Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Morrison, Sibyl Enid (1895–1961)

by Joan M. O'Brien

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

Sibyl Enid Vera Munro Morrison (1895-1961), barrister, was born on 18 August 1895 at Petersham, Sydney, daughter of Charles Henry Victor Emanuel Gibbs, Victorian-born pastoralist, and his second wife Alexandrina Caroline Elizabeth, née Munro, from Parramatta. Educated at Shirley, Edgecliff, and Presbyterian Ladies' College, Croydon, she was resident in Women's College while at the University of Sydney (LL.B., 1924). She interrupted her legal studies to visit Britain in 1923 and in London on 1 October married a 'ranch owner' Charles Carlisle Morrison. Returning to Sydney she completed her law course and on 2 June 1924 was admitted to the New South Wales Bar, where she was the first woman to practise. An uncle and her half-brother were lawyers.

In her first appearance as a barrister Sibyl Morrison was briefed by David Hall to act for a plaintiff widow claiming under the Testator's Family Maintenance and Guardianship of Infants Act. She established herself at the Bar and was on occasions briefed by her 'sisters-in-law' Christian Jollie Smith and Marie Byles, both of whom had been admitted as solicitors in 1924.

Active in the Sydney University Women Graduates' Association, Mrs Morrison, in an address on vocations at the university, asserted that 'if you have ability the law is one of the best professions you can take up and one for which women are specially suited'. With her legal knowledge she was welcomed as a member of the National Council of Women of New South Wales and was convener of their laws committee. She presented a paper on divorce in Australia in November 1926 when the National Council of Women was advocating uniform Federal marriage and divorce laws. She divorced her husband in 1928.

Again in London in 1930, Sibyl Morrison was called to the Bar of the Middle Temple in May. Back in Sydney, she married an architect Carlyle Greenwell on 16 March 1937 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church. After her marriage she was no longer listed as a practising barrister. In 1940-42 she was first president of the Law School Comforts Fund, becoming a life vice-president in 1942. She was also involved with what became the Business and Professional Women's Club of Sydney.

Although Sibyl Morrison had been in competition with male colleagues, she did not lose her femininity and a magazine noted that she was 'an exceedingly smart up-to-date frocker'. Predeceased by her husband and childless, she died of cancer at Collaroy on 29 December 1961 and was cremated with Anglican rites. From an estate valued for probate at £72,011, she made two bequests of £1000 for annual prizes or scholarships in the faculty of law to be named after her mother and herself. After several other bequests, she left the residue to the University of Sydney, to be known as the Sibyl Greenwell Bequest and used to support the small animal section of the Rural Veterinary Centre at Camden.

She was painted in wig and gown by Norman Carter.

Select Bibliography

  • Commonwealth Home, 16 Oct 1925
  • Sun (Sydney), 19 Dec 1924, 24 Jan, 23 May 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Dec 1924
  • Christian Science Monitor (Boston), 13 July 1925
  • Evening News (Sydney), 24 Apr 1926
  • Daily Guardian (Sydney), 5 Dec 1925, 25 Feb 1926
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5, 8 Nov 1926.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joan M. O'Brien, 'Morrison, Sibyl Enid (1895–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morrison-sibyl-enid-7664/text13407, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 October 2018.

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

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