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Bede Morris (1927–1988)

by Peter McCullagh

This article was published:

Bede Morris (1927-1988), immunologist, was born on 10 June 1927 at Hornsby, Sydney, younger son of New South Wales-born parents Grainger Morris (d.1930), motor mechanic, and his wife Evelyn Jean, née Chapple. Bede loved animals and raced pigeons at the local pigeon-racing club. He attended Emu (Plains) Public, Penrith Intermediate and Parramatta High schools and at 15 won a scholarship to university. Too young to enrol, he worked as a clerk with the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board; he also bred poultry.

On 7 July 1945 Morris enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and from October until January 1946 trained at Canungra, Queensland. In February he completed an instructors’ course with No.4 Recruit Training Battalion at Singleton, New South Wales. When discharged from the army on 16 December he was an acting sergeant with No.2 Recruit Training Battalion. Although he had been selected for officer training at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Morris chose to study veterinary science under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. He graduated from the University of Sydney (B.V.Sc., 1952) with first-class honours, the university medal and the S. T. D. Symons prize for clinical subjects. On 7 November 1953 at St Anne’s Church of England, Strathfield, he married Margaret Hope Gibson, a secretary.

Described by the dean of veterinary science, H. R. Carne, as a ‘brilliant young veterinary graduate who could be perhaps somewhat unorthodox at times’, Morris opted for a research career. At the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital he investigated the return of fluid from injured lungs to the blood stream via the lymphatic vessels. He wrote up his research as a thesis but university rules precluded his enrolment for a Ph.D. degree. Winning a scholarship, in 1956 he entered Magdalen College, Oxford (D.Phil., 1958), and studied fat transport in lymphatics under Sir Howard (Baron) Florey at the Sir William Dunn school of pathology. Working long hours, he gained a reputation as a vigorous and innovative researcher. He was also noted for using edible species, such as pigs and geese, in experiments immediately before Christmas.

Returning to Australia, Morris became a senior fellow (1958) in experimental pathology at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra. He was promoted to professorial fellow (1963) and in 1970 he was appointed the first professor of immunology in Australia. Adopting the merino sheep as his experimental animal of choice, he studied the role played by lymphocytes in the development of immunity in reproduction and foetal development, and contributed to the understanding of lipid metabolism, endocrinology and organ transplantation. He later used cattle, many lent from his property, Lockhart, near Canberra.

In his unremitting search for new knowledge, Morris was unequivocally dismissive of managerialism. He worked outside existing constraints, conceptualising research possibilities by experimentally testing hypotheses. Enthusiastic and dexterous, he devised novel surgical approaches to implement his ideas. He often observed that Daguerre would not have received research funding if he had nominated the discovery of photography as his research milestone.

Morris was a foundation councillor (1960) of the Australian Physiological (and Pharmacological) Society. In 1969 he was elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (vice-president, 1979-80; treasurer, 1981-85). A member of the Australian Wool Board, he was the chairman of the Reserve Bank’s Rural Credits Development Fund and a board-member of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, Kenya. Never reticent in speaking out on issues affecting primary industries, early in the 1980s he successfully opposed proposals to import foot and mouth virus into the Australian Animal (National) Health Laboratory. On Lockhart he bred Charolais cattle using artificial insemination and was ‘chuffed’ when termed a ‘rancher’ in International Who’s Who (1984-85).

An ardent Francophile, Morris contributed to Franco-Australian scientific co-operation and enjoyed French literature, cars and wine. He wrote a book on French photography, Images: Illusion and Reality (1986), and was appointed to the Ordre National du Mérite and, in 1988, to the Légion d’Honneur.

Full of fun and laughter, Morris was a sportsman, fisherman, gardener and oenophile. He was over 6 ft (183 cm) tall, with a flat Australian accent, and was a peerless raconteur. Survived by his wife and their five children, he died in a motor-vehicle accident on 2 July 1988 near Paris, while on study leave. His body was returned to Canberra and cremated. In 1989 the University of Sydney’s clinical immunology refresher course for veterinarians, which he helped to initiate in 1978, was named in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • Clinical Immunology: The Bede Morris Memorial Refresher Course for Veterinarians, 1989, p i
  • Proceedings of the Australian Physiological and Pharmacological Society, vol 20, no 1, 1989, p v
  • Historical Records of Australian Science, vol 8, no 1, 1989, p 15
  • Canberra Times, 6 July 1988, p 23
  • ANU Reporter, 22 July 1988, p 7
  • private information and personal knowledge.

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Citation details

Peter McCullagh, 'Morris, Bede (1927–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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