Henry Morris arrived in Sydney in 1833 as a convict, aged 18. He spent several years in the Camden district and worked as a ‘shoemaker’ after serving his time. Hannah Cooke with her seven siblings came to Sydney as assisted emigrants from Sussex in 1838. In 1843 Henry married 17-year-old Hannah.
The Morrises had four boys and seven girls before the family moved by bullock dray from Camden to the new settlement of Ginninderra in the late 1860s. There, they built a house and tannery to process leather for the bootmaking business. Henry and Hannah worked tirelessly and produced high quality boots and shoes. Their son, Billy, became the Hall bootmaker.
Henry died in 1894. Hannah then lived with Billy until she died.
Shoe making was an essential service as no ready-made footwear was available. Boots and shoes had to be made to individual measurements. The trade was passed to Henry’s sons, grandsons and great grandsons, with Morris footwear proudly produced in the district until the early 1950s.
Boot and shoemakers like Henry had to prepare their own leathers. The family constructed a large in-ground tanning pit near their home and planted a pine tree at each end. One tree remains to this day.
All types of skins: cattle, sheep, goat, kangaroo, wallaby, rabbit, fox and possum (until protected by law) were tanned in this pit. The hair was often left on skins and after tanning, these skins were made into clothing or hand stitched on to felt to become warm bed rugs. Finer (softer) skins, stripped of hair, became shoe and boot uppers, leather coats, hats, jackets, vests or furniture coverings.
Fresh hides were hand scraped clean of fats and flesh, scrubbed with salt to cure then suspended in the water filled tanning pit. Salts and wattle-tree bark were added to provide tannin to be absorbed by the skins. When an individual skin had tanned, it was hung on a covered rack to dry. After drying it would be burnished to highlight the grain (texture) and then pulled (worked) over curved surfaces to increase softness and flexibility.
Interestingly, in some locations wattle-bark collection was a recognized occupation. This has caused the demise of many local wattle species.
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.
- ACT Heritage Council, ‘Heritage Decision about Registration for St Paul’s Burial Ground, Evatt’, 2011
- Convict transportation records
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- Information from Morris family descendants
- Smith, L. R., Memories of Hall, Canberra, 1975
- Various editions of the Queanbeyan Age