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Morris Mondle Phillips (1870–1948)

by Mark Duckworth and John C. Gibbs

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Morris Mondle Phillips (1870-1948), lawyer, was born on 19 May 1870 at St Kilda, Melbourne, son of Philip David Phillips (1836-1909), solicitor, and his wife Rose, née Asher. His was an eminent Jewish family. His grandfather Rev. Solomon Phillips (1810-1877) had migrated to Australia in 1833, and become a leader of the Sydney and Melbourne Jewish communities, holding the position of minister at the Macquarie Street, Sydney, synagogue in 1859-74. Solomon Phillips's other children included Rosetta, mother of Emanuel Phillips Fox, and Lydia, mother of Dr Constance Ellis. P. D. Phillips was a leading insolvency lawyer, a free trader and a Shakespearian scholar. Among his other children was Marion Phillips.

Morris Mondle Phillips did not have a strong Jewish upbringing. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1884-86, then the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1890). After graduation he was articled to his father's partner (Sir) Robert Best until 1892, when the firm broke up because P. D. Phillips disapproved of the land-boom activities of Best and their other partner Theodore Fink. Awarded his M.A. in 1892, Phillips next year completed his articles with his father's new firm, winning the Supreme Court prize for articled clerks, and entered a partnership with his father, which became eventually Phillips, Fox & Masel. On 21 November 1894, at St Kilda, with Jewish rites, he married his cousin Rebecca Ellis.

Phillips remained in partnership with his father until 1905, when he became taxing master of the Supreme Court of Victoria; in 1916 he was also appointed its chief clerk. He published works on the operation of both these offices: Delivery and Taxation of Bills of Costs (1916) and Practice and Precedent in the Chief Clerk's Office (1933). In 1923 he was appointed master in equity, a post which included the work of master in lunacy. Phillips successfully campaigned for establishment of a Public Trustee Office and in 1939 became the first public trustee, taking over all the functions of the master in lunacy and curator of deceased estates, as well as some of the functions of the master in equity, a position he nevertheless still held. Before he retired in May 1941 he rationalized the position and helped to design that of its successor, master of the Supreme Court. A tall and slightly stooped man, he was courteous to his colleagues, but on occasions could be caustic. As a speaker he was measured rather than fluent, displaying a keen intellect, with clearness and breadth of view.

A long-standing member of the Australian Natives' Association (chief president, 1913-16) and, like his father, a president of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society, Phillips was also active in the League of Nations Union from 1919. He was involved in the affairs of the University of Melbourne, holding positions on the council (1923-24 and 1934-39) and on the faculty of law (1934-39). He was secretary and later president of the Melbourne University Association, served on the university extension board, and in 1924-34 was warden of convocation. President of the Australian Bridge Council, he published three books on contract bridge. Phillips was non-religious and became president of the Rationalist Association of Victoria. He died on 31 July 1948 and was cremated.

His wife Rebecca (Ray) (1872-1942) was born on 11 January 1872, daughter of Angell Ellis and his wife Hannah, née Phillips. Her wide-ranging philanthropic interests included the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children and the Free Kindergarten Union. She was a member of the committee of management of the District Nursing Service in 1914-38 holding various executive positions. She was also president of the Lyceum Club in 1923-24 and honorary treasurer for many years. Sharing her husband's interest in drama, she published short stories in the Argus, Australasian, Bulletin, Weekly Times, Leader and elsewhere. Her war-time novel, The White Feather, was published in 1917. She died on 10 November 1942.

Morris Mondle and Ray Phillips were survived by their sons (Sir) Philip, Q.C., and Arthur, teacher and literary critic.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis (Melb, 1965)
  • N. Rosenthal, People, Not Cases (Melb, 1974)
  • J. M. Gillison, A History of the Lyceum Club (Melb, 1975)
  • M. Chapman (compiler), The Humanist Jew (Melb, 1981)
  • L. Fox, E. Phillips Fox and his Family (Syd, 1985)
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 1 (1939)
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Sept 1948
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Mar 1924, 6 May 1941, 10 Nov 1942, 31 July 1948
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1948
  • Master in Equity, letter books, 1916-36 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Mark Duckworth and John C. Gibbs, 'Phillips, Morris Mondle (1870–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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