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Morton, Frank (1869–1923)

by B. G. Andrews and Martha Rutledge

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

Frank Morton (1869-1923), journalist and author, was born on 12 May 1869 at Bromley, Kent, England, son of James Morton, plumber, and his wife Rhoda, née Hookham. He was educated at a private school at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and aged 16 migrated to Sydney with his family. He began work as an engineering apprentice, but in 1889 shipped before the mast in the Conqueror, leaving the vessel at Hong Kong.

Making his way to Singapore, Morton taught at a Methodist mission school and later that year joined the staff of the Straits Times, discovering his aptitude as a journalist 'in a flash'. On 5 August 1891 he married Louise Susan Chicherley Holloway, born in Calcutta; they moved to India where he worked on several Calcutta newspapers and became sub-editor of the Englishman. As special correspondent he accompanied the theosophist Annie Besant on her Indian tour, the wanderings of the opium commission and Sir Mortimer Durand's mission to Afghanistan.

In 1894 Morton returned to Australia and was in Sydney in 1895-96, when he began contributing to the Bulletin, before moving to Queensland to work on the Brisbane Courier. About 1898 he went to Hobart where he free-lanced and worked for the Mercury. In 1905 he joined the Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, New Zealand, but left abruptly about 1908 and moved to Wellington. He became editor of a sixty-page monthly magazine, the Triad, and wrote most of it, under such pseudonyms as 'M', 'F. T. Monk-Orran', 'Epistemon', 'Selwyn Rider', and 'Booklander'. In Wellington Morton published Laughter and Tears: Verses of a Journalist (1908) and wrote two novels, The Angel of the Earthquake (Melbourne, 1909) and The Yacht of Dreams (London, 1911).

Returning to Sydney about 1914, Morton settled at Manly. He contributed to the Bulletin, Lone Hand, Native Companion, Bookfellow, Steele Rudd's Magazine and other journals. From 1915 he became the mainstay of the new Australian edition of the Triad and later was associated with the Sunday Times. He published four more volumes of mainly light love poetry and children's verse; they included Verses for Marjorie and Some Others (1916), written for his daughter, The Secret Spring (1919), an erotic poem, and Man and the Devil: A Book of Shame and Pity (1922). Bald, bespectacled, with a full, sensuous mouth, Morton was intensely proud of his 'happy Bohemian home … where every meal was a movable feast', despite appearing in his writings as 'the Great Lover—a disillusioned, yet still dangerous roué'. He was 'tolerant, broad-minded, generous and genial' and had a great knowledge of books, especially French literature, and of the East.

Morton died of acute nephritis at Stanmore on 15 December 1923 and was buried in the Baptist section of Rookwood cemetery. His wife, three sons and two daughters survived him. A prolific writer, he knew all the tricks and his idiosyncrasies were easily and frequently imitated. To J. F. Archibald he was one of three journalists who lifted journalism to the plane of literature; to A. G. Stephens he wrote 'clever, light, sparkling verse & prose—good craftsman … Personally—nice little fellow'; to Adam McCay he had 'more words than any other writer among us'.

Select Bibliography

  • Triad, 11 Feb, 10 Nov, 1 Dec 1924
  • Pacific, 29 Feb 1924, p 10
  • Australian Worker, 17 Dec 1908
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Dec 1923
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 Dec 1923
  • Bulletin, 20 Dec 1923
  • Queenslander, 22 Dec 1923
  • A. G. Stephens, Notes on Australian authors for A. W. Jose, 1899 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. G. Andrews and Martha Rutledge, 'Morton, Frank (1869–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morton-frank-7667/text13413, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 August 2014.

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

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