speech, her conduct, and her methods of life. Her habits become theirs, and her character is visibly repeated in them.”  

“As a child’, says one, ‘I always had a feeling that God and Jesus were such particular friends of mothers, and were honoured more than words could tell.” 

We appreciate these sentiments as we think of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Morris. Four children are living: Mr. Chas. Morris and Mrs. A. E. Lilburne, of the Ballarat church; Mr. Tom Morris, of the Swanston St church; and Mrs. Ashwood, of Sydney.  

The history of the Ballarat church and of Bro. Chas. Morris is one. His service and gifts and money have from the beginning been generously and cheerfully given to the cause of Christ in that city. No name is more highly nor more deservedly honored than his. His sister has been a faithful member too for many years. Bro. Tom Morris has divided his time between Melbourne and Sydney. Though less prominent, he too has been a faithful helper of the work in both these cities.  

Mrs. Ashwood, twin sister of Mrs. Lilburne, has been a tower of strength to the Lord’s work in New South Wales. Among the sisters, she is one of the choice spirits, full of good works, and earnest in the service of Jesus.  

There are nineteen grandchildren, and twenty-nine great grandchildren living. One grandson was killed in the war. It would require a whole volume to tell all the good things the writer knows about many of these descendants.  

T.R. Morris, of the Brighton church, is perhaps the best known of the grandsons. He is a tower of strength to the cause of Christ, taking time from a crowded business life to push every interest of the kingdom of God. Most of the others are in the church and loyally supporting the work of God. 

“Our lives should be like the day, more beautiful in the evening; or like the summer aglow with promise, and the autumn, rich with the golden sheaves, where good works and deeds have ripened on the field.”  

And this late evening of life with Grandma Morris has been wondrously beautiful, and aglow with promise to younger folk who have met her. While the memory has weakened, she has been able to scan the paper, look at pictures, and walk about the house and garden.  

Her quaint humor has a gracious charm in it. To hear her recite portions of the Scripture, some of the old hymns, “The spangled heaven a shining frame,” is a rare treat which gets a grip on one’s emotions.  

If “they only have lived long who have lived virtuously” is true, then this dear old saint of God has not only lived a life crowded with years but full of grace and goodness. The influence of these still radiates from her presence. 

She may not linger much longer with her dear ones. But for her there will be no death. For the last time her tired body will seek earth’s repose, and her purified spirit will pass into the presence of Him whom she has loved for so long, and who has been her stay and staff through long years. Then it will not be a century of life, but an eternity. 


“Live whilst you live,’ the epicure would say, 

And seize the pleasures of the present day; 

“Live whilst you live,’ the sacred preacher cries, 

And give to God each moment as it flies; 

Lord, in my view let both united be, 

I live in pleasure whilst I live in Thee.”  



Northern Star, Monday 12 April 1920, page 6 

Mrs. Ann Morris, mother of Mrs. J. F. Ashwood, of Roseville, was 100 years old yesterday.

She was born at St. Saviour’s Parish, London, on March 23, 1820, and was married on September 4, 1847, her husband, the late Mr. Charles Morris, being then 21 years, six years her junior.  

The ship ‘Mirzapore’, in 1854, brought to Melbourne Mr. and Mrs. Morris, their three children, who were born in London, which number was added to by five Australians, Mrs. Morris’s brother, two ready-built houses, in sections, and a spring dray. 

They set up their houses at Richmond, Melbourne, one being in Kent Street, but the locality of the other is not recalled by the children. They were among the earliest homes established in this part of Melbourne.  

Mr. Morris, who had been apprenticed to the famous London hat-makers, Christy’s, obtained work at his trade in a retail shop, known as Sanderson’s, in Bourke Street, Melbourne, near the old Bull and Mouth Hotel. Later the family settled in Ballarat, where Mrs. Morris survived her husband.  

Some years ago, she took up her abode with her elder daughter, Mrs. J. F. Ashwood, of Roseville, Sydney, where she takes an intelligent interest in current happenings, and moves about without difficulty. She is able to walk up and down stairs unaided. A few weeks ago, she fell down, and received a bad shaking, but has quite recovered. 

Mrs. Morris’ mother died as the age of 65 and her father at 29. Four of her children are living: Mrs. Ashwood, Mrs. A.E. Lilbourne, of Melbourne; Mr. T. Morris, hatter, of North Melbourne, and Mr. Charles Morris, J.P., Ballarat, The grandchildren number 19, Including: Miss E B. Morris, B.A., of Clarendon Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Ballarat. Mr. T. R. Morris, managing director of the Commonwealth Board Mills, Melbourne; Mr. C. Morris, B.C.E., B.Sc., of the same company; and Mr. Herbert Morris, manager of the Ballarat Friendly Society’s Dispensary. There are 29 great-grandchildren. Her sons and some grandchildren from Melbourne and Ballarat have arrived in Sydney to celebrate her birthday.