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Frank Richard Morrison (1895–1967)

by H. G. Holland and H. H. G. McKern

This article was published:

Frank Richard Morrison (1895-1967), chemist and museum director, was born on 14 April 1895 at Randwick, Sydney, third child of native-born parents Alexander John Thomas Morrison, tinsmith and later chemist, and his wife Blanche Agnes, née Moss. Frank was educated at Sydney Technical High School and (part time) at Sydney Technical College where he gained a diploma in chemistry (1922). Employed as an assistant in the chemical laboratory of the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage from 20 July 1912, he transferred to a similar post in the Technological Museum in April 1916. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 July 1918 and arrived in Britain after the Armistice. In 1919 he served at the Australian Staging Camp in France.

Discharged in Sydney on 28 October that year, Morrison returned to the museum. He assisted the economic chemists—Henry George Smith until 1920 and then Arthur de Ramon Penfold—in the museum's long-running programme of scientific research into Australian natural products, particularly plants, to foster the economic exploitation of the country's natural resources. Morrison gained an excellent apprenticeship in laboratory methods of organic chemistry. His own research contributions, almost entirely in phytochemistry, were linked with those of Penfold. He also undertook field-work to collect and study experimental material, which involved extensive travel in rural areas of eastern Australia.

Morrison's first research publication (1921) was on the occurrence of the flavonoid substance rutin in various species of Boronia, but the major part of his work was on volatile plant oils in Australian flora. Many of his scientific papers (which numbered nearly fifty) were written with Penfold; thirty-four were published in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Morrison also wrote reviews and articles dealing with historical matters, and (with Penfold) technical bulletins issued by the museum. Their most important joint contribution was to demonstrate the existence of chemical variation within a plant species: their findings refuted the assertion of their predecessors, R. T. Baker and Smith, that chemical constancy prevailed throughout a species to the extent that it could be used as a diagnostic feature in taxonomy. The Penfold-Morrison discovery was of great chemical, biological and commercial significance.

At St David's Anglican Church, Arncliffe, on 25 February 1928 Morrison had married Pretoria Beryl Macdonald; they were to have two children. He gave extensive support to scientific and professional bodies as honorary secretary (1922-54) and president (1931-32, 1955) of the Sydney Technical College Chemical Society (and its successor), and as a councillor (1942-51), secretary (1946-47), vice-president (1948-49, 1951) and president (1950) of the R.S.N.S.W. In 1951 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

After succeeding Penfold in 1946 as economic chemist at the renamed Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Morrison became deputy-director of the museum in 1949 and succeeded Penfold as director on 1 January 1956. In his administrative posts he continued a strong tradition of vigour and foresight. As a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization fellow, Morrison made an extended inspection of museums in North America, Britain and Europe in 1952. The R.S.N.S.W. awarded him its medal in 1958. He retired in 1960. In spite of funding stringency, he left the museum well prepared to undertake future challenges.

A 'cheerful colleague of the utmost integrity', Morrison was a splendid raconteur. He kept fit by swimming, playing golf, exercising in the gymnasium and cultivating the garden at his Wahroonga home. Survived by his wife and only son, he died on 2 October 1967 in Hornsby hospital and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Society of New South Wales, A Century of Scientific Progress (Syd, 1968)
  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, 35, 1968
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal and Proceedings, 102, 1969
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Sept 1933, 23 July 1936, 17 Jan 1939
  • J. L. Willis, From Palace to Power House. The First One Hundred Years of the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (typescript, 1982, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Library).

Citation details

H. G. Holland and H. H. G. McKern, 'Morrison, Frank Richard (1895–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 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

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