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Shipp, George Pelham (1900–1980)

by W. Ritchie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

George Pelham Shipp (1900-1980), classical scholar and philologist, was born on 21 February 1900 at Goulburn, New South Wales, eldest of five children of native-born parents George William Shipp, schoolteacher, and his wife Frances Emily, née Pallett. From Sydney Boys' High School, George proceeded to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1921; D.Litt., 1959) where he gained first-class honours in Greek and Latin, and won a Cooper travelling scholarship. He entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge (B.A., 1924; M.A., 1948), attaining a first in the classical tripos with special merit in language. Two small grants enabled him to study philology in Europe, mainly in Copenhagen. On 17 August 1924 at Horsens, Denmark, he married Anna Margrethe ('Bib') Brill (d.1980).

Returning to Sydney in 1925, Shipp was appointed lecturer in Latin at the university and began a career of forty years on the staff. His early publications reflected his interest in the vocabulary of Latin. Most notable was his edition, with commentary, of The Andria of Terence (Melbourne, 1938, second edition 1960) which contained valuable observations on the language of comedy. His lectures, delivered with few notes, were, like his books, clear and concise in style and illustrated from an abundant store of examples; he also liked to invite contributions from the class. Over the years many students were drawn to language research by their contact with his learning.

In 1945 Shipp was appointed reader in comparative philology, a specially created post that gave him more time for research and for advanced teaching in Greek and Latin, as well as occasional tuition in Sanskrit or Old Norse. The main focus of his research turned to the Greek language. In his Studies in the Language of Homer (Cambridge, 1953) he examined the Iliad. His finding that linguistically late features occurred predominantly in similes and other non-narrative passages had major significance for the question of the poem's development. In 1953 he and Dr Arthur Capell introduced the university's first course in linguistics. By invitation of the university senate, Shipp was appointed to the chair of Greek on 9 August 1954.

In Essays in Mycenaean and Homeric Greek (Melbourne, 1961) Shipp entered the linguistic debate generated by the decipherment of the Linear B tablets, convincingly rejecting attempts to find specifically Mycenaean elements in Homer's language. His years of retirement (from 1965) were productive. Besides many articles, he had time to complete two books. A much enlarged second edition of his Studies (Cambridge, 1972) examined the language of Homer more extensively by treating the Odyssey as well as the Iliad. His Modern Greek Evidence for the Ancient Greek Vocabulary (Sydney, 1979) brought together from modern demotic Greek and its dialects a unique collection of material throwing light on ancient Greek words and their usage.

The interests of research and scholarship in the humanities were especially close to Shipp's heart. He was an original member (1956) of the Australian Humanities Research Council, a foundation fellow (1969) of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a foundation director (1962) of Sydney University Press. A modest man, he did not seek the public eye, but he enjoyed convivial company; with Bib he gave generous hospitality to colleagues and students at their Longueville home. His favourite recreations were tennis and bushwalking, both of which he pursued with vigour until late in life. He died on 29 August 1980 at Hunters Hill and was cremated; his son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Connell et al, Australia's First, vol 2 (Syd, 1995)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Apr 1918, 10 May 1922, 3 July 1924
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

W. Ritchie, 'Shipp, George Pelham (1900–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shipp-george-pelham-11684/text20881, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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