William Morris was born at Fishleigh House on October 16th 1820 on the estate acquired by his grandfather in I784. William’s father married Jane Veale of Passaford House in 1816 and William was the first of their five sons to be born at Fishleigh. He was educated at home and his skills in horsemanship were learnt in and around Hatherleigh. He matriculated at St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1839 and studied there for three years prior to joining the 16th Lancers in 1842. On the death of his father in 1850 he inherited Fishleigh and we know, from his letters home, that he continued to be closely involved with the running of the estate for the remainder of his life. After the Crimean Campaign he returned home and was presented with a sword at a banquet held in his honour, at Great Torrington, in September 1856 when it was said that ‘he was respected by everyone and acknowledged as a soldier and officer of the highest military character’.
The affection and esteem in which he was held locally is borne out by the fact, that within six weeks of his death in July 1858, a public meeting was called by the Portreeve of Hatherleigh, James Hooper ‘to adopt measures for the erection in his native Parish of some memorial of his heroic valour’. It was first thought that a memorial in the Church would be appropriate and it was proposed,’ to raise about £20 for this purpose. However the response was such that over £400 was raised and the subscribers included several of the most eminent military men and civilians in the country. Thus it was possible for the foundation stone for this granite monument to be laid at 4pm on July 17th 1860 (almost exactly two years after, Morris’ death) by the chairman of the committee J.C.Moore-Stevens, J.P. (of Winscott). We read in the official notice advertising this occasion that, “the procession will form on George Hill headed by the North Devon Mounted Rifles and the 18th Devon Volunteer Rifle Corps. A coId collation will be provided on the Moor at 5pm.’ Interestingly, the Hatherleigh Volunteer Rifle Corps had only been formed earlier that summer and this was their first official occasion on duty.
It is recorded that about 100 people in the official parity enjoyed the meal in a marquee erected on the moor and in addition the six or seven hundred local people who had joined the procession to the Moor for the ceremony, were rewarded with a free tea (with cider or beer provided for those who preferred it). And so this great landmark and memorial was built and in 1901, Sir Robert White-Thomson, of Broomford Manor, added the railings and gates in memory of his brother, Lieutenant John Henry Thomson, who had been killed at the battle of Balaclava.