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Morris, Edward Ellis (1843–1902)

by Olive Wykes

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Edward Morris, by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co, c1900

Edward Morris, by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co, c1900

State Library of Victoria, H4705

Edward Ellis Morris (1843-1902), headmaster and professor, was born on 25 December 1843 in Madras, fourteenth child of John Carnac Morris of Madras and his wife Rosanna Curtis, daughter of Peter Cherry, senior judge of the Indian Central Division. According to family tradition, his grandfather John Morris, a director of the East India Co., was the illegitimate son of the younger brother of George III. Morris was educated at Temple Grove Preparatory School in East Sheen, Victoria College in Jersey and Rugby in 1859-62. As an exhibitioner in 1862 he studied classics, law and modern history at Lincoln College, Oxford (B.A., 1866; M.A., 1869). In 1867-71 he taught at noted schools in England and Berlin, studying French and German during vacations. Appointed headmaster of Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, he arrived in the colony in April 1875 to succeed Dr J. E. Bromby. On 1 January 1879 he married Edith Sarah Catherine, daughter of George Higinbotham.

Morris had early successes in developing the school along English public school lines. The number of boys attending the school increased rapidly and he built Witherby Tower, Wadhurst, a science block and the library that bears his name. In 1876 he instituted the prefect system and the school magazine, Melburnian, to which he often contributed. He produced the first Liber Melburniensis in 1879, changed the school colours to Oxford blue and designed the school flag and coat of arms used until 1909. He instituted the first school concert and exhibition of hobbies. Although fearful that physical activities were deemed more important than the intellectual, he laid down the cricket pitch in 1875, launched the first school boat in 1876 and introduced drill classes in 1877.

From 1879 financial difficulties beset the school. The number of pupils decreased, partly because of economic conditions and partly because of Morris's disciplinary measures. He refused to truckle to parents who removed their sons because of his forthright reports and strict interpretation of regulations. Claiming that he had failed in running the school on English lines, Morris resigned in March 1882 intending to return to England. However, in November he was appointed Hughes professor of English at the University of Adelaide. The University of Melbourne had been talking of a similar chair since 1870 but now promptly advertised it and invited Morris. He accepted and became professor of modern languages and literatures from January 1884. He introduced pass courses of two years in English and one year of both French and German, and the final honours course and master of arts degree, lecturing single-handed in all three subjects. The university awarded him its first doctorate of letters in 1899. He was chairman of the Professorial Board in 1888 and 1890-93, a founder and committee member of the University Union and chairman of the University Extension Board's Committee in 1894.

A devout Anglican, Morris was a member and treasurer of the Council of Trinity College. Known as the 'philanthropic professor', he served on the Visiting Committee for Industrial Schools and Jika Reformatory in 1879 and as founding president of the Charity Organization Society in 1887 presided over the first two Australian Conferences on Charity in 1891-92. He was founding editor of Australasian Schoolmaster in 1879-82, president of the Educational Section of the Social Sciences Congress in 1880, trustee of the Public Library in 1879, a promoter of the Australasian Library Foundation in 1896, president of the Victorian Section of the Home Reading Union in 1892 and foundation president of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society in 1884-88. He supported all these causes in his many contributions to the Argus and Melbourne Review and sometimes corresponded with the Manchester Guardian and Calcutta Englishman. His articles reveal him as a liberal who supported academic freedom, higher education of women, church unity and extension of educational opportunity. Predeceased by his wife in 1896 he died on 1 January 1902 on leave in England, survived by three daughters and a son.

Most of Morris's works appeared first in London and include A Memoir of George Higinbotham (1895) and Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (1898). In 1874-89 he edited Longmans's Epochs of Modern History, writing The Early Hanoverians (1874) and The Age of Anne (1878). He also edited the four volumes of Cassell's Picturesque Australasia (1887-89) but later turned to excerpts from poets, novelists and explorers with tracts on education and the charity movement.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, A Centenary History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1957)
  • H. S. Morris, Back View (Lond, 1960)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1875-1902
  • Australasian, 11 Nov 1882, 4 Jan, 17 May 1902
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 7 June 1890
  • Table Talk, 16 Sept 1892
  • Bulletin, 18 Dec 1897
  • O. Wykes, The Teaching of French in New South Wales and Victoria, 1850-1958 (M.Ed. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1958)
  • Morris papers (held by family)
  • University of Melbourne Archives.

Citation details

Olive Wykes, 'Morris, Edward Ellis (1843–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morris-edward-ellis-4251/text6869, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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