Thomas "Morissey" Wanless

Thomas "Morissey" Wanless

Male Abt 1883 - 1921  (~ 38 years)

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  • Name Thomas "Morissey" Wanless 
    Nickname Morissey 
    Born Abt 1883  Victoria, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Death Notice
    • Other notable snake men who exhibited at the Loop included Rocky Vane, a smart dresser who attracted crowds with a booming 'brasso profundo' voice during the 1920s, and Tom "Morrisey" Wanless, who died in South Africa 1921 after deliberately attaching a green mamba to his arm in a public display. Wanless had allowed himself to be bitten on no less than ten occasions before crowds. But it was George Cann who carried on the tradition at the Loop, even after he was appointed Curator of Reptiles at Taronga Park Zoo, a job he held for twenty-three years. He died of a stroke in 1965, at the relatively ripe old age (for a snake man) of sixty-eight.
      -- History of Randwick, New South Wales, Australia
    Residence May 1913  Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    26 Lawson Street 
    • The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 12 May 1913

      Thomas Wandless, 20, of 26 Lawson street, Balmain, a confectioner by profession, was giving an exhibition of his mastery over snakes on Friday, when a big black snake, said to be 7 ft long, bit him on the chin. With all speed the whole seven snakes of the troupe were put into their basket and Wandless was hurried to Sydney Hospital, where after treatment by Dr. Guild, he was admitted in a serious condition.
    Newspaper 26 Dec 1913  Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    • The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld)
      Thomas Wanless, a pupil of Professor Morrisey, was twice bitten by a black snake on Sunday and was bitten by a tiger snake at Parramatta yesterday. Wanless is a young man, and is showing a travelling entertainment at Parramatta. He has been associated with both Morrisey and Fox for nearly three years. When he was bitten on Sunday he was giving a private exhibition at Harris Park. He was not the least disturbed about his accident yesterday. He scarified the wound, after applying a ligature, and applied his antidote.

      "I'm all right, Mister,'' he said last night. "I don't care how many times they bite me. I'm immune. The poison doesn't have any effect on me, and I'll let him do it again so that you can see him."

      The reporter hurriedly begged Wanless to do nothing of the sort, and assured him that his word was quite good enough.

      "It doesn't hurt you, Mister, once you have got 'em beat. I've been bit all over the place--over the heart, and everywhere. Look at these marks --this one here on the jaw. I was outed for 37 hours, but I pulled through all right. You watch this death adder kiss me. He won't hurt me. Would you like to hold him? I'll hold his head."

      "Any man that takes on snakes is good for two places--either the rat-house or the undertaker. Tell you how it affects me. Well, it don't affect me at all, so to speak. After I get the antidote going I am all right. It makes me very hungry. I could eat a horse; and sleep, why, I could sleep for a week. It's not the poison that kills half the people; it is fright.

      "I am sorry to hear about Deline. I saw him at the Crystal Palace just before he left Sydney. He told me he was going to Melbourne to make a pot of money. There must have been something wrong with his antidote. I didn't know much about him. He was only what you might call a sort of new chum at the game.

      "I'll take on any snake you like to show me, anywhere at all. I would take on a cobra, land I'd beat him on points. I don't say he wouldn't bite . I am going to try and get to India next year.

      "Wouldn't you like to see this little black cove bite me before you go, Mister- I'll let him bite me on the arm. You'll see my arm go black and swell up."
    Residence Jan 1914  Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • per newspaper article
    Newspaper 5 Jan 1914  Townsville, Queensland, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld) 
    • Snake Bite Antidote
      EXPERT WANTS 20,000
      Thomas Wanless, the snake expert at Parramatta, New South Wales, disagrees from Mr le Soeuf , regarding snakes (says the Sydney "Sun").
      "I am game to take a bite next the jugular vein," said Wanless on Wednesday. "I will do it for you now if you like," and he made a grab for a vicious-looking black snake about six feet long." He was with difficulty persuaded to refrain from the experiment. "I will take a bite anywhere on the body, with the exception of the ball of the eye, and that isn't the body. No, I am not a bit afraid: I have been bitten everywhere. On Eight-hour day at the Show Ground I was bitten over the heart, and there wasn't a word in the papers about it."
      "Mr le Soeuf says that when you see a snake, you should look the other way and it will run away. I've never done anything like that. When I see a snake I keep both eyes on him until I catch him. I don't like a snake to bite me when I am catching him, and that's why I keep both eyes on him. How would you get on if, while you were looking away, the snake came at you - as it would if there were any of the young ones about?"
      "Yes, I've tried to sell my antidote to the Government, about four years ago, after I first tried it. They could have got it cheap then, but it's worth money now. "How much is it worth? Well, Mister, unless you had 20,000, we could not talk business. Yes, I expect to get that much for it. I am going to India as soon as I can, and I will be able to sell it in small lots there. I am willing to give an actual test. I will take a bite from any snake you like to bring along. I don't care how savage he is, or how venomous. I will cure myself with the antidote. If I don't, I die. You see, I am taking all the risk, and you can't ask anything better than that. I am actually backing my life on my antidote, so you can bet it is pretty good."
    Residence May 1916  Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    Goulborn Street 
    • Camperdown Chronicle Thursday 25 May 1916
      500 Snakes Bites.
      Although not yet 30 years of age, Thomas Wanless has been bitten by venomous snakes 600 times. He is a snake expert, and claims to have cured himself from every bite with his own antidote. "Having been bitten over and over again by every kind of Australian snake," said Mr. Wanless to an Interviewer, "I am anxious to go to India to take a bite from a cobra in its wild state, so that I can prove beyond all doubt the efficacy of my antidote. In Australia its worth has been doubted, and the Government of my own country has refused to allow me to give it an official test; still I am being bitten every day and am growing fat on it" Mr. Wanless denied that he was immune from snake-bite, and offered to produce medical evidence to establish his contention.
      "I have," he said, "been bitten over the heart, on the tongue, and on the back of the neck by a savage death adder fresh from the bush, and my cure fixed me up each time. The antidote consists of herbs and saltpetre, and it never falls to effect a cure. 1 have been bitten 19 times by death adders, and the only effects suffered, after applying my antidote, was a little inflammation. It does not matter how many bites a person receives in one day, my antidote will cure each one in its turn. I cured myself 15 times in one day when catching wild snakes in the bush."
      Continuing, Wanless said: "I am ready to die if a cobra can kill me, but I don't think that there is a reptile alive in the world poisonous enough to settle me while I have my antidote. Anyhow, I am after the 25,000 that the Indian Government is offering for a snake-bite cure. There are 20,000 deaths a year in India from snake bites, and I can prevent that little lot. I have the only certain cure in the world, and any man who likes can blindfold me and set a dozen snakes on to me, and after I have rubbed in the antidote and drank a little of it I will be none the worse for the experience. I won't even feel sick. After I pull off the 25,000 in India I will come back to Sydney and live like a toff, and I will start a factory for making my snake-bite cure."
      Mr. Wanless likes always to have a lot of snakes around him, and he has 75 in a cage at his house in Goulburn street "They can't get out," he said, reassuringly, "but if they did I could cure all the people that might get bitten.
      "Some time ago," he continued, "I tried to get the Government of New South Wales to take up my antidote but it would not listen to the suggestion. I offered to submit myself to any test that might be required to convince the Government that the antidote was genuine, and I am prepared to keep the offer open until I leave for India. Some people think that I am a quack, but you just watch me and see what you think of it"
      He went into a shed and brought out a long brown snake, and, opening its jaws, pointed to the "sweetest set of fangs" he'd ever seen. He then made the snake bite him, after which be put it on the ground while he drank a spoonful of the antidote and rubbed some of It into the place where he had been bitten, having first scarified the flesh with a piece of hoop iron. In the meantime, a cat had strolled into the yard and commenced to quarrel with the snake. The cat was bitten on the fleshy part of the hind leg and died in three minutes. Wanless picked up the snake, and smacking it, put it back in the cage "They told me out at the show," he remarked "that that snake had its fangs taken out" Wanless claims to be the cleverest man alive with snakes, and his one ambition now is to have a round with a snake similar to the one that killed Fox. His face and hands are scarred from bites, and he has been bitten 60 times on the two forefingers. The eye balls and the.soles of his feet are the only parts of his body on which he has not been bitten. "My antidote," he concluded, "will not only cure snake-bite, but will cure any kind of blood-poisoning. This is not idle talk; I have proved it dozens of times, and only last week I cured a woman who had blood poisoning."
    Residence Est 1910-1920  Randwick, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Newspaper 24 Jul 1920  Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    • The Capricornian (Rockhampton)
      One of the most extraordinarily off throws of the Australian bush is young Tom Morrisey, the snake-man, who was born in Victoria 26 years ago, but who for the past many years has lived his strange life in New South Wales.
      [there follows a long article about his many bites, which I have not transcribed - but toward the end is some more personal stuff, which I have transcribed below]

      Tom Morrisey is not his name. His birth certificate shows it to be Thomas Wanless. His parents died when he was a very small boy and at six years of age he was picked up on a bush track by old Jim Morrissey, of snake-antidote fame, and to all intents and purposes, Jim adopted him. They practically lived in the bush, devoted to each othor. "I looked upon Jim Morrisey as my father'' said Wanless. 'He induced me to study snakes, and in that work we were inseparable. If he got a bite, I got a bite. We battled on the loneliest tracks together. Where there was one of us, there were two of us. Old Jim is still going strong, although he is 79. He was a marvel, a living marvel, with snakes." concluded the ancient's pupil.
    Died 18 Jul 1921  Durban, South Africa Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Death Notice 10 Sep 1921  Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    The Capricornian (newspaper) 
    • Young Morrisey Beaten by Snakebite in Africa
      A mail which arrived during the week from South Africa brought narratives of the death of Joseph Thomas Wanless, known as Young Tom Morrisey, who a few months ago went to Durban to prove the value of his antidiote against the bite of the most venomous South African snakes. The story of his death could not be more adequately told than in the words of one of the letters which came to the "Sunday Times" office:
      Durban, Natal, 24 July 1921
      "Knowing the favours the late Tom Morrisey owed to your journal and being an intimate Australian pal of his, I am penning a note re his death, which occurred here on the 18th of July, after taking his tenth snake-bite. The last snake he chose was the deadly South African Green Mamba, said to be by experts even deadlier than the Indian "krait" that killed Professor Fox. Young Tom Morrisey, perhaps the gamest Aussie I have met, allowed himself to be bitten on the arm at 8 o'clock on Saturday night. At 4 o'clock the following morning, Tom developed bad symptoms, retching blood. At 10 o'clock he had a look at himself in the mirror and calmly remarked "The Green Mamba wins". He lingered on till the next day and died a martyr to his business, Snake Bite. All Australians in Durban followed Young Tom to his last resting place, as he was a reat favourite here, his [illegible] attracting attention. I would be greatly indebted for you to insert a [illegible] re his death, as he was widely known throughout Sydney and NSW. Thanking you in anticipation, I am yours truly, Alex(?) Jackson, Showman, late of Glebe, Sydney".
    NAME Morissey 
    • "Not yet 30" in May 1916, so probably born 1880-1886. "20" in 1913, so born abt 1883 - but 26 in 1920 article, leading to a 1894 birth! Maybe they meant 36. In the 1920 article, he says he was born in Victoria and his parents died when he was small and at about age 6 he was "picked up on a bush track and adopted" by Jim Morrissey, so now he uses Morrissey's name. Morrissey trained him to handle snakes.

      His death notice, written by a friend, calls him Joseph Thomas Wanless aka Young Tom Morrisey.

      Lived in Balmain and Millers Pt, suburbs of Sydney. Who else lived there then? Richard & Jane (Phillips) Wanless lived there, but Thomas is of an age to be their grandchild; Richard died in 1883. Thomas is likely a son of Joseph and either Catherine Pentland or Ada Baxter, or he could be a child of another child of Richard & Jane. He could also be an unknown child of William Banner Wanless & Mary Jane Boyd, or of Daniel Wanless & Caroline Mobey, who also lived in Balmain and Sydney in the 1880s.
    Person ID I3292  100: Small Groups of Wan(d)lesses Worldwide
    Last Modified 18 Feb 2015 

  • News
    Thomas Wanless Morrissey Bitten By Snake, 1920
    Thomas Wanless Morrissey Bitten By Snake, 1920
    The well-known snake-handler is bitten by a copperhead at Wentworth Park, Glebe, New South Wales, Australia
    Thomas Wanless, snake charmer, Australia, 1915
    Thomas Wanless, snake charmer, Australia, 1915
    Newspaper article about snake show, antidote

  • Sources 
    1. [S12] Biography, [] (Reliability: 3).

    2. [S18] Newspaper, (Reliability: 3).

    3. [S18] Newspaper, HTTP://NLA.GOV.AU/NLA.NEWS-ARTICLE22988547 (Reliability: 3).

    4. [S18] Newspaper, (Reliability: 3).

    5. [S18] Newspaper, (Reliability: 3).