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Michie, John Lundie (1882–1946)

by Malcolm I. Thomis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

John Lundie Michie (1882-1946), professor of classics, was born on 4 June 1882 at Lochnalair, Crathie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of Charles Michie, blacksmith, and his wife Mary, née Lundie. He attended school at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, graduated M.A. with first-class honours in classics in 1904 from the University of Aberdeen and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as an exhibitioner. Here he was awarded the Ferguson classical scholarship, regarded as the highest honour attainable by a Scottish student of classics. He obtained a double first in the classical Tripos (B.A., 1907; M.A., 1911) and returned to the University of Aberdeen, where he became assistant (1908-09) to the professor of humanity, Sir William Ramsay, and later lecturer in Roman history (1909-10). Besides distinguishing himself academically Michie also displayed great athletic prowess, as a hammer-thrower in Scotland and as a shot-putter at Cambridge, where he won a blue. His massive frame and mild disposition were to win him the reputation of a gentle giant and the nickname 'Michie Mouse'.

His appointment to the foundation chair of classics at the newly established University of Queensland, which he took up in February 1911, was controversial. Although the London committee had believed him a 'sound steady safe quite excellent man', they had placed him second and subsequently attempted to overturn the senate decision. It seems not unreasonable to suppose that Governor Sir William MacGregor, the first chancellor, also an Aberdonian, was not averse to offering a helping hand to this 28-year-old man of promise from home, who then became one of the four professors entrusted with the task of creating a university. Michie was undoubtedly a key figure in the great matriculation debate which led to the decision to make a classical language a prerequisite for arts students, acting in close collaboration with MacGregor against the utilitarians, who wanted a university that would meet Queensland's practical requirements rather than one embodying traditional academic attitudes from the old world. Michie married Isabella Harriet Crombie Sword on 9 February 1926 in the Presbyterian Church, Stanthorpe.

For thirty-five years he was one of the most respected leaders of the university community as chairman (1911-22) and dean (1928-32, 1939-46) of the faculty of arts, senator (1916-23, 1926-32)—during which time he rarely made a speech—and president (1917-22) of the board of the faculties. He was well liked by his students for his kindness, courtesy and shyness (especially with female students), his infinite patience and great learning and wisdom in his lectures. He was no writer and justified his failure to publish by arguing that what he could do best, which was translate from Latin and Greek, was well enough done already. His energies, which were considerable, were consequently directed towards teaching and administration. His early distinguished students included Jack Lindsay and Eric Partridge.

From February 1946 Michie needed to take leave on health grounds, and he died on 23 June at Hamilton, survived by his wife and two daughters. His estate was sworn for probate in three States at £33,753. He had made bequests to the universities of Queensland and Aberdeen. The J. L. Michie memorial scholarship fund was created by his former students and colleagues, who were quickly able to present the senate with £1000 to launch the scholarship for an honours undergraduate in classics. The best-known memorial to him in the modern university is the Michie Building, the humanities block built during the early 1970s, where classics continues to be taught in Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Lindsay, Life Rarely Tells (Lond, 1958)
  • University of Queensland Gazette, Aug 1946
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 24 June 1946, 24 Jan 1947
  • University of Queensland, Senate Minutes (University of Queensland Archives)
  • PRE/A360 (Queensland State Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Malcolm I. Thomis, 'Michie, John Lundie (1882–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/michie-john-lundie-7569/text13211, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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