Monday 18 December 2017 / 02:55 AM

THE TRAGIC TALE OF RAY MORRIS

“I was with Ray until the end.”

Sam Haron isn’t the name of someone synomonous with anything remarkable to the general public. But for a brief period, he was an absolute blessing to one Rugby League player, his family and the Rugby League organisations in Australia and England.

In 1933, aged 52, he set off on an epic journey to England from Sydney, joined on his venture by the entire Australian Rugby League Kangaroo squad as they too embarked on their voyage to mother England to attempt to wrest the Ashes back from the old dart.

On Tuesday July 4th the Kangaroos, among a throng of other travellers, boarded the motorship Manunda, which would take them to Melbourne where they would board the S.S. Jervis Bay and so begin the long journey to England. As the Manunda was about to set sail, the Kangaroos staged their war cry before waving to their families and fans.

Some of the game’s greatest players were on board; Dave Brown, Wally Prigg, Sandy Pearce, Vic Hey, Ray Stehr, Frank McMillan and Viv Thicknesse among a cavalcade of the games stars.

One of those players was a pioneer, the first player from the ailing University club to be represented for Australia, Ray Morris. Ray began his career in third grade at Western Suburbs before very quickly moving up through the ranks to first grade in 1927.

Morris was a very strong and talented centre who was also a capable five-eighth. He made his debut for Wests in 1927, quickly becoming a regular in first grade. Wests comfortably qualified for the finals in 1930; however Morris missed the first two games of the series before being selected on the wing in the Grand Final Challenge against St.George. He scored a try in what was a comfortable 27-2 win for Wests, securing their first ever Premiership.

Ray Morris

In 1931 he was selected for City on the wing against Country, scoring a try on debut. He was then selected for New South Wales to play against Queensland. 1932 saw Morris shift to the centres where his game began showing rapid improvement. He was again selected for City and New South Wales. Wests went all the way to the Grand Final Challenge yet again, but were unable to topple Souths.

At seasons end, Morris made the surprising announcement that he was joining the University club for the 1933 season. Morris’ good form in the Interstate clashes saw him selected in the Australian Kangaroos touring squad. When he left Australia, his team University had managed to sneak into third on the ladder.

The 25 year old, who was an exceptionally fine surf swimmer and clever amateur wrestler, became the ideal man to lead the physical training sessions on board the S.S. Jervis Bay as it steadily made way for England.

Just days after the departure from Western Australia, Morris began his training regimes on the ships which included aerobics, boxing and shovelling coal. He believed it was necessary to vary the exercise to maximise its effects and to prevent the players from being bored.

In one of the boxing sessions, Morris received a blow to the ear. He wasn’t affected initially and continued training. Later in the day he complained of a pain in his ear to the team doctor, who treated it accordingly.

Initially the treatment was ineffective, but eventually the pain dissipated. The ship stopped over at Colombo where some of the players spent a day relaxing, while others played an exhibition game on a local cricket ground against each other. Morris took the opportunity to go for a swim in a local swimming pool.

The ship set sail the following day, with Morris’ ear problems returning, this time more seriously. The doctors had him confined to the ship’s hospital quarters for ten days while his condition was constantly observed. Each day he grew weaker.

After just one month on the ship Ray Morris had gone from one of the fittest and strongest men to gravely ill. Doctor Gordon and Doctor Clough consulted and agreed to send a wireless message to Valetta in Malta, for an ear specialist to meet the ship upon its arrival so that Morris’ condition could be analysed by a specialist.

The next day, Morris was taken ashore to the Blue Sisters’ Hospital in Valetta, where he was immediately attended to by Doctor Vella. The news was not good from the specialist and he announced that Morris would require immediate surgery.

Harry Sunderland, the manager of the Kangaroo’s, had to decide whether to stay in Malta or to sail on and honour the tour program.

Sam Haron then stepped forward and volunteered to stay with Morris in Malta to comfort him while in hospital, so that the team could continue to England without delay.

Reluctantly, the ship set sail the next day without their beloved team mate, while Haron began a bedside vigil for Morris in his hour of need.

It was found that Morris had ruptured his eardrum during the boxing session and the injury became infected while bathing in Colombo. Dr Vella feared that Morris was suffering from meningitis.

He told Haron to take some time off while Morris was being operated on. Sam went for a drive around Malta to see the sights. He arrived back at the hospital the next day.

Sam revealed:

“…on my return Ray asked me about my trip and seemed cheerful, but early next morning I awakened feeling instinctively that all was not well.”

Haron called the doctor but there was little they could do and Morris died a few hours later, with Sam by his side.
“Ray knew that he was dying. He gripped my hand, mentioned his mother, and then died peacefully.”

Aboard the S.S. Jervis Bay, the Kangaroos were celebrating the birthday of Fred Neumann when they received the tragic news that Ray Morris had died in Malta. All of the 500 odd passengers were grief stricken and immediately held a memorial service on board as the ship sailed towards Spain.

Back home, the Sporting community were shocked and deeply saddened upon hearing the news. All Rugby League games, as well as some Rugby Union and even Victorian Rules games being played that weekend, observed a minutes silence.

Upon arrival in England, Sunderland decided that the best way to pay tribute to Ray Morris was to leave his place in the team vacant for the remainder of the tour.

The 1933-34 Kangaroo Tour squad - minus Ray Morris, who died en route to Britain. Sam Haron is first on the left in the second row from the back.
The 1933-34 Kangaroo Tour squad – minus Ray Morris, who died en route to Britain. Sam Haron is first on the left in the second row from the back.

A small ceremony for Morris took place in Malta before his body was shipped aboard the steamer ‘Hobson’s Bay’ on August 22, to be taken back to Sydney. Once the body was safely aboard the ship, Haron then made arrangements to continue his journey to England.

On August 26 in England, the Australian team lined up against St.Helens Recs for the first game of their tour. Before the game started, a local band played the hymn “Silver Hill” as a tribute to Morris before both sides observed two minutes silence.

The team travelled to Ilkley the next day where co-manager of the tour, Wally Webb greeted Sam Haron.

Back home, on September 23, a public memorial for Ray Morris was held. Thousands attended, Sydney’s Town Hall overflowed with people in what was reportedly one of the largest memorial services Sydney has ever seen.

His casket was carried by team mates from the two clubs he played for. They were Charlie Cornwell, Bob Lindfield, Cecil Rhodes and Charlie Wrench from Wests and Ross McKinnon, Gordon Favell, Tom Monaghan and George Sullivan from University.

Also in attendance was the entire board of the NSWRL as well as founder James Giltinan, along with Presidents, Secretaries and board members from the Queensland Rugby League, NSW Cricket Association, NSW Baseball association, NSW Rugby Union and Aussie Rules as well as committee men and players from all NSWRL clubs and former players such as Dally Messenger, Dinny Lutge, Alec Burdon, Charlie Russell, Webby Neill, Cec Blinkhorn, Claud O’Donnell, Bert Gray, Clarrie Prentice, Arthur Justice, Clarrie Tye, George Bishop, Benny Wearing, amongst many others.

Upon the Kangaroos return home, Sunderland announced that the tour had made a good profit and consequently, each of the 37 players received £200 each. Also, the family of Ray Morris received his £200, while the £315 doctors’ bill for Ray as well as the costs of returning Ray’s body back to Australia and the burial service were all taken from the tours profits.

The NSWRL board placed on record the services rendered by Sam Haron for remaining with Morris in his hour of need.

Sam Haron died in 1940, a modest ceremony has held in comparison to that of Ray Morris, but no doubt he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Ray Morris First Grade and Representative Career Statistics
Western Suburbs (1927-1932) – Played 52 games, 29 tries (78 points)
University (1933) – Played 5 games, 2 tries (6 points)
City (1931-1932) – Played 2 games, 2 tries (6 points)
New South Wales (1931-1933) – Played 8 games, 3 tries (9 points)
Kangaroo Tourist (1933-1934)

Add Comment

About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

More nrl News

Special Features

PARTNERS