Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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MORRIS , WILLIAM ( 1705 - 1763 ), botanist, antiquary, letter-writer ;

b. 6 May 1705 at Y Fferem , Llanfihangel Tre'r Beirdd , Anglesey ; third son of Morris ap Rhisiart Morris (q.v.) and brother of Lewis , Richard , and John Morris (qq.v.). His own words suggest that he was tall and lanky; possibly he had a pronounced stoop, for his nephew John Owen (d. 1759 , q.v.) nicknames him ‘ Gwilym Gam ’ (the crooked), but it may be that the nephew refers rather to his ‘stinginess’ — he had neither the generosity of his brother Richard nor the prickly genius of his brother Lewis ; indeed, he had more hard common-sense than either. It is known that as a youth he spent some time at Liverpool (he was there to our knowledge in 1726 ), but in Feb. 1737 he was appointed collector of customs at Holyhead (later on, he added other duties to this), and in 1758 became comptroller of customs there — in the meantime ( 1742 ) he had declined the chief clerkship to the comptroller at Chester . Thus from 1737 till his death he was settled at Holyhead , where he was also an unofficial physician and in great demand as a consultant in legal and other business . His chief friend at Holyhead was the curate Thomas Ellis ( 1711/2 - 1792 ) (q.v.) , up to Ellis 's removal to Nutfield ( 1759 ); Morris was Ellis 's choirmaster and was greatly interested in church music — to him alone of the brothers has anyone dreamt of attributing a hymn, though it is very far from certain that a well-known Welsh hymn is actually his. Morris , too, fully shared his parson's opposition to Methodism . Though he was a good general naturalist , his chief pursuit was botany , of which he had an unusually good knowledge — the Welsh Botanology of Hugh Davies ( 1739 - 1821 ) (q.v.) is based chiefly on William Morris 's notes. Like his brothers, he was a collector and copyist of manuscripts — he took special pride in the volume called ‘ the Leathern Harp ,’ which feckless Goronwy Owen nearly lost for him. His knowledge and judgement in matters Welsh was highly respected by his brothers, and he in turn was greatly interested in the Cymmrodorion Society , whose first ‘corresponding members’ were in effect chosen by him. His ‘discovery’ of Goronwy Owen and of Robin Ddu yr Ail o Fôn (qq.v.) is familiar. But his real importance is as a letter-writer ; two-thirds of J. H. Davies 's collection of Morris Letters are by William . The whole life of Anglesey in the mid-18th cent. is mirrored in his letters, and he is our chief source for the social history of the island during his lifetime.

He m. ( 1745 ) Jane , daughter and heiress of Robert Hughes of Llanfugail ( J. E. Griffith , Pedigrees , 41); she d. 1 May 1750 , and Morris remained a widower. A son and a daughter survived him. The (elder) son, ROBERT MORRIS , b. 9 March 1746 , m. Jane Parry , a widow, of the Bulkeley of Brynddu family ( J. E. Griffith , op. cit., 33), sold his share of the Llanfugail estate, and went to live at Holyhead . The daughter, JANE ( 1749 - 1833 ), b. 12 Feb. 1749 , m. twice: (1) John Jones , exciseman at Caernarvon , (2) Thomas Jones , customs officer at Beaumaris ( J. E. Griffith , op. cit., 41). She d., a widow, 21 Feb. 1833 ( Camb. Quart. Mag. , v, 311). To her we owe the preservation of the letters written to her father by Goronwy Owen (see J. H. Davies 's preface to his edition of Goronwy 's letters). William Morris 's letters make abundant mention of the children.

William Morris d. 29 Dec. 1763 — he was practically on his deathbed when his father d., and was unable to be at his father's funeral — his letter to his brother Lewis giving him the news ( 12 Nov. 1763 ) is the last we have of his letters.


  • Sources as for Lewis Morris, with additional references given above.


Emeritus Professor Robert Thomas Jenkins, C.B.E., D.Litt., Ll.D., F.S.A., (1881-1969), Bangor

Published date: 1959