Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Morley (1854–1939)

by Andrew Markus

This article was published:

William Morley (1854?-1939), Congregational minister, was born at Cransley, Northamptonshire, England, son of George Morley, postal official, and his wife Anne, née Moore. From 1875 he studied for the Congregational ministry at New College, London. He married Alice Micklem at Littlewick, Berkshire, on 19 July 1881. Morley began his ministry at Thame, Oxfordshire (1880-89), was a director of the London Missionary Society and served at Littlehampton, Sussex (1889-92).

Soon after migrating to Melbourne in 1892 Morley was invited to fill a vacancy at Prahran. Later he served congregations at Rockhampton, Queensland (1897-1900), and Dulwich Hill, Sydney (1901-08). In 1906-27 he was New South Wales auxiliary secretary of the London Missionary Society, devoting his whole time to the society from 1908.

A foundation executive-member of the Association for the Protection of Native Races in Australasia and Polynesia, formed in Sydney in 1911, Morley became co-secretary in December 1915 and soon assumed sole responsibility, proving himself adept at organization. Although Aborigines were an early priority, over the next ten years attention was largely confined to Papua, New Guinea and Melanesia. In 1923 Morley could rejoice at the absence of serious complaints or injuries to Aborigines in recent years. The association ceased to function in 1925 but was reactivated in November 1927, after the Onmalmeri massacre in Western Australia.

Over the last twelve years of his life Morley worked tirelessly to improve conditions of Aborigines. In August 1928, on his motion, the A.P.N.R. adopted a policy of 'physical, mental and moral improvement'. By 1929 he was calling for Federal control, increased spending, extension of reserves, improved conditions on pastoral stations, and reforms in the administration of justice. In 1928-30 he launched a campaign to arouse public opinion, raised money to assist starving Aborigines in Central Australia and demanded a royal commission to investigate the Coniston killings. In 1929 he recruited Professor A. P. Elkin to the A.P.N.R.'s executive and persuaded him to assume its presidency in 1933.

Throughout the 1930s Morley was in almost constant contact with Federal authorities and to a much lesser extent their State counterparts, although he failed to establish relations with Aboriginal leaders or to support actively their campaign for citizenship. He was prominent in the agitation over the Tuckiar (1933-34), Borroloola (1933-36) and McKinnon (1934-35) cases and was responsible for establishing the A.P.N.R.'s journal, the Aborigines' Protector, in 1935.

Morley was an uncompromising crusader for justice, in the process alienating senior officials. He met ministers and politicians when possible, but more often doggedly argued the case in closely reasoned correspondence; where all else failed he tried to publicize issues through the press. Bitterly disappointed by the unresponsiveness of governments, the disregard of the record of 'ill-treatment, outrage, and massacre', he was forced by illness to resign in November 1938. He urged that his successor should not be a moderate, for 'moderatism will never help the cause of our natives'. As no replacement was found, he resumed the position in April 1939, but died on 19 August at his Killara home and was cremated. His wife, two daughters, and son Norman (1883-1940) who also worked for Aborigines, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Association for the Protection of Native Races, Annual Report, 1912, 1930-39
  • Victorian Independent, Oct 1939
  • Aborigines' Protector, no 7, Nov 1941, p 4
  • Association for the Protection of Native Races, Aboriginal matters, Department of the Interior (National Archives of Australia), and minute books and correspondence (University of Sydney Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrew Markus, 'Morley, William (1854–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Cransley, Northamptonshire, England


19 August, 1939 (aged ~ 85)
Killara, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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