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Morgan, Sir Edward James Ranembe (1900–1977)

by Julie-Ann Ellis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Edward James Ranembe Morgan (1900-1977), by unknown photographer, 1941

Edward James Ranembe Morgan (1900-1977), by unknown photographer, 1941

State Library of South Australia, B 10872

Sir Edward James Ranembe Morgan (1900-1977), judge, was born on 25 March 1900 at Warwick, Queensland, second child of Edward Ranembe Morgan, a sheep farmer from South Australia, and his wife Jean Macmillan, née Brown, who was born in India. Sir William Morgan was his grandfather and William Morgan his cousin. Edward spent his early years at Strathgarvie station on the Darling Downs. When a mortgage on the property was foreclosed, his father became a stock-and-station agent at Warwick. This business also failed, and in 1907 the family moved to Adelaide.

There, the Morgans were perhaps the least wealthy of the leading families; Edward later recalled 'we were all our relations' poor relations'. He was educated (on a scholarship) at the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1920). With Charles Jury and Vernon Knowles, Morgan published an anthology of poetry, Lamps and Vine Leaves (Melbourne, 1919); he also won (1921) the Bundey prize for verse. He had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 October 1918, but was discharged soon after the Armistice. Although he held some reservations about a legal career:

Papers and deeds will make our winding sheet,
Decay will darken all our watching eyes . . .
Within the ruin of the law we've got,
We'll sit upon our chairs, and rot and rot,
he was admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor on 20 April 1921.

On 4 March 1924 at All Souls Church, St Marylebone, London, Morgan married Dorothy Millar, the 26-year-old grand-daughter of Peter Waite. In 1925 he joined the Adelaide Club. After his own legal practice proved unsuccessful, he became a partner (1927) in Norman, Waterhouse & Morgan, took charge of the Port Adelaide office and laboriously built his career from small, unexciting cases. In addition, he served (from 1934) as a stipendiary magistrate in the Police Court, Adelaide. He was honorary secretary (1930-33) of the Port Adelaide Institute, Museum and Art Gallery, founding secretary (1932) and chairman (1949) of the Friends of the Public Library, and a foundation board-member (1940) of the National Gallery of South Australia.

In 1941 Morgan was appointed president of the State's Industrial Court and of the Board of Industry. He was knighted in 1952. That year he accepted a justiceship in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, Melbourne. Punctilious and grave in his approach, he possessed a prodigious memory for precedent. While he shared the sympathies of his class in regard to employers, he prided himself on his even-handedness and discretion, and refused to talk to any party about a case unless the opposing party was present. He recorded with relish that the family of a cabinet minister, whose overture he had declined, thereafter called a total rebuff a 'Sir Edward Morgan'.

In the Metal Trades Employers Association v. the Amalgamated Engineering Union (Australian Section) and others (1952), the applicants sought compliance with the metal trades' award. The case led to a redefinition of the powers of the Commonwealth arbitration court, specifically that the court could no longer exercise both arbitral and judicial functions. In 1956 the court was replaced by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Commonwealth Industrial Court. Given the choice, Morgan accepted a judgeship in the new court. In 1958 he was also appointed to the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. He held both positions until his retirement in 1960.

Returning to Adelaide, Morgan became president of the National Trust of South Australia in 1960 and a trustee of the Australian Cancer Society in 1961. He continued his work for the N.G.S.A. and, as chairman (1945-55 and 1963-70), was respected for his 'magisterial attentiveness' and 'guiding taste'. His enthusiasm for the applied arts helped the gallery to build up its collections, especially of silver, furniture and porcelain. In his retirement he wrote a history of the Adelaide Club, a collection of short stories based on accounts of his family, and an unpublished autobiography; he co-authored two books on Adelaide architecture and contributed five entries to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

In 1970 the Art Gallery of South Australia named its gallery of applied arts after Morgan and commissioned a bust by John Dowie. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, Sir Edward died on 11 September 1977 in North Adelaide and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Apr 1970
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 21 Aug 1941, 1 Jan, 1 Aug 1952, 3 Nov 1955, 14 Sept, 8 Oct 1977
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Aug 1952, 13 Aug 1956, 2 June 1960
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 8 Nov 1960
  • Morgan papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Julie-Ann Ellis, 'Morgan, Sir Edward James Ranembe (1900–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-sir-edward-james-ranembe-11163/text19887, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 19 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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