A hundred years ago, a woman by the name of Mary Ann Morris left this earth after a life of supporting numerous sailors who crossed her path at Beechwood Cottage at The Basin in Pittwater, Sydney. The local sailing community were so thankful for the work she did, they erected a memorial plinth/sun-dial with her name on it, which still stands today.
The Peggy Morris sundial in memory of her services to the yachting community. Courtesy Manly Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society.
Mary Ann Allan was born in 1836 to a Presbyterian minister who was sent to Australia to address the imbalance the 'majority Irish Catholic convicts' were having on the colony. On the voyage over with his family, including 3-month-old Mary Ann, his wife sadly died and was buried at sea.
Arriving in a strange country with a little baby was a struggle for Mary Ann's father and he adopted the little girl out to a family who lived near Windsor, on the Hawkesbury. She grew up in Parramatta and later married 'Dicey' Morris living with him at Balmoral Beach.
In 1867 Dicey was selling wood to Admiral Hornby's Flying Squadron and with the money he built a hut at The Basin in Broken Bay. The story goes that she made the journey over to The Basin to see if she would like to live there. The journey was so rough she felt she had no choice but to stay.
The Basin is a naturally enclosed lagoon with a very narrow mouth, which at times allowed the entrance of vessels. It was a natural place for coastal trading ships to wait and sit out storms and to gather in convoys to sail to Sydney. The couple started living there in 1868 and Dicey worked as a fisherman. Unfortunately he died young and his boat was bought by Sam Strongman, who also lived at The Basin.
Mary Ann chose to stay in the area and became the caretaker of Beechwood Cottage, owned by Mr F Jackson. She was known as Peggy or Sally to the sailors who would brave the treacherous waters around the area. She took care of the men by providing milk, eggs and damper and even cooked and laundered for them. At different times she adopted three young lads, one of whom was with her when she died.
Unveiling the memorial to Mrs Morris at The Basin, Broken Bay in 1922. Courtesy Lisa Margaret, Lost Manly of Findagrave.
She had a good collection of yachting pictures, and recognised every yacht as it dropped anchor in The Basin. Her memory for faces was also very good, and she never forgot the owner of a yacht that had visited. Those in the sailing fraternity of the time all knew her very well. They included such names as Mr HC Dangar, Mr James Milson and Sir James Fairfax.
When Mary Ann died in 1921, she had become such a local identity, the sailors and yachting identities arranged for the plinth, which still stands today, to be erected in her memory. She died childless and was buried in Manly General Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
'Sally to the Sailors of the Basin', Lost Manly and the Northern Beaches Facebook page, accessed online 19th November, 2021, LOST MANLY AND THE NORTHERN BEACHES | Ever wondered what that plinth at The Basin is for | Facebook
'Coasters Retreat', Northern Beaches Council, accessed online 21st November, 2021, lh-coastersretreat.pdf (nsw.gov.au)
"Mrs Peggy Morris, Death last night", The Sun, Tuesday 7 June 1921, Page 8
"The Late Mrs Morris", The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 9 June, 1921, Page 9