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MORRISON, Dr George MA (Centenary History Text, 1961 Ch 4)

MORRISON, Dr George MA (Centenary History Text, 1961 Ch 4)

The following text is an excerpt from the Centenary History of the Geelong College published in 1961:

Chapter Four

'A TALL, ERECT FIGURE, Spare but powerful, clad in a frock coat and bearing in his hand a silk hat, a chalk box and a short cane—this was "Mov", or as he was known to later generations, "the Doctor", on his way up to the classroom.

There was authority in the heavy creak of his great roomy boots. There was discipline in every line of his figure. His broad, massive head, wide-browed, wide-eyed, with its square jaw concealed beneath a full beard, denoted strength and inflexibility.

But with it all there was a gentleness and suavity of manner, of which his dour exterior gave no hint. His "Say! say!"-the inevitable preamble of all he said-had every gradation of tone, from the hard note of command, trumpeted forth as the preface to some condign sentence, while his fingers plucked fiercely at his beard, to the softest accents of winning sweetness, as he coaxed or consoled some unhappy boy, patting him gently on the back in fond, paternal fashion.

Of course, he was a Scot. Every tone and line of him proclaimed the fact. Indeed, it was to his Scottish strength of mind and business ability that the College owed most of its success. That he brought to the work a certain amount of Scottish sternness was inevitable, but it was always used in moderation.

* * * *

It was not surprising that George Morrison was a teacher. He could hardly have escaped it. He was born on December 11, 1830, in Morayshire, Scotland, one of a family of six brothers, every one of whom went on to obtain high university honours, all but one to become famous schoolmasters.

He attended the Elgin Academy, where his elder brother, Dr. Donald Morrison, was headmaster. His career there gave abundant promise of the academic successes which were before him.

He won a scholarship to the University of Aberdeen, and before he had been there a year he was recognized as the most brilliant student of his time. In every year he carried off the highest honours. The Simpson Scholarship, for distinction in mathematics and physics—one of the most coveted prizes of the University—fell to him in his first year. Instead of devoting himself to one school of learning, George Morrison took up three—classics, mathematics and natural philosophy—and obtained honours in all of them.

He was President of the Debating Society at the University, and there acquired that power of expression which later made his little homilies to erring Collegians such terrifying ordeals. Most of his pupils preferred his gentle canings to his impressive lecturings.

Obtaining the degree of Master of Arts, he began his teaching career as mathematics master at the Naval and Military Academy in Gosport, England. After a few years he was attracted to Australia, where one of his brothers, Dr. Alexander Morrison, had been appointed Principal of Scotch College, Melbourne. On his arrival in 1858 he was at once appointed mathematics master at Scotch, but after about six months he left to take charge of the Flinders National School in Geelong. There, in a year or two, he earned such a high reputation as an able teacher and director that he was the obvious choice for the position of Principal of the new Geelong College.

Knowle House was small and cramped perhaps, but those early years of the College were very happy ones for the young Scottish schoolmaster and his wife. Mrs. Morrison played a great part in the work which was begun there in 1861: she always took a lively interest in the School, and her marvellous memory for names and faces lent a great deal of charm to the visits of Old Boys. At Knowle House, too, their family—eventually five sons and three daughters—began to gather about them.
Pupils of that period loved to tell of the pride shown by the Principal in his eldest boy, later the famous Dr. G. E. Morrison. He used to bring the little fellow round the classrooms. Sometimes he would shut the door and George Ernest would be left outside. All would listen eagerly as he cried, "Open! Open!" Then there would be a tiny kick at the panels and a baby voice would call, "Open, old George!" The father would be delighted, and the door would be opened. The boy would be placed on the mantelpiece and the stern Principal of the College would back away, saying, "Look at me!" When a good distance off he would shout, "Jump!" and George Ernest, with implicit confidence, would spring boldly off the mantelpiece to be caught in his father's arms.

In his sons Mr. Morrison had a wonderful memorial to his character as a father as well as to his ability as a schoolmaster. All were his pupils at the College and all went on to earn distinction in their careers. George Ernest, often better known as "Chinese" Morrison, graduated in medicine at Edinburgh, but later achieved a world-wide reputation as a journalist and an able and far-seeing diplomat. His love of China, and his desire to see that great country develop into strong nationhood, culminated in his appointment in 1912 as political adviser to the first President of the Chinese Republic.

Reginald H. Morrison, the second son, also studied medicine at Edinburgh and came to be acknowledged as the champion amateur athlete of Scotland; he represented that country in international Rugby. Of the other three, Charles Norman was to succeed his father at the Geelong College, Arthur became an engineer and Clive took up law.

When the move was made from Knowle House to Newtown, Mr. George Morrison found ample scope for the development of his ideals and ambitions. His school was practically in the country. He was absolute monarch of a little kingdom, which he ruled wisely and successfully.

It is true that, for nearly fifty years altogether, the College was privately owned, but in all that time its tone was that of a Public School. Mr. Morrison breathed into it the true educational spirit, with scholarship always the chief aim, though the sporting side was never neglected. Nobody was keener on the maintenance of College superiority on the playing field. Delightful word pictures have been painted of old-time football matches. The "chariot", a four-wheeled wagonette, was driven to the ground by Hugh Mackay, with "Old Mov" sitting in it, grimly expectant. His interest in the game, and his excitement as the tide of battle flowed first one way and then the other, were equalled only by his exultation when the game ended with the College victorious.

Former pupils always thought of him as the Headmaster, the personification of their school. None ever failed to call him "Sir", or to feel towards him a little of the same deferential awe which he had inspired in them in College days. When many of them came back to him for advice and encouragement they found that he remembered them well and was keenly interested in their doings. It was this personal bond which created a strong Old Boy sentiment long before the inauguration of the Old Geelong Collegians' Association.

In March, 1891, the University of Aberdeen recognized the splendid work in the cause of education which was being done by its graduate, George Morrison, by conferring upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, an honour which had already been accorded three of his brothers for work in the same field.

Without any break, Dr. Morrison presided over the College from 1861 till 1893. In 1891, after the youngest son had gone from the College to the University, his load of responsibility was lightened by his son, Norman, who joined the staff as Vice-Principal. However, the Doctor was still in charge, still conducted the school in his own way, and still, though he lightened his work progressively, took classes every day.

It was decided at the end of 1893, that he had earned a good holiday, and in March, 1894, accompanied by Mrs. Morrison and two of their daughters, he sailed for Great Britain. He was back at the College in January of the following year, ready to resume full responsibility while Norman was absent on a similar tour.
During the next two years the Doctor further reduced his periods of teaching. He still had regular classes, however, and though he was over sixty-five years of age he showed no signs of feebleness. He was a little greyer, perhaps, but otherwise Old Collegians who met him at the end of 1897 found no change.

On Tuesday, February 15, 1898, the new school year had been in progress for exactly a week. The Doctor seemed as well as ever. He took his usual class that morning, but was not able to finish the lesson. He handed the work over to another master, walked round to his study, and quietly passed away. The end was dramatically sudden and unexpected, but it was what he would have hoped for. His last act was to give a lesson in the school he had made, a final touch to the work he had been patiently performing for almost forty years.'

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Sources: The Geelong College 1861-1961 by G C Notman and B R Keith. Chapter 4, pp 20-24.

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