George Ernest Morrison: the boy within
Cyril Pearl; Hugh Trevor-Roper; Lo Hui-Min; Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin; Linda Jaivin and Tom Gardner have all written about ‘Morrison of Peking’ and ‘Chinese Morrison’. The focus of their works has been on Morrison’s role in the Boxer Rebellion, his journeys across China and his role as advisor to the Chinese delegation at the 1919 Peace Treaty at Versailles. The George Morrison Endowment has also been established by the Australian-Chinese community in recognition of Morrison’s contribution to cultural relations between China and Australia. The George E Morrison Lecture in Ethnology has been delivered by numerous notable Australians, including Herbert Evatt (1952); Ross Garnaut (1988); Kevin Rudd (2010) and Linda Jaivin (2011).
In contrast, Morrison’s youthful pursuits within Australia are relatively poorly documented outside his own diary. Born in 1862 into a prosperous middle-class family, Morrison attended the elite Geelong College. As a boy of 17, Morrison walked from Queenscliff to Adelaide in 1879-80 and a year later he rowed down the Murray River from Albury, to the mouth of the Murray at Goolwa, recording his first encounters with Indigenous Australians. In 1882, at 20, Morrison shipped as a seaman on a ‘blackbirding’ vessel to report on the people trafficking of Pacific Islanders for The Age newspaper, his condemnatory accounts stirring controversy in Queensland. In 1883, after dropping out of university, Morrison walked solo from Normanton to Melbourne following a similar route to the failed Burke and Wills expedition. Also in 1883, Morrison ventured into the previously unexplored interior of New Guinea where he was injured in a spearing incident.
John Rickard; David Newsome; J.A. Mangan; Stanley Winslow; Heather Ellis; and Thomas Arnold all highlight that in the late nineteenth century educational philosophies were focused on building character, manliness and on Muscular Christianity or Imperial Masculinity. This thesis will examine Morrison’s achievements prior to his leaving Australia through the lens of these themes, and particularly, with respect to religious devotion; moral and gentlemanly conduct; intellectual endeavour; courage and strength; and the use of these character traits in the protection of the weak and the advancement of righteous causes. The investigation of Morrison’s protection of the weak and the advancement of righteous causes will also examine Morrison’s role in the slavery debate of the time, which has been discussed by Victoria Stead and Lucy Davies; Marilyn Lake; and Tracey Banivanua Mar.
At the time of George Ernest Morrison’s death in 1920, it was reported in The Argus newspaper, in Melbourne, that “the niche which Dr Ernest Morrison made for himself in history is unique.” Lionel James, one of Morrison’s journalist colleagues at The Times in China, described Morrison’s “overwhelming pride in Australia and himself as an Australian.” Pearl also suggested in Morrison of Peking: Explorer, Foreign Correspondent, Political Advisor and One of the Makers of the Chinese Republic that Morrison never forgot Australia, even though Australia forgot him.
Morrison’s youthful achievements were remarkable and provided him with the skills necessary to prepare for a career where he was to become the man that Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson described as having “outclassed the smartest political agents of the world.”