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Black, Morrice Alexander (1830–1890)

by W. J. Cooksey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Morrice Alexander Black (1830-1890), actuary, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, son of Alexander Black, a bank clerk said to have 'had charge of carrying notes and gold from Aberdeen to Edinburgh in the old stage-coach days', and his wife Elizabeth, née Buyers. At 16 he was employed by the Aberdeen Mutual and Friendly Insurance Society and studying actuarial science under Alexander Yeates, actuary of the 'Northern'. Later he moved to London and there attained executive positions successively in five insurance companies before 1866. He showed his industry and versatility by producing pamphlets on The Assurance of Diseased and Doubtful Lives—A New Principle, A Chronological and Statistical Chart of Life Offices Established in the U.K. from 1706 to 1863, and An Analysis of Marine Accounts. In the first of these he expounded a method now known to actuaries as the 'contingent debt' and at about the same time he introduced a new system of automatic advance of overdue premiums, now known as the 'non-forfeiture system'. He was elected an associate of the Institute of Actuaries at its third ordinary meeting in January 1855, and a fellow in 1869. He had strong views and sued one company for fees allegedly promised for special work while in their employ. He lost his case before the Lord Chief Baron who regarded the actuarial valuation as merely a kind of 'stock-taking'. On 28 June 1860 at Aberdeen he married Ellen, daughter of John Urquhart, druggist; his elder brother, a Free Church minister, performed the ceremony. For some months from about 1866 he practised as an actuary and accountant in London.

In 1868 the Australian Mutual Provident Society appointed him actuary to the society and he took his family to Sydney. He arrived when the society's quinquennial valuation was in progress and 'entered on the duties of his new position with characteristic zeal'. His first report to the society included a review of the whole of its accounts from its foundation in 1849. In 1871 he drew up an exhaustive report to the board 'embracing every important particular in relation' to the business practice of the society, particularly in its methods of distribution of profits, which he proceeded to change for a more equitable system. He also drew up new by-laws for the society, liberalizing many of its conditions. The 'non-forfeiture system' which he had introduced in England in 1861 was adopted by the A.M.P. in 1874.

In 1878 Black became a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales; he also published a typically comprehensive pamphlet, The Progressive Policy of the Australian Mutual Provident Society Reviewed, dealing in a masterly way with the problems of new and renewal expenses and reviewing the experience of over three hundred companies in England, the United States and Australia. This investigation was provoked by criticisms of the A.M.P.'s expense rate culminating in the unfounded assertion 'that it was an axiom laid down by all actuaries that anything in the shape of expenses over 10 per cent were unsafe'. He demonstrated that the few offices showing lower expense rates had ceased to expand. In 1882 he completed a voluminous report on the mortality experience of the A.M.P. during its first thirty years, making detailed comparisons with English and American life office experience. In 1884 he introduced the annual distribution of profits, previously distributed quinquennially. In 1882 he had become an alderman of the Borough of Woollahra and retained that post until his death.

Black's third daughter was born in 1870 and in 1877 his wife and children went to Scotland. Until 1887 they lived at Aberdeen, where the two sons attended Aberdeen Grammar School and University, and where the youngest daughter died in 1887 shortly before the family returned to Sydney. In 1881 Black bought Tivoli, the stone cottage and extensive grounds at Rose Bay. He had it remodelled, including the addition of two storeys, and named it Villa d'Este after an ancient home and gardens at Tivoli, Italy. In 1886 he was deputed to go to London in connexion with the proposed establishment of a British branch of the A.M.P., but an adverse vote on this project led to his recall. His health began to decline after his return to Australia. He was granted six months leave in 1889 and with his wife made a trip to San Francisco. Under difficulties he completed his final report in 1890, but was struck down by his fatal illness in July and died on 27 August 'from Bright's disease, cerebral effusion'. His elder son was then practising as a doctor in London and the younger son as a solicitor in Sydney. His home was bought by the Church of England for a girls' school and renamed Kambala.

Select Bibliography

  • Institute of Actuaries (London), Journal, 10 (1861-63)
  • Post Magazine Almanack (London), 30 Aug 1890
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Aug 1890
  • AMP pamphlets and reports (AMP Library and State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

W. J. Cooksey, 'Black, Morrice Alexander (1830–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/black-morrice-alexander-3002/text4389, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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