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Morrison, Charles Norman (1866–1909)

by B. R. Keith

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

Charles Norman Morrison (1866-1909), educationist, was born on 4 December 1866 at Geelong College, Skene Street, Newtown, Victoria, third son of George Morrison, proprietor and principal of the college, and his wife Rebecca, née Greenwood. G. E. 'Chinese' Morrison was his brother. Norman spent his whole life as part of the school: even during his few years of study and teaching in Melbourne it was his family home. His education there flowed from cradle to junior classes to matriculation and first-year arts. He was a good student; handsome, tall, straight, slender, he was also a strong athlete and footballer.

In 1885 he entered Ormond College, University of Melbourne, majoring in classics and philology (B.A., 1886; M.A., 1889). He won a university blue for football and stroked Ormond eights. In 1889-90 he was an assistant master at Brighton Grammar School under Dr G. H. Crowther. He joined the colonial military forces, gaining a commission in 1890.

Morrison returned to Geelong College in 1891 to be vice-principal, gradually taking over responsibility from his father who died in 1898. He toured Britain and Europe in 1894-95. He remained unmarried, a benevolent despot, exercising strict discipline and making or unmaking rules at will. Friendly and sincere, he became known affectionately as 'The Skipper'. His initiatives brought enlarged grounds and buildings and the teaching of 'modern' sciences and languages. He led the cadet corps to great efficiency, especially in rifle-shooting; he had transferred to the Geelong Battery, Militia Garrison Artillery, in 1892, becoming captain in 1894.

But he was not satisfied with the standing of his college in the community. Leading church schools had formed an influential group, the Associated Public Schools of Victoria, from which Geelong College, as a private concern, was excluded. So Morrison, with Crowther, formed a Victorian Schools' Association, hoping to raise the standard of other private schools and rival the A.P.S. When the experiment failed Morrison conceded that the desired status could be attained only by joining the A.P.S. This consummation was realized in 1908, the college being purchased by the Presbyterian Church and governed by a council, with Morrison as salaried principal. Although involving financial loss and a painful renunciation by the Morrison family, it was a smooth transition. The future looked bright.

On 12 November 1909 Morrison was killed, attempting to get through a fence, when out shooting at Mount Moriac. He who taught so sternly the use of firearms had himself for a moment tragically relaxed. He was buried in Geelong western cemetery.

It seemed that Morrison's life's work had been perfected in 1908: as 'skipper', he had accurately set the little colonial private school on a new course into the twentieth century. Only his own highly personal style could not be handed on, and for a time his successors floundered, suffering odious comparison, while friends and ex-pupils remained Morrison's lifelong admirers. In the Norman Morrison Memorial Hall at Geelong College are a bronze bust by Paul Montford and a portrait by G. R. Mainwaring, both posthumous.

Select Bibliography

  • G. McL. Redmond, Geelong College, History, Register and Records (Melb, 1911)
  • B. R. Keith (ed), The Geelong College 1861-1961 (Geelong, 1961)
  • Geelong College, Pegasus, Dec 1909
  • Geelong Advertiser, 15, 17 Nov 1909
  • Geelong College archives.

Citation details

B. R. Keith, 'Morrison, Charles Norman (1866–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morrison-charles-norman-7661/text13401, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 November 2019.

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

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