Monthly Archives: July 2021

216. Sentiment vs the market: Archie Morley’s failed bid to become a soldier settler

Archie Morley was born in Gormandale in 1889. He grew up in the town and attended the local state school.

Archie married Olive May Scarborough in 1914 and by the time he enlisted in 1916 there were two children: Rupert George Morley (1915) and Arthur Robert Morley (1916).

Archie Morley enlisted at Sale in early February 1916. He was 26 years old, and he was leaving behind a wife and two very young children. His religion was given as Presbyterian and his occupation as farmer. As we will see, he and a brother were farming on land leased from W E Cumming.

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (8/3/16) Archie was farewelled from Gormandale, with another 5 local men, at a social in early March 1916. Each of the men was presented with a fountain pen and an indelible pencil ‘for writing many messages home’.

Archie Morley joined 21 Battalion and embarked from Australia on 3/10/16. After training in England, he finally reached France in mid February 1917. His service on the Western Front was relatively short because he was wounded on 28/4/17. He was hit in the left shoulder by what was described as either (gsw) gun shot or shrapnel. It was a serious wound: ’shrapnel’ / ‘gsw left shoulder severe; fractured clavicle’ and it marked the end of his service. After hospitalisation, he was returned to Australia (21/11/17) and discharged as ‘medically unfit’ (26/12/17).

He received a welcome home at Gormandale – along with 3 other men – in early March 1918. Again, it was written up in the local paper. The account described the men being … welcomed home in a right royal way. Each man was presented with … a gold medal, bearing the inscription, with name, “Service abroad, A.I.F., 1914-17. For duty bravely done. Awarded by residents of Gormandale and district.”

Obviously, Archie Morley returned from the War with a serious disability. He was in his late twenties, married with two young children. A third child – Vera May Morley – was born in 1918. On discharge, his pension and the allocations to his wife and children came to £6/5/0 per fortnight. Back in his local community, not surprisingly – and not withstanding his significant disability – Archie was keen to take advantage of the government scheme to place returned men on the land. On the face of it, he was the perfect match for the scheme.

But there was more to Archie Morley’s background, specifically his family background, that, at least in the eyes of the locals, boosted his entitlement to become a soldier settler in the local area. Indeed, there was considerable support for him right across the Shire of Alberton, not just in the Gormandale district, because of the widespread conviction that the Morley family had well and truly ‘done its duty’.

Five of the Morley boys had enlisted and three had been killed. Of the two who survived, Archie Morley, as already noted, had been discharged on medical grounds, and the other brother – Charles Victor Morley – served until September 1918 when he was returned to Australia to be discharged on ‘special’ grounds. The official record covering his early discharge described the circumstances thus: for sake of family; widowed mother; three brothers killed in action. One disabled on active service. It also noted that ‘two sisters and one brother died’ in the time Charles Morley had been in the AIF.

The three brothers killed were: George Thomas Morley, August 1916 (see Post 79), Ernest Edward Morley, May 1917 (see Post 119) – strictly speaking, he was a nephew – and Robert Herbert Morley, October 1917 (see Post 141). The two sisters who died were Mary Elizabeth Morley (1916 aged 35 years) and Annie Morley/Esler (1917 aged 45 years); and the brother who died was Jesse Morley (1917 aged 35 years). He left behind a wife and three small children; and in fact this family had lost an infant son in 1916. By any standard, the years 1916 and 1917 had brought enormous grief to the Morley family; and their tragic story was well known throughout the Shire.

The father of the Morley family (Jesse Morley) had died, aged 53, in 1897. The mother – Sally/Sarah Dove – died at Gormandale in 1939 aged 83 years. Over the War years, the mother was praised in the local press for offering solace and support for grieving families and also for her involvement with the local Red Cross. As an indication of her position in the local community, when the Gormandale memorial was unveiled by the long-serving federal politician G H Wise in December 1923, the Gippsland Times (24/12/23) reported that Wise readily assented to the suggestion that Mrs Morley – five members of whose family had served at the war, three of whom, alas! had fallen in battle – assist him in the unveiling.

With this background, it was hardly surprising that Archie Morley enjoyed considerable community support in his bid to become a soldier settler in the district. His extended family was well known and had lived in the local community of Gormandale for many years. Locals knew of the sacrifices the family had made in the War. They knew of the tragedy that had fallen on the family over the War years. They knew that Archie was returning home from France with a significant disability. They knew he had a young family to support. They knew he had had considerable experience in farming in the local area. They knew he was hard working and independent. They wanted to support him to take up his former life as a farmer.

But while Archie Morley was the perfect match for the soldier settlement program, his attempt proved unsuccessful. It is instructive to learn why his attempt failed. It certainly highlighted one of the inevitable checks on the grandiose program of repatriation at the end of WW1: market forces proved stronger than civic sentiment.

The account of Archie’s failed bid comes from newspaper reports from the time as well as papers from the archives of the Shire of Alberton.

Archive papers of the Shire of Alberton indicate that in early 1919 the various local repatriation committees set up across the shire, as part of the attempt by the Closer Settlement Board to promote soldier settlement, had become exasperated with what they saw as the faults of the state bureaucracy based in Melbourne. The local committee covering the Gormandale district was particularly critical. It formally raised a series of complaints with the Shire of Alberton Council and the Council in turn took up these concerns with the State body. The chief concern was that so few returned men were actually being placed on the land. In fact, the Gormandale committee claimed that despite all its work no soldier had been settled on the land in the district to that point. There was also ongoing criticism of the work of the (land) valuers appointed by the Government. The key issue here was that the local committees involved in the scheme considered that they had the critical local knowledge of both the suitability of land and local property values; but their advice and assessments were generally ignored and that of non-local, government-appointed valuers accepted.

Archie Morley’s case attracted a lot of attention and, by early 1919, it had even made it into the Melbourne papers. For example, an article in The Argus on 12/2/19, under the headline: ‘District Committees’ Powers’, specifically referred to it. The article covered the same general criticisms being made of the Closer Settlement Board across the Shire of Alberton.

One case in particular was cited, that of a soldier named Morley, who, on his return from the war, desired to take up a property which he had worked successfully for three years before enlisting. It was stated that he even went so far as to build a house on the property, and that one man had offered to buy it [the land] back from the Government in three years’ time at the present price. Morley has a qualification certificate, and is one of five brothers who enlisted, three of whom made the supreme sacrifice.

The ‘qualification certificate’ referred to was a formal certificate that established that the individual had the necessary farming background and character to succeed in the soldier settlement program.

There was another article, two months later, in the Morwell Advertiser (18/4/19) that gave more details on the case. Again, the general tenor was one of criticism of the Closer Settlement Board operating from Melbourne.

Before the war Mr Arch Morley and one of his brothers had a six years’ lease of a farm, compromising 105 acres, from Mr W. E. Cumming, Gormandale. Mr. A. Morley was one of the early volunteers, but returned invalided in November, 1917, and he decided to ask the Repatriation Board to purchase the farm for him. The six years’ lease expired the following February [1918], but in view of the negotiations with the Board, Mr. Cumming extended the tenancy for another 12 months, and the other brother went to Queensland. When the soldier returned from the front the owner of the property asked what he was prepared to pay for the land, and he told him £16 per acre all round. The owner agreed to accept the figure, the local valuers and the local repatriation committee said the price was a fair one. Negotiations have been in progress for 12 months, and the soldier is no nearer to getting possession. Four Government valuers have been over the property, and a certain member of the Closer Settlement Board. The latter came with an augur under his arm, for the purpose of testing the soil. The same gentleman, seeing a fine fruit tree on the farm, remarked, “What a pretty tree of quinces,” but it happened to be a pear tree. At first the Board offered £12 an acre for the property, and have since advanced the price to £13 10s and the owner has come down to £15, as he would like the soldier to get the farm, but has been offered £17 an acre by a resident of Gormandale. Mr. Morley was so confident of getting the farm that he has put an additional building on it. The extended lease has just expired and Mr. Morley wants to know what the Closer Settlement Board is going to do. It is cases like the above that have caused the public to lose confidence in the Repatriation and Closer Settlement Boards. It might be added that “The Courier” has communicated with the Minister for Lands (Mr. Clarke) for an explanation in connection with the above, and bringing under his notice the threatened resignation of the Gormandale repatriation committee, but up to the present no reply has come to hand.

Clearly, the Morley case was being used to show how ineffective the soldier settlement scheme had become. The clear suggestion was that external valuers were the key problem; and that negotiations at the local level, where those involved had a better, more informed view of values and other relevant issues, would produce better outcomes. There was also a dig at the supposed expertise of the external officers, who could not tell the difference between a pear and a quince tree! The article also highlighted the degree of frustration weighing on the local (Gormandale) repatriation committee members who were then threatening to resign. These local committees were active in each of the three ridings of the shire. They were small and usually consisted of 2 or 3 successful landholders with a local councillor. They were unpaid positions and often involved a great deal of work – another reason why the members became so frustrated when their advice was apparently ignored.

Beyond the local newspaper reports, Council correspondence from the time provides some additional detail. There is letter dated 20/3/19 from T G Anderson on behalf of the local (Gormandale) ’Shire Repatriation Committee’. The letter noted that Morley had made application for the land 12 months earlier (early 1918). The land itself actually consisted of 2 parcels: one allotment of 74 acres and another of 31 acres. The local valuers determined an average price for the 105 acres of £15/16/9 per acre. The vendor had indicated that he would accept £15/5/0 per acre. The letter noted, re the vendor’s offer: … and this is considered by local land valuers as a reasonable price.

The letter also noted that Morley had rented the land for 3 years before enlisting and that … ever since he returned 16 months ago has been renting and working on this place. There was clearly an expectation on Morley’s part that he would be able to secure the land. The letter noted that, on the assumption that he would get the land through the ‘Government scheme for returned soldiers’, Morley had erected a house and outbuildings for a dairy farm.

Morley was described as married … with three children and a good wife to help him. He was also described as someone who had spent his whole in the district and was respected by all. He was an industrious young man and the committee was confident that he would be successful. The letter also included the reference to a ‘respected valuer’ (W Pentland) who was willing to act as some of guarantor, in that he was prepared to repurchase the land from the Government – at the current value of £15/5/0 per acre – at the end of 3 years if Morley’s venture did not succeed.

The letter also noted that Morley had also built a house for the widow – and her 3 children – of one of his brothers who had been killed in the war. This must have been the family of Ernest Edward Morley, killed 14/5/17. It was not clear where the house was; but possibly it too was built on the land in question.

On the basis of all this background information, the Gormandale Repatriation Committee requested in the letter that the Shire of Alberton take up the issue and urge the Closer Settlement Board in Melbourne to re-open and review the case. In fact, the Shire itself had already formally decided – on 13/3/19 via a successful council resolution – to request that the Closer Settlement Board re-open the case.

The Alberton Shire formally wrote to the Closer Settlement Board on 25/3/19. The Shire Secretary (G W Black) stated:

The Council has given this case careful consideration, and I am directed to ask if the Board will re-open it.

Black continued,

The Council is of opinion that if the proposition has been turned down, as has been alleged, it must have been due to some misapprehension, and it, therefore urges that the case be re-opened, and full consideration given to the representations as set forth in the accompanying letter. [Anderson’s letter of 20/3/19]

The response from the Closer Settlement Board was immediate – the reply was dated 26/3/19, the next day – and it was as definitive. As far as the Closer Settlement Board was concerned the matter was closed and the decision was not going to be reviewed in any way. The tone was as curt as the reply was prompt:

The vendor was offered a price by the Board which was declined, and no further action will be taken in the matter.

There are many unanswered questions here. For example, was Archie Morley encouraged – by the landowner or others in the community – to make the significant improvements to the property in the belief that this would increase the pressure on the Closer Settlement Board to agree to the sale? Similarly, was there an assumption held by Archie Morley, and the local community generally, that, in effect, the Closer Settlement Board was bound to support him and that the actual cost of the land was of secondary importance, particularly given that the local committee had effectively negotiated a ‘reasonable price’? From another perspective – was this a defining case for the Closer Settlement Board, which was determined to uphold its authority in view of all the criticism it was attracting? And, of course, there were the more technical questions: what was the price offered by the Board and how close was it to the price negotiated by the local committee at Gormandale?

Sitting behind all this is another key question. It is one I hope to pursue in coming posts: were the local repatriation committees, intended to work closely with the Closer Settlement Board in Melbourne to support the soldier settlement scheme, keen to drive up the price of land in the district? After all, the committees were made up of significant landholders in the community and they knew that the Government had become a key player in the local land market. The Government needed land for the soldier settlement scheme; and the market now offered considerable potential for profit. And there are some darker questions to do with who really profited from the scheme to put returned soldiers on the land.

But, beyond all the conjecture, there is little doubt that the case highlights the inevitable clash between sentiment – everyone agreed that Archie Morley deserved to become a soldier settler – and market forces. Archie Morley’s dream was denied because the Closer Settlement Board was not prepared to meet the price requested by the vendor. For his part the vendor was not prepared to accept the price offered by the Board because, presumably, he had had a better offer from some other local party. The vendor was not prepared, as it were, to incorporate a ‘discount for public sentiment’ in his selling price.

Archie and the wider Morley family might have done everything for the War effort – certainly they committed to it and sacrificed a lot more than most – but, in the end, market forces proved more powerful than sentiment.

References

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Morewell Advertiser

Gippsland Times

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
One of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 2: October 1918 – July 1919