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POTTS' REMINISCENCES of Dr George Ernest Morrison

POTTS' REMINISCENCES of Dr George Ernest Morrison.

Part 1. A few Reminiscences of Dr George Ernest Morrison (1862-1920), Recently 'Times' Correspondent at Pekin, by Potts.
First published in Pegasus October 1912 pp 26-31.

I am so often writing to Pegasus that I think it is quite time that I - like the ostrich of the desert who buries his head in the sand to avoid his pursuers - should hide my identity by some such nom de plume as above. My subject for this issue has been suggested, because Ernest Morrison for the last few months has been so much in the Public eye, in that he has been appointed official adviser to the Chinese Government. His strength and force is obvious, when all the other powers are so strongly opposing his appointment. A weak man, and the other powers-would be quite
happy. Little may be said in this article about his great position, and the great political and social influence that he has in the East. More will be said of the lighter side of his nature, with which I mostly came in contact. I do not pretend to write with any historical accuracy, or with notes before me. I am relying entirely on a memory that I never did think very much of.

I was only a kiddy at school when Ernest was an old collegian - a medical student at the Melbourne University who did mighty little work. His mind was always on some exploring expedition, and while a student - during a vacation, I think - he walked along the coastal margin from Queenscliff to Adelaide. Most of us know fragments of that coast, and can readily realise what a task it was. I think he walked across country from Adelaide on the return
journey. Again, he paddled a canoe down the Murray from Albury to the mouth of the river. Sold his canoe, and returned again to Geelong, walking across country. It was on one of these return journeys that he passed through
my father's station, and, looking a typical 'Weary Willie' tramp, came up the garden to the house and rang the front door bell.

The shrewd little parlor-maid opened the door, looked at him in astonishment, and told him to go back to the men's hut at once, and asked how he dared come up to the House. He said he had already been to the hut, and the cook would give him no 'doss' or tucker unless he chopped wood for two hours, so he thought he would rather come up and dine with the boss. She slammed the door in his face. However, my mother, who was in the garden regarding the tramp closely - and being a great admirer of the Morrison boys - recognised the Morrison features and walk, and rescued him at once.

Next morning, my father was driving into the village, nine miles away, and as it was in the direction in which Ernest wished to go, asked him to drive with him. He refused, as he said he was doing the walking tour, and must do it fairly. Father passed him on the road later, and again asked if he might give him a lift, and still met with the same stolid refusal.

I believe on one occasion he was persuaded to drive a few miles of the journey, and, on getting out of the trap, he started on the backward journey, and walked that portion over again. These strolls were mere preliminaries to the big one he undertook when still a student. By this time he had become careless about choosing to do his walks during vacation. He did not care if vacation overstepped many months into the term, so long as he was exploring.
The big walk was from Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne - across the great Australian Continent from north to south, via Cooper's Creek, I believe. He was absolutely alone - no equipment beyond what he stood in - carrying an extra pair of boots, a tomahawk and big knife, and small rifle. He had nothing to guide him except his excellent headpiece, no food beyond what his hands and eyes could bring him, no water but what he could find. His way led through trackless desert, drought-stricken, fly-pestered, Godforsaken country, and for three months he was never heard of, but he came through it unscathed, and in a country where death through famine, hunger and thirst had gained a big toll of intrepid explorers with well and costly-equipped retinue. It was a record performance, as no one had ever previously got across the continent, and certainly no one had tried it alone.

Previously, his writings in The Age of his minor walks were in a lighter vein, but now, as news was sent along, and The Age printed intermittently, articles pulsating to the manliness, determination, and grit, and withal, modesty. The reading Public then began to recognise the pen of a master, and The Age realised his value. The proprietors sent him to investigate the kidnapping of Kanakas, which was going on very openly in the islands north of
Australia. 'Black-berrying' was the descriptive name applied to it. He would see nothing or hear nothing if his identity were known, so he signed on as an A B on a schooner that had the worst reputation for 'black-berrying.' I believe the skipper was a most violent man, and his manner and language were worthy of a buccaneer chief. Ernest readily learned some of his best phrases from this man. I suppose the work he did on this expedition was as fine a piece of journalistic ferreting as has ever been done in Australasian journalism. His sturdy articles, straightforwardly told of kidnapping - almost amounting to slave-dealing - roused the Public and Governmental mind to such an extent that 'blackberrying' was almost expunged. In The Age a series of articles appeared, revealing the whole ghastly system, and no one dared refute his statements. He filled his part so well as an able-bodied seaman that even his cerulean-languaged and much-experienced captain was unable to detect his amateurism.

After this expedition The Age started a bigger one still - an Exploration of New Guinea - a country that was very little known then, but has been much explored since. Ernest's daring and stamina was undoubted, but his experience of managing such a formidable expedition at the age of 22 was a negative quantity. He had had no previous knowledge of marching through a country, surrounded by hostile natives, and was early in the expedition ambushed, and the greater number of his party destroyed. He escaped - badly wounded - through the grit and pluck of his lieutenant, the only other white man of the party who brought him back after some days to a place of safety. The expedition proved to be a total failure, and cost The Age a large sum of money, and Dr George Morrison - Ernest's father - did some hard thinking. He thought the rolling stone was gathering no moss. The 'stone' must be sent to Edinburgh, far from the attractions of exploration: must be imbedded in old-world wisdom and gather a dense moss of instruction in the medical world.

He tells his story very well of his failure at the Melbourne University, and herewith I quote his own words. 'In the Examination for the Second Year of Medicine, hoping the more to impress the Professors, I entered my name for honors,
and they rejected me in the Preliminary Pass. It seems that in the Examination in Materia Medica, I had, among other trifling lapses, prescribed a dose of Croton oil of one and a half to two drachms, 'carefully increased'. I confess that I had never heard of the wretched stuff. The question was taken from far on in the text-book, and, unfortunately, my reading had not extended quite so far. When a deputation from my family awaited upon the examiner to ascertain the cause of my misadventure, the only satisfaction he got was the obliging assurance 'that you might as
well allow a mad dog loose in Collins Street, as allow me to become a doctor,' and then the examiners produced my prescription. But I thought I saw a faint chance of escape. I pointed a nervous finger to the two words, 'carefully increased,' and pleaded that that indication of caution ought to save me. 'Save you it might!' he shouted, with unnecessary vehemence, 'but - God bless my soul, man - it would not save your patient! 'The examiner was a man intemperate of speech, so I left the University. It was a severe blow to the University, - but the University
survived it!'

His sojourn in Edinburgh was an important phase in Ernest's life. He met many great men in the medical and literary world. Professor Cheyne removed a broken spear-head from his thigh, which had been thrust there, nine months previously, by a savage in New Guinea. In due course he qualified, and received congratulations from his father. He soon got an appointment, and for three years was principal medical officer at the Sierra Nevada tin mines in Spain.
He did excellent work for the Company, and became thoroughly proficient in Spanish.

He returned to Melbourne, and was appointed House Surgeon to the Ballarat Hospital, where to this day his histories of cases are kept as joyous relics. Most of his spare time was spent in baiting the Members of Committee, and for a very long while there was a furious newspaper controversy between the Bishop of Ballarat and himself. It started in all seriousness, but later it appealed to his sense of humor, and if he saw any evidence of flagging interest in the controversy, he would write stirring letters himself, signed by some mythical names, supporting strongly the good Bishop; then would come a sheaf of letters to the Press, in reply, supporting Dr Morrison's case, written by himself again with mythical signatures, and so on, he would keep the ball a-rolling. The Bishop prided himself on knowing all Ballarat people, yet he never seemed to know or meet really in the flesh those good men and true who so strongly supported his case in the newspapers, and, strangely enough, no one seemed to have met those who supported Dr Morrison. I don't think the joke really was known until after Ernest left the hospital.

Part 2. A few Reminiscences of Dr George Ernest Morrison, Recently 'Times' Correspondent at Pekin by Potts.
First published Pegasus December 1912 pp55-59.

It was in 1905 I next saw Ernest Morrison, in London. I thought he had been to Vancouver and Northern Canada since I last saw him, but he had, instead, gone to China, and travelled across the Continent from Shanghai to Rangoon, in British Burma, speaking no Chinese, having no interpreter or companion, unarmed, but trusting implicitly in the good faith of the Chinese. The journey consisted 'simply' of a voyage of 1500 miles up the Yangtse River, followed by a 'quiet', though extended, excursion along the great highway into Burma.
These long series of walks produced a very characteristic gait, just as Sir Ernest Shackleton, when he returned from the South
Pole, walked with high shoulders and forward stoop, as if still tugging at the leather traces attached to the heavy sledge.

I was really looking my best, in tall hat and frock coat, walking up Long Acre (the street of carriage showrooms, now of motor cars, I believe), and saw a man strolling on the sunny side, wearing an old blue-tint flannel shirt and bushman's big grey felt hat, and the characteristic gait acquired during his many thousand-mile strolls. It was Ernest Morrison, and I greeted him in great surprise, and - with his usual reticence - got little out of him except that he was living near Euston, very comfortably, in a room for which he was paying six shillings a week and doing his own washing. Would I not come along and see him? I did so, and after a difficult search found the place and climbed the bare, broad staircase. I knocked, and was told to 'hold on a bit', as there was very little space to open the door when he was in the room. I soon realised it was a small room, five feet by eight; a bed, a small washstand, and a tin trunk being all the furniture. His manuscript, pen and ink lay on the trunk, which served as a table, and I was invited to sit on the bed and help correct the proofsheets of the book he had written - 'An Australian in China'.

He assured me that I knew so much more about correcting proofsheets than he did. One great charm he possessed was that he could so nicely flatter one by persisting in thinking one was always so much cleverer than he. But - that room at six shillings a week - it was dear at the price!

We frequently exchanged visits. His first call on me was rather startling. The house where I lodged was kept by two old maids, the Misses Barbour, possessed of great staring eyes, like those of a startled gazelle - dear, kind, narrow-minded souls, who had never been beyond the walls of a boardinghouse in all their lives. Ernest called, and asked was Dr Potts in. 'Oh, no sir; he is at the Hospital, Who shall I say called?"
'Say Mr Morrison, the undertaker, from Melbourne'.
'You said, the undertaker; did you not, sir?' she stammered.
'Yes, undertaker. You seem surprised; but in Australia when a young doctor starts in practice he always goes in partnership with an undertaker, and, whichever way it goes, it always means grist to the mill.'
'Is that so?' she stammered, and looked more startled than ever.
When she asked me later if it were true, I tried to side-step by saying that Mr Morrison was noted for the accuracy of his
statements generally.

I had got rather stale in the work I was doing in London, and decided to see what the clinics could show me in Paris. I told Ernest I was going to Paris.
'Know any French?.' said he.
'Got through matric. at Geelong College ; taught by an Englishman.'
'Oh, no use at all,' he said, 'Come here ; I'll teach you two sentences. First one: 'Bon jour Madame; avez vous une chambre meublee?'
'For Heaven's sake, man, say it slowly,' said I.
It was repeated.
'Write it down, Ernest, please.'
He wrote it.
'O you mean to say what you have written, when spoken, sounds like what you have said?' 'Well, at any rate, what does it mean?' I said.
'It means 'Good day, madame; have you a furnished room?'
I walked up and down the room, repeating the sentence over and over again— - Bon jour, madame; avez vous une chambre meublee? Bon jour, madame; avez vous une chambre meublee? - until Ernest called a halt, and said I had a perfect Parisian accent.
'Now then, Potts; the next sentence is- 'C'est trop cher' - It is too dear.'
The full subtlety of these two questions appealed to me very much.

In the meantime, Ernest had obtained the MD degree of Edinburgh with a most remarkable thesis. I remember that, in preparation for it, he put in a tremendous amount of time at the British Museum, looking up works of great antiquity. Habitually men wore evening dress and cap and gown when degrees were conferred. Ernest's blue suit and flannel shirt was good enough for him, covered by an old borrowed gown. In due course I arrived in Paris, armed with these two sentences only. He had told me to get my rooms in the Latin Quarter, in the rue des Ecoles, and even told me how much I had to pay - 20 francs per month. I bought a map, and set off to find the rue des Ecoles, fortifying myself with a lunch which I selected not by language, but by pointing a finger to an article of diet on the menu. The first effort was not a success, as it turned out to be 'black pudding' - that is, a sausage of clotted bullock's blood. It was only by great strength of will that I did not "discard through weakness,' as the sea - sick bridge-player once said. After lunch I started with my question quite glibly. 'Bon jour, madame, avez vous une chambre meublee?' 'Mais out, monsieur!'

And away she would start on a rapid conversation, probably asking if I had had a pleasant trip over from England? Was it fine weather? Did I admire the Parisian ladies? In fact I did not know what the conversation may have been, but would always answer, to her great astonishment,'C'est trop cher!'

A few Reminiscences of Dr George Ernest Morrison, Recently 'Times' Correspondent at Pekin, by Potts.
First Published in Pegasus May 1913 pp 7-10.

One morning, after being in Paris some months, I was awakened by a knock at my door at about half-past seven. 'Entrez', ! I shouted, and in walked Ernest, abusing me for not being up and about. He had just come over from London ; the Express usually arrives in Paris at six o'clock in the morning. He said he had cooled his heels in the street, so that he would not waken me too early. It was a Saturday, and I had no hospital work. I dressed hurriedly, and he shared my 'Cafe Complet' both the while I dressed and he talked. He was on his way to Siam, sent by a London Paper; he would not tell me which, and carefully led me believe that it was not for the 'Times'. He had more money than he ever had in his life - 300 golden sovereigns - sewn in the lining of his waistcoat; a new dressing case, actually a dress suit, and quite a decent little kit which he hauled out and showed me, telling me the bargains he had made with each vendor to get the articles at the lowest price possible.

We started off at about 8.30, and at once made onslaughts on the various bookstalls around about the Latin quarter and in the neighbourhood of St Germain and the Sorbonne. He seemed to find those places in the way a pointer will find a quail. We soon went back, our arms loaded with great tomes on Indo-China. It teemed with rain the whole day. and we were soon pretty wet, but we plugged on most of the morning, bringing more and more books back to my room. We
then took a cab and went over to the right side of the River, as that finer wealthier part of Paris is called, in contradistinction to the poorer Students' quarter on the left side of the River. Here again we nosed around all sorts of bookstalls in and about the Palais Royal, the Boulevard des Italiens, and Poissoniere and ancient Montmartre quarters, dear to the Parisian. I thought I knew my Paris well, but Ernest could absolutely lose me. He
seemed to know every portion of it.

At one o'clock we cried a halt, and he shouted my lunch in a charming little Restaurant that even I had not previously found in the Palais Royal, and here he was in his best form. He told me he had finished his book, and his publishers had duly rooked him for it. He showed me some of his letters of introduction to prominent Siamese. He was very tickled with the familiarity of one 'Dear Prince'. It said, this will serve to introduce you to a pal of mine, &c, &c, and signed by a very big English Politician. He told me he took on my rooms at Miss Barbour's which I had vacated, and liked them very much indeed. 'Of course', he said, 'The two good souls, like all boarding-house keepers, read all letters that are lying about. So to keep them really interested, I write a few letters to myself in a disguised hand, and leave them about. They often have some very distinguished signatures too. For instance, just a little before I left England I wrote a letter ostensibly from the Archbishop of Canterbury inviting me to
breakfast with him next day. I asked Miss Barbour to please call me at six to-morrow morning: 'I am to breakfast with the Archbishop of Canterbury.' She nearly fell down the stairs backwards with astonishment, and rushing to tell her sister they became so excited that they harboured such a distinguished lodger, and they were so afraid they may not wake him in time that they never slept a wink. At six punctually a timid knock at the door.
Snores from within. A louder knock - 'Yes, what is it.' 'Oh! Dr Morrison, please Sir it is six o'clock.' 'Well, what the deuce has that got to do with me.' 'Ah, but you said to wake you, Sir: you are going to breakfast
with the Archbishop of Canterbury." 'Well, D--n the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am going to sleep.' Again she nearly fell backwards downstairs, and to her sister said they must be harbouring even a greater man than they had thought last night when he can put off the appointment with the Archbishop so strongly too.

For two solid hours we yarned over our lunch, and I can remember lunch cost Ernest 18 francs, and he admitted he had
never spent so much money in his life on two meals. He was very insistent on thinking that there was an aggressively
domineering manner shown by the French to us Englishmen, and prognosed war in a little while. There was trouble somewhere in the division of British and French Siam, and I think he was expecting to see a little fighting when he got there. We spent the rest of the afternoon again in bookstalls, and went back to the left side of the River with a cab load of books all on Indo-China. When we got to my room we were both wet through, and I lit a fire and we dried ourselves. It was still wet, and I suggested to Ernest the Madame whom I rented the room from was an excellent
cook, and would give us a meal in her little salon. Madame was only too delighted. I told her to spread herself and do her best.

It was good, and I can still remember the 'Poulet-roti au
cresson' and the 'Salade des Endives' and a nice bottle of French Claret, and a cheery, bright and warm little room. Ernest's tongue was really loosened. He rattled on by the furlong in French, telling Madame that I was in Paris incognito - I was known all over Australia - I had 800,000 acres of land, and I shore one-and-a-half million sheep - I employed something like a thousand men, and so on; he went rattling on, never stopping, romance after romance, and all about me.
'Shut up, you fool,' I said in English. 'She will be trebling my rent.' 'Oh, it is all right old chap,' he said,' l am a bit rusty in my French, and I am just practising it. You see French is a romantic language, and I find it easier to speak if I romance.' Then to save me being raised in the rent, he started telling Madame that many if they only knew who I really was would only be too pleased to have me as a lodger free.

But all good things come to an end. I saw him off from the 'Gare au Lyon' to go to Marseilles at eight o'clock that night, and I have not seen the good chap since. I have read his obituary notice, and the best obituary I have
read on any man. I believe he always had it with him in case the 'Times' might threaten to 'sack' him. He could then produce this and say, 'Well, that is what you thought of me when I was dead, and good as I was dead, surely a thousand times better living. 'Since those good days he is always before the public, and we know what a great power he is in China. I will conclude by saying, 'Long life and happiness, Ernest, to you and your sweet Bride.'

Sources: Pegasus October 1912 pp 26-31; Pegasus December 1912 pp 55-59; Pegasus May 1913 pp 7-10.

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