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Newman-Morris, Sir Geoffrey (1909–1981)

by Ross L. Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Geoffrey Newman-Morris (1909–1981), surgeon and humanitarian, was born on 14 May 1909 at Violet Town, Victoria, younger of twin children of Victorian-born parents (Sir) John Newman-Morris, medical practitioner, and his wife Eleanor Annie, née Jones.  The births were premature and Sir Richard Stawell reportedly advised the twins’ father:  'you will never rear them Morris'.  The family lived in Melbourne from 1911 and Geoffrey attended Camberwell Grammar, Grimwade House and Melbourne Church of England Grammar schools; he left MCEGS, in his own words, 'good at words, bad at physics, fond of, but very mediocre at sport'.  He studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1932; MS, 1936), while residing at Trinity College.  In his final year he gained a first in surgery, after an otherwise undistinguished medical course.  As a resident medical officer—primarily at the Royal Melbourne Hospital—he began his long association with the Order of St John, giving lectures from 1933.

In April 1936 Newman-Morris sailed as assistant-surgeon in the Orsova to Britain, where he obtained the fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, England.  Returning to Australia in 1938, he was appointed assistant-surgeon to (Sir) Victor Hurley at RMH and Eric Price at the Children’s Hospital.  He also became Beaney scholar in pathology at the University of Melbourne and took out a fellowship in 1938 with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Having been commissioned in the Citizen Military Forces in 1933, Newman-Morris was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 1 October 1940 with the rank of captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps.  Posted to the Middle East, from April 1941 he saw service in Palestine and at Alexandria, Egypt, with the 2/7th and 2/11th Australian General hospitals.  He was promoted to major on 19 July and returned to Australia in March 1942.  After serving in military hospitals at home, in July 1943 he was posted to the 2/11th AGH at Buna, Papua.  He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1944 and transferred to Lae, New Guinea, where he served with the 2/7th AGH.  Mentioned in despatches, he returned to Australia in June 1945.  He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 5 January 1946.  On 11 July 1945 at the MCEGS chapel he had married Sheila Brown, an army nurse.

Newman-Morris returned to private practice as a general surgeon and member of the honorary medical staff at Prince Henry’s Hospital, Melbourne.  In 1956-79 he was medical officer to the Victoria Police Force.  Appointed a knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1964, he was commissioner of the St John Ambulance Brigade, Victoria district, in 1966-69 and chief surgeon to the brigade in 1969-72.  He was also involved in what he called 'medical politics', holding various offices in the Victorian branch of the British (from 1962 Australian) Medical Association, including as president (1961) and chairman of the State council (1965-73).  In 1967-72 he served as chairman of the federal assembly; in 1974 he was awarded the AMA gold medal.

Active from 1951 in the Australian Red Cross Society, Newman-Morris was national chairman (1958-78).  He was elected to international positions:  vice-chairman (1969-73) of the League of Red Cross Societies; chairman (1967-77) of the standing finance committee; and chairman (1973-78) of the standing commission of International Red Cross.  Renowned for resolving impasses, he used a quiet word behind the scenes coupled with decisive chairmanship.  He received numerous Red Cross awards, culminating in the Henri Dunant medal in 1979.  In many ways his career followed that of his father, both in his medical career and as a humanitarian and Red Cross administrator.  He was knighted in 1969.

Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, Sir Geoffrey died on 20 October 1981 at his Kooyong home and was cremated.  A memorial service was held in St John’s Anglican Church, Toorak, where he had been a churchwarden for many years.  In 1982 Red Cross published his memoir, This World But Once.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Howie-Willis, A Century for AustraliaSt John Ambulance in Australia 1883-1983 (1983)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 23 January 1982, p 95
  • A McGrath, taped interview with G. Newman-Morris (1980, National Library of Australia)
  • B883, item VX38892 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information

Citation details

Ross L. Jones, 'Newman-Morris, Sir Geoffrey (1909–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/newman-morris-sir-geoffrey-14978/text26167, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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