On an Adelaide dock in February 1924, a woman lay dead from a bullet wound and the man who had fired the gun lay next to her, having shot himself as well.

The woman was Hilda Emily Hunter from Coleraine, Northern Ireland and the man was Hori George Alfred Morse from Whanganui.

The two had been lovers since meeting in Wales in 1921 and Mrs Hunter had left her allegedly abusive husband and three children to be with Morse in Australia but their relationship had turned sour and she was planning to leave and return to Ireland.

Morse would recover from a chest wound to stand trial for murder, of which he was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Advertisement

Adelaide citizens presented the South Australian governor with a petition for leniency signed by 22,000 people.

Morse's execution had been set down for July 5, 1924 but on July 2 the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Hori Morse's death sentence was commuted three days before he was due to be hanged.
Hori Morse's death sentence was commuted three days before he was due to be hanged.

Hori Morse it seems was an exceptionally likeable and intelligent man who was able to convey his deep remorse for the death of Mrs Hunter to the Australian public through his supporters and the newspapers.

He was born in Whanganui in 1897 and his christened name was George Alfred Morse.

Born on March 2, he was the eldest son of George Francis and Isabella Maud Morse.

According to his son David, the name "Hori" was bestowed on him by his grandfather Major Nathaniel George Morse, a veteran of the Taranaki War.

"I believe Hori Abrahams was a former adversary who became a friend to our great-grandfather," he said.

The family owned land at Fordell where they bred racehorses and Hori's father also owned a seven-roomed house on two acres of land in Bignell St.

One of only two horse race handicappers in New Zealand in the early 1900s, George Morse's services were much in demand.

Whanganui papers of the times described him as a "highly respected figure in the sporting world".

Hori Morse attended Wanganui Collegiate School and by age 16, he was eager for adventure and went with some of his friends to enlist for service in World War I.

He was turned away for being too young while his slightly older friends went off to war and never returned.

That may have been the first bullet that Hori would dodge during his eventful life and there were many more to come.

He headed south to become one of the first 100 New Zealand pilots to train at Henry Wigram's new Canterbury School of Aviation in Christchurch.

Hori Morse's good looks and personal charm won him a lot of public support.
Hori Morse's good looks and personal charm won him a lot of public support.

According to one report, Hori was injured during a training flight and spent 10 months in hospital.

His younger son, Allan Morse, believes this may be inaccurate and recalls his father telling him that it was illness rather than injury that led to his hospitalisation.

"I think he stayed in the air too long during a training flight and was in the open cockpit without his leather jacket on.

"The exposure led to double pneumonia which was almost fatal."

Hori recovered and gained his qualification in a Caudron Biplane on May 19, 1918.

He boarded the ship Athenic which took him to England where he enlisted in the Royal Air Force.

When World War I ended in November 1918, Hori had not left England and he was granted a temporary commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the RAF which lasted until he was demobilised in July 1919.

After studying engineering at London University for two years, Hori told friends that the prospects for continuing were "not too bright" and he enlisted to serve in the newly formed auxiliary division of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Arriving in the troubled Irish town of Tralee in November 1920, Hori was provided with a Smith & Wesson revolver which he came to refer to as his "friend".

It was while taking a break in Llandudno, Wales that Hori first met Hilda Hunter, who was on holiday there with her sister.

Their feelings for each other were immediate, it seems, and intensified over the next few months as the lovers hatched a plan to travel to Australia to live as man and wife.

After they arrived in Sydney, Hori found work as a sheep shearer and Hilda joined him on the circuit, living in a tent.

"We were very happy," he would say later.

"We went to different places during the shearing season, with the rest of the gang, and returned to Sydney just before Christmas, 1922."

The couple lived together as man and wife in Sydney for over a year but the relationship began to turn sour and Hilda left, saying she was going to Tasmania for work.

Her sister, Doris Haldan, had arrived in Australia to persuade Hilda to return to her family and Hori discovered that they planned to board a ship bound for England.

He met their ship, the SS Medic when it docked at the Outer Harbour wharf at Adelaide and persuaded Hilda to leave the ship with him to share a meal and talk.

A short while later, Hilda was dead Hori was seriously wounded by shots fired from his "friend".

He would always say afterwards that he never meant to shoot his lover and the gun went off accidentally.

While recovering in hospital, Hori received a lot of visitors including two "noble Englishwomen".

"Not only did Morse make friends in the hospital, but, from all over the world, New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne, and far away England, he received letters," reported local press.

"While in England he had visited and become well known to two English noblewomen."

One of those noblewomen may have been famous Theosophist and women's rights activist, Annie Besant.

Allan Morse remembers his father telling him that Mrs Besant visited and encouraged him to persevere with life.

"Dad said Annie Besant told him not to give up because he still had a lot of things to do."

"She was reputed to be clairvoyant and told him things she could see in his future.

"He told me he was very sceptical at the time but near the end of his life, he said she had been very accurate."

Another of Hori's supporters was Sister M. Alleyn who had been his school nurse.

She had moved to Melbourne and went to stay in Adelaide to support her former student.

"He had a habit of getting mixed up in every schoolboy scrape that was going, and if there was any row on, Hori Morse was sure to be in it," she told the Australian newspapers.

"He was absolutely fearless. They used to call him 'Mad Hori,' and all the boys worshipped him.

"All his boyish escapades were the notions of a fearless, high-spirited boy."

She remembered an occasion when he slipped away from the school and slept all night in an open boat on the Whanganui River.

"Next morning he owned up and took the consequences."

Although he was sentenced to life imprisonment, Hori Morse was released for good behaviour after spending 10 years in Yatala Gaol where he studied architecture by correspondence with Sydney Technical College and passed with honours.

When he was released in 1934, he moved back to New Zealand and stayed for a time with family members in Auckland.

The Australian Truth newspaper reported the successful conclusion of Hori Morse's studies and his imminent release from prison on the last day of 1933.
The Australian Truth newspaper reported the successful conclusion of Hori Morse's studies and his imminent release from prison on the last day of 1933.

In January 1941, he married Stella Bell and their first son David was born later that year.

Allan Morse was born two years later and he has been the one to complete his father's ambition to become an architect.

"Dad never worked as an architect but he did become a successful builder," says Allan.

Accountant brother David says that gene missed him although he treasures some architectural drawings done by his father.

Neither son recalls their father piloting a plane again before he died aged 86 on April 10, 1983.

His life as a pilot is remembered however and Morse Rd, in Wigram, was named after him in 2001.