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Frederick Grantley Morgan (1891–1969)

by Bryan Egan

This article was published:

Frederick Grantley Morgan (1891-1969), medical scientist and administrator, was born on 4 July 1891 at New Glenelg, Adelaide, son of Sydney Morgan, tailor's-cutter, and his wife Jean, née Skinner. The family moved to Victoria. With the help of a benefactor outside his kin, Grantley was educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1916). Diligent and intelligent, he served as a resident medical officer at the Melbourne Hospital. He was Stewart lecturer in pathology at the university (1917-19), junior pathologist at the Melbourne Hospital, tutor in medicine and surgery at Ormond College and—importantly for his later career—assistant to Sir Harry Allen, honorary director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Research in Pathology and Medicine. For a short period in 1920 Morgan held the post of assistant medical officer at the Mental Diseases Hospital, New Norfolk, Tasmania. Later that year he travelled to Mackay, Queensland, to take part in a Rockefeller Foundation filaria survey.

In February 1921 Morgan was appointed assistant-bacteriologist at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Melbourne. Next year J. H. L. Cumpston, director-general of health, sent him to Nauru to investigate leprosy. Morgan's reputation was enhanced by the excellent report he presented on his clinical and bacteriological work. Back in Melbourne, he supervised C.S.L.'s early manufacture of insulin. From 1925 he collaborated with (Dame) Jean Macnamara on the production of a means of passive immunization against poliomyelitis by using human immune serum; he published an article on their research in 1927. Meanwhile, he had shown his skills at the bench in a wide range of other work at C.S.L. involving human and animal vaccines. He became assistant-director to W. J. Penfold in 1925; when Penfold left, he spent a year as acting-director before being appointed director on 3 March 1927.

One of the early successes of C.S.L. had been the preparation of a toxin-antitoxin prophylactic against diphtheria. Morgan played a central role in that achievement. On 27 January 1928 at Bundaberg, Queensland, twenty-one children were given C.S.L. diphtheria toxin-antitoxin mixture. Eighteen of them became ill and twelve died. This calamity immediately overshadowed the organization and especially its new director. A royal commission investigated the events and found that staphylococci had contaminated the contents of one multi-dose, rubber-capped bottle. Supplied without an antiseptic additive, the prophylactic had been kept unrefrigerated while being used over a number of days. The offending container (the contents of which were certainly sterile on leaving C.S.L.) had been inadvertently dispatched without a notice warning against multiple use of the product on different days. Judicious and fair, the report of the royal commission did not leave C.S.L.'s director unscathed. Evidence showed that the method of supplying the preparation had been unsound.

At All Saints Church, St Kilda, on 4 June 1930 Morgan married 22-year-old Dorothy Lewin with Anglican rites. That his marriage occurred relatively late in life may have stemmed from his wish to repay the costs of his education. The laboratories flourished under his leadership and he wrote or co-authored many scientific papers. During World War II the staff at C.S.L. did vital work in blood processing, in the production of blood-grouping serum and pooled human serum, and in rapidly manufacturing large quantities of penicillin.

By the time Morgan retired on 3 July 1956, C.S.L. had begun to produce poliomyelitis vaccine. He had been in charge for twenty-nine years. His style of administration was conservative and cautious. It reflected his experience as a working medical scientist and especially that of the Bundaberg tragedy. He was just as concerned that no harm should come from any of C.S.L.'s products as he was with the good that should come from them. Always accessible to his staff, he showed percipience in judging people and their abilities. A notably successful administrator, he was appointed C.B.E. in 1955.

Morgan was of average height and stocky in build. His nature was calm and gentlemanly. He and his family lived in the director's residence in the grounds of C.S.L. Leading a somewhat cloistered life, he acted as C.S.L.'s 'personal custodian', bringing important visitors home to lunch and receiving its telephone calls at night. A number of his colleagues saw him as a lonely man who invariably went to his home for morning tea rather than joining other senior staff in their common-room.

Nevertheless, there was another side to him. He formed close friendships with (Sir) Macfarlane Burnet and Dr George Simpson, and the three families spent holidays together at Anglesea. Morgan had a pleasant speaking voice, deliberate and measured when appropriate, and a very good singing voice of considerable range. A capable pianist, he accompanied his own vocal efforts at home and sang in public concerts. He belonged to the Melbourne Cricket Club, supported the Melbourne Football Club, and played golf at the Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath clubs.

Proud to have been a foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Morgan became a member (1956) of the College of Pathologists of Australia and a trustee (1945-64) of the Baker Medical Research Institute. He returned to full-time work (from 1961 to 1965) in the BCG section of the Victorian Department of Health with evident enjoyment and was no longer restricted to the role of a cautious administrator of 'reserved public face'. At a relatively early age he suffered from a mild form of Parkinson's disease which progressed slowly and took over when he was in his seventies. He died on 24 December 1969 at Kew and was cremated; his wife and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-75 (Syd, 1988)
  • A. H. Brogan, Committed to Saving Lives (Melb, 1990)
  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into Fatalities at Bundaberg: Report, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1926-28, 4, part 1
  • biographical details sheet (Royal Australasian College of Physicians Library, Sydney)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Bryan Egan, 'Morgan, Frederick Grantley (1891–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 July, 1891
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


24 December, 1969 (aged 78)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.