Soham Grammarians: The Rev. William Case Morris

Mrs. Mowforth made her generous bequest to the School as a token of her admiration for the philanthropic work of this famous Old Boy.

William Morris was recognised as one of the most enthusiastic philanthropists of his age. He had an especially sincere love for childhood and was affectionately known in South America as the "children's friend".

He was born in Ely [see footnote 1] in 1864 and came to the [Soham] Grammar School at an exceptionally early age. He left School and, while still a young man, he emigrated to South America where he set about conducting a business career. In 1886 he settled in Buenos Aires and in his spare time he worked among the very lowest classes in a district renowned for its evil and squalor. Here, in a religiously apathetic atmosphere, he formed many social religious gatherings and paid a man a salary to educate them, so that in a short time he became established as a friend of the lower classes. He then made a sacrifice which must have been very great to him: he gave up all thoughts of his business career and in 1889 founded what was called the Boca Mission, which continued and extended religious work among the Spanish-speaking lower classes, acting in close co-operation with the American Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1892 he returned to England and here he made a solemn vow over his mother's grave that he would dedicate his whole life to the bettering of the conditions of the poor children of South America. He never once wavered from this noble determination.

In 1895 he sought entry into the South American Missionary Society, hoping that he would be able to continue and improve his work among the waifs and strays of Buenos Aires. The Society accepted him in 1897 and granted him permission to make an appeal for 5,000 with which to begin work. Later in 1897, he returned with his wife to South America where they spent 35 years of ceaseless work, rendered all the more effective by his now being able to speak Spanish.

Back in Palermo, he founded a new school - it began with 18 pupils and soon had over 2,000 a fact illustrative of his ever-widening influence. This school was the germ of the mighty organisation which later came into being, known as the "Argentine Philanthropic Schools and Institutes". This great structure contained every possible branch of education for every class of people and every age of pupil. All school needs were provided, and medical examinations and career assistance were available.

One of his most appreciated accomplishments was the foundation of the El Alba Home, which housed 350 homeless children and moreover educated them in such practical skills as carpentry for the boys and dress-making for the girls. He also founded and built St. Paul's Church, in which he officiated as chaplain for 34 years. Among his other institutions were one chapel, three Christian Mission Halls and five Sunday Schools, all of which used Spanish translations of the Prayer Book. His funds came from many private subscriptions and various government subsidies, all secured by Morris' devoted efforts. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of illiterate South Americans were thus converted to Christianity. Yet, while maintaining close contact with the poorer people, he also succeeded in greatly influencing the upper classes by means of his monthly magazine, "La Reforma".

His work was well-known in Britain, too, for in 1925 he received official recognition by being reviewed by the Prince of Wales who was on a state visit to South America. In April 1932, he fell ill through over-work. Everyone, from the humblest labourer to the President of the Republic, enquired after his progress, but he improved until in June, when his health permitted, he returned home to England with his wife. In July he attended a reception of Missionaries given by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As his health improved but little, he decided to return to South America but he died on the eve of his departure and was buried at Soham on September 17th, 1932. He was 68 years old and had spent nearly 50 years of his life working in South America.

Rev. Morris was known as the "Dr. Barnardo of Argentina"; unlike most British South Americans, he did not shut himself among a selected group of friends, but unselfishly devoted his whole life to improving the lot of those less fortunate than himself. He was a forceful yet gentle personality and a great gospel-preacher whose clear, concise phrases appealed to all audiences. He possessed a simple but sincere eloquence that reflected his high moral spirit. He was seldom refused when he asked for help, whether financial or otherwise, and was always received with respect and affection. He suffered a strange and modest humiliation because of his awareness of not having received a proper theological education. His noble self-sacrifice did not go unnoticed ; his was perhaps the highest reward any such man could expect - the love of countless children.

V.G.W., New Year 1955 issue of the Soham Grammarian


from the Soham Grammarian Summer 1940

TRULY GREAT

The death of Mrs. Morris last April [1940] drew local attention to the noble labours of herself and that of her husband, a Soham Grammarian, the Rev. William Case Morris, in the Argentine Republic during close on fifty years. Her husband, who died in September, 1932, left banking, and sacrificed almost certain future eminence in commerce [see footnote 2] to found a Mission in the slums of Buenos Aires, the social conditions of which had aroused to the utmost his humanitarian spirit.

After temporarily returning to England in 1895 to raise funds for a Mission Hall, Mr. Morris was ordained by the first Bishop of the Falkland Isles, and he subsequently founded and acted as Chaplain at the Church of St. Paul in the suburbs of Palermo. A first-rate Spanish scholar and an unflagging worker, he translated into Spanish many religious books, which became known throughout Latin America. He originated and organised schools for the ragged and homeless, and developed them until the accommodation was 7,000; nearly a quarter of a million pupils received the impress of his teaching, his biblical exposition, his rare personality and daily example - so much so that he became ultimately known as the "Dr. Barnardo of South America." He died in Soham after a full life of strenuous self-sacrifice and devotion abroad; in such high repute were his character and services held that cables of regret were sent at his death by Dr. Sagarna, Judge of the Supreme Court, and the President of the Republic, General Justo.

His funeral was honoured by the presence among others, of the English Chaplain of Siena and an old colleague, The Very Rev. Bishop H. Mc C. E. Price of Ely. According to the periodical, La Voz, Argentina, homage equally glowing was paid to the life-long nobility of his wife. Members of British, German and Jewish communities as well as those of Argentina proper paid tribute to her fine philanthropic, educational and spiritual work. Like St. Monica, like the mother of John and Charles Wesley, she believed in the power and ultimate victory of the spirit."

For thousands of citizens of Argentina," continues La Voz, "who do not know England, who have never seen its populous cities, its great commercial centres, its magnificent cathedrals, this small country town of Soham, insignificant in population, commerce or social life, is for them the most important place in that great country."

If the School is proud of its distinguished Old Boy, the women of Soham are no less proud of his noble comrade and collaborator.


Centenary Celebrated

Sunday was the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Rev William Case Morris, the Soham boy who went to South America, where he served as a missionary in Buenos Aires and became known as a great philanthropist. He built churches, and founded the Argentine Philanthropic Schools and Institutes and a children's home. He was known as the Dr Barnardo of the Argentine.

Dr Morris was buried in Soham churchyard where, on Sunday, a wreath was placed on the grave by the First Secretary of the Argentine Embassy (Mr Frederico Erhart del Campo). Also in our picture are Mr J Clark (churchwarden), the Vicar (Canon H Hallidie-Smith), a Foreign Office representative, Mr W Pearson (churchwarden) and Mr E Armitage (headmaster of Soham Grammar School). Mr J Heyhoe was also present, representing the Parish Council.

(Photo: WAG Burroughs, Soham)
Cambridgeshire Times, February 26th 1964
: cutting via Mrs Armitage


footnotes

1. William Case Morris was born in Soham on the 16th February 1864, the only son of William Case Morris Senior and Sarah Case Morris (nee Case). After the death of his mother in 1868, when he was just four year old, his father decided to leave Soham in search of a new life in South America. They initially emigrated to Paraguay in 1872, when he was just 8 years old. (source: William Case Morris on Soham On-Line's History page)

Could Morris could have attended the school if he was aged 8 when he left the town?

Referring to The History of Soham Grammar School (Browning):

"Unfortunately the very period that would be most interesting for showing us the development of the school up to the introduction of the 1878 scheme and, possibly, for giving us the reasons too, coincides with the biggest gap in the documentation since the school was opened - 1868-1878" [p69]. However, the same source also states:

p64 - The 1845 Scheme - Candidates for free places in the school were to be between 4 and 16 years of age ..
p72 - under the 1878 Scheme .. Boys of good character and of sufficient health between the ages of 7 and 15 years could apply for admission ... p73 .. the fees for boys were 1 10s 0d per annum for boys under 10, ..
p76 - 1904 - .. 15 boys were aged 10 years or under ..

2. It is also disputed that Morris had a career in banking. The Chairman of Soham Community History Museum wrote, 8 Mar 2006: "His only known employment consisted of looking after sheep and painting and decorating. He never had a shining career lined up in banking as you claim, and was too poor to be considered a philanthropist."

Links
Soham Grammarians' website

last updated 25 Nov 2007