Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander Morison (1813–1887)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Alexander Morison (1813-1887), Congregational minister, was born on 22 February 1813 at Kilkenny, Ireland, said to be son of a Scottish Highlander 'whose settlement in Ireland was due to his being wrecked upon its coast'. Morison arrived at Hobart Town in the ministry of Rev. Frederick Miller whose Brisbane Street Chapel he joined in August 1832. His promise as a preacher and layworker led him to consider the Congregational ministry and he returned to Europe early in 1834 to enter Highbury College, London. He was probably in Dublin in 1838 when he responded to the appeal of the Colonial Missionary Society and returned to Hobart in December with Rev. John West. Morison was appointed to Pittwater by the Van Diemen's Land Home Missionary Society with a commission to preach 'anywhere in general'; he itinerated widely from Tasman Peninsula to Deloraine, preaching in forty-two stations at least three times each year and opening chapels at Cambridge and Carlton. The chapel at Richmond was completed after he left. In all, six churches looked to him as their founder.

When Rev. William Waterfield resigned from Collins Street Independent Church in 1843 Miller recommended Morison to supply the vacant pulpit for two months. He arrived in Melbourne in July and was soon called to the pastorate, where he ministered vigorously for twenty-one years, clearing the church debt almost immediately and building up the membership from 21 to 586. As the only Congregational minister in Port Phillip and secretary of the newly-formed Port Phillip Colonial Missionary and Christian Instruction Society, he attempted to extend his parish but had little support until Rev. Benjamin Cuzens arrived at Geelong in 1849, Rev. Thomas Odell at West Melbourne and William Moss at Prahran in 1850. He became the first chairman of the first Congregational Union of Victoria in June 1852 and was a leading figure in its affairs until its dissolution in 1856. Although Morison took the position of English Dissenters against state aid, some of the views derived from his Irish Congregational background were regarded as Tory by his more radical colleagues. In 1851-52 he applied to Charles La Trobe for land grants for church sites, a measure leading to friction with the union which interpreted his action as a 'gross violation of the voluntary principle'. Though he travelled widely on horseback and preached at the goldfields much of this work was given up after the arrival of Rev. J. L. Poore and the founding of the Congregational Home Mission in 1854. In 1860, when the new Congregational Union and Home Mission was founded by Poore and others, representatives from the Collins Street Church were conspicuously absent. Morison would not accept the union's authority, particularly over land, and this stand led him to resign his pastorate in 1864.

Recognized for his intellectual qualities, Morison was a popular lecturer, a constant contributor to the local journals and author of several pamphlets. In 1853 he was appointed to the first council of the University of Melbourne where he exercised a liberalizing influence, supporting such privileges as the admission of women. In 1865 he was admitted to the Presbyterian ministry and 'passed several weary years' at Clunes in 1869-72, 'cut off from all the congenial society to which he had been accustomed'. On resignation he returned to Melbourne, rejoined the Congregational Church and was appointed professor of Hebrew, church history, philosophy and apologetics in the Congregational College. He held that post until he died at South Yarra on 14 April 1887. On 27 November 1851 he had married Salome, daughter of Philip Pitt of Cliftonvale Hunting Grounds, Van Diemen's Land, and granddaughter of Richard Pitt; of their eight children, five survived their parents.

Select Bibliography

  • Congregational Union, Jubilee Volume of Victorian Congregationalism 1888 (Melb, 1889)
  • D. M. Stewart, Jubilee History of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria (Melb, 1909)
  • A. C. Nelson, History of the Effective Establishment of Congregationalism in the Australian Colonies and New Zealand (Hob, 1930)
  • E. Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1936)
  • W. Moss, ‘Independency in the Australian colonies, especially in Victoria’, The Principles and History of Independency, A. Gosman et al (Melb, 1879)
  • Victorian Congregational Year Book, 1888
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Apr 1887
  • R. I. Cashman, Nonconformists in Victoria in the 1850's (M.A. thesis, Monash University, 1963)
  • Congregational Union of Victoria, Minute books and Church records (Independent Hall, Melbourne).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Morison, Alexander (1813–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 February, 1813
Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland


14 April, 1887 (aged 74)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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