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Newman-Morris, Sir John (1879–1957)

by M. L. Verso

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Newman-Morris (1879-1957), by unknown photographer, c1951

John Newman-Morris (1879-1957), by unknown photographer, c1951

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/3071

Sir John Newman-Morris (1879-1957), medical practitioner and humanitarian, was born on 2 March 1879 at Carlton, Melbourne, fourth son of William Alfred Morris, butcher and later commercial traveller, and his wife Ellen, née Newman, both English born. He was educated at Hawthorn College and Queen's College, University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1903). On 12 July 1905 he married a nurse, Eleanor Annie Jones (d.1949).

After a period as resident medical officer Morris practised at Violet Town (1905-11), and in the Melbourne suburb of Auburn; from 1932 he confined his private practice to his Collins Street rooms. He was honorary surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital (1915-38) and consulting surgeon (1938-57). In 1928 he was elected a fellow of the (Royal) Australasian and American colleges of Surgeons. In recognition of his outstanding community service he was appointed C.M.G. in 1938 and was knighted in 1948. As at that time there was another Sir John Morris in Australia he changed his name by deed poll to Newman-Morris.

Throughout his career, in addition to his medical and surgical activities, Newman-Morris brought the qualities of energy and leadership to the affairs of a large number of public bodies including professional, charitable, community and sporting organizations and came to be recognized as one of the outstanding medical statesmen of his time. He was once said to be on the committees of thirty different organizations and president or an office-bearer of most. From 1929 he was a member of the Charities Board of Victoria (chairman, 1936-37). He became a member of the Medical Board of Victoria in 1930 and was president in 1945-57. He was active in the British Medical Association, being a council-member of the Victorian branch from 1918, chairman of the council in 1922-39 and branch president in 1927-28. First president of both the Victorian section and the federal council of the (Royal) Flying Doctor Service of Australia, he served on its council for many years. From 1930 he was a member of the St John Ambulance Association and was twice president. A founder of the Commandery and Priory of St John in Australia, he was treasurer from 1942 and receiver-general from 1954. In 1945 he was made a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John.

He was a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council (1937-43) and of the Central Medical Co-ordination Committee (1938-46). He also served as president of the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners, the Victorian Council of Social Training, the Victorian branch of the Royal Empire Society and the Medical Defence Association of Victoria, and was chairman of directors of several major insurance companies.

Other activities included membership of the Citizens' Olympic Committee, the council and executive of the Lord Mayor's Fund and the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria. In 1951-52 he was deputy chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

Newman-Morris's greatest contribution, however, lay in his work for Red Cross. He was a member of the council of the Victorian division, and chairman of both the council and its blood transfusion committee (1938-44). He was Victorian representative on the federal council and chairman from 1944. Largely because of his vision and energy Australia was the first country in the world where the national Red Cross Society was responsible for the provision of blood transfusion services for the entire nation. Another of his greatest concerns was the almost impossible task of getting Red Cross parcels to prisoners-of-war in Japanese hands.

As a chairman Newman-Morris was noted for his ability to maintain control and handle any difficult problem that arose: he had a great capacity for having any irrelevant matters 'shunted into a siding'. Friends described him as a staunch and lovable man and his kindliness was shown on occasion when, called to give medical attention to some impoverished family, he would surreptitiously leave a ten-shilling note on the mantelpiece.

All his life Newman-Morris was a keen sportsman. At the university he played cricket and obtained his blue for lacrosse which he also played in the State side. In his later years he was fond of gardening, tennis, golf and fishing. He died on 3 January 1957 of coronary vascular disease at his Toorak home and was buried in Box Hill cemetery after a service at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak. He was survived by his twin daughter and son (Sir) Geoffrey Newman-Morris, later chairman of the Australian Red Cross Society for many years.

Select Bibliography

  • L. M. Bryce, An Abiding Gladness (Melb, 1957)
  • F. K. Norris, No Memory for Pain (Melb, 1970)
  • G. Newman-Morris, This Way But Once (Melb, 1982)
  • I. Howie-Willis, A Century for Australia (Canb, 1983)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 4 May 1957
  • Melbourne University Gazette, Sept 1957
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Jan 1954, 4 Jan 1957.

Citation details

M. L. Verso, 'Newman-Morris, Sir John (1879–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/newman-morris-sir-john-7832/text13599, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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