George Ernest Morrison

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G. E. Morrison, in a 1902 portrait

George Ernest "Chinese" Morrison[1] (4 February 1862 – 30 May 1920) was an Australian journalist, political adviser to and representative of the government of the Republic of China during the First World War and owner of the then largest Asiatic library ever assembled.

Early life[edit]

Morrison was born in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. His father George Morrison (brother of Alexander Morrison) was headmaster of The Geelong College where George was educated. His uncle, Alexander Morrison, was headmaster of Scotch College, Melbourne.[2] He won the college's Scripture History gold medal in 1876.[3]

During a vacation in early 1880, before his tertiary education, he walked from the Heads at Queenscliffe to Adelaide, a distance of about 650 miles (960 km). He initially studied medicine at the University of Melbourne. After passing his first year medicine he took a vacation trip down the Murray River in a canoe from Albury, New South Wales, to its mouth, a distance of 1650 miles (2,640 km), covered in 65 days.[2] Attracted more to adventure than study, he failed his exams two years running and escaped by taking a cruise on the brigantine Lavina, recruiting Kanakas from the South Sea islands. He was appalled by what he saw[1] and wrote articles which appeared in The Age and had some influence on its eventual suppression.[2]

Morrison next visited New Guinea and did part of the return journey on a Chinese junk. Landing at Normanton, Queensland, at the end of 1882, Morrison decided to walk to Melbourne. He was not quite 21, he had no horses or camels and was unarmed, but carrying his swag and swimming or wading the rivers in his path, he traversed the 2043 miles (3270 km) in 123 days. No doubt the country had been much opened up in the twenty years since Burke and Wills' well-funded failure, but the journey was nevertheless a remarkable feat, which stamped Morrison as a great natural bushman and explorer.[2] He arrived at Melbourne on 21 April 1883 to find that during his journey Thomas McIlwraith, the premier of Queensland, had annexed part of New Guinea, and was vainly endeavouring to get the support of the British government for his action.

New Guinea[edit]

Financed by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, Morrison was sent on an exploration journey to New Guinea. He sailed from Cooktown, Queensland, in a small lugger, arriving at Port Moresby after a stormy passage. On 24 July 1883, Morrison, with a small party started with the intention of crossing to Dyke Acland Bay, 100 miles (160 km) away. Much high mountain country barred the way, and it took 38 days to cover 50 miles. The indigenous population became hostile and, about a month later, Morrison was struck by two spears and almost killed. Retracing their steps, with Morrison strapped to a horse, Port Moresby was reached in days. Here Morrison received medical attention but it was more than a month before he reached the hospital at Cooktown. Morrison had penetrated farther into New Guinea than any previous European. After a week's recovery in hospital, Morrison went on to Melbourne.[2] The head of a spear remained in his groin,[1] however, as surgical removal was not thought feasible.

Graduation and further travels[edit]

Morrison's father decided to send the young man to John Chiene, professor of surgery at the University of Edinburgh. The professor removed the spear head successfully and Morrison resumed his medical studies there. He graduated M.B., Ch.M. on 1 August 1887. After his graduation, Morrison travelled extensively in the United States, the West Indies, and Spain, where he became medical officer at the Rio Tinto mine. He then proceeded to Morocco, became physician to the Shereef of Wazan, and travelled in the interior. Study at Paris under Dr Charcot followed before he returned to Australia in 1890, and for two years he was resident surgeon at the Ballarat Hospital.[2]

Far East[edit]

Leaving the hospital in May 1893, he went to the Far East, and in February 1894 began a journey from Shanghai to Rangoon. He went partly by boat up the Yangtze River and rode and walked the remainder of the 3,000 miles (4,800 km). Disguised under a hat with queue attached, he completed the journey in 100 days at a total cost of £18,[1] which included the wages of two or three Chinese servants whom he picked up and changed on the way as he entered new districts. He was quite unarmed and then knew hardly more than a dozen words of Chinese. But he was willing to conform to and respect the customs of the people he met, and everywhere was received with courtesy. In his interesting account of his journey, An Australian in China, published in 1895, while speaking well of the personalities of the many missionaries he met, he consistently belittled their success in obtaining converts. He later regretted this, as he felt he had given a wrong impression by not sufficiently stressing the value of their social and medical work.[2]

After his arrival at Rangoon, Morrison went to Calcutta where he became seriously ill with remittant fever and nearly died. On recovering he went to Scotland, presented a thesis to the University of Edinburgh on "Heredity as a Factor in the Causation of Disease", and received his M.D. degree in August 1895. He was introduced to Moberly Bell, editor of The Times, who appointed him a special correspondent in the East. In November, he went to Siam and travelled extensively in the interior.[2]

From Siam he crossed into southern China and at Yunnan fell seriously from what he diagnosed to be bubonic plague. Having overcome the illness by inducing profuse perspiration, he then made his way through Siam to Bangkok, a journey of nearly a thousand miles.[2]

The Times correspondent[edit]

In February 1897, The Times appointed Morrison as the first permanent correspondent at Peking, and he took up his residence there in the following month. Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge in the Chinese language meant that he could not verify his stories and one author has suggested some of his reports contained bias and deliberate lies against China.[4] Aware of Russian activity in Manchuria at this time, Morrison went to Vladivostok in June. He travelled over a thousand miles to Stretensk and then across Manchuria to Vladivostok again. He reported to The Times that Russian engineers were making preliminary surveys from Kirin towards Port Arthur (Lüshunkou). On the very day his communication arrived in London, 6 March 1898, The Times received a telegram from Morrison to say that Russia had presented a five-day ultimatum to China demanding the right to construct a railway to Port Arthur. This was a triumph for The Times and its correspondent, but he had also shown prophetic insight in another phrase of his dispatch, when he stated that "the importance of Japan in relation to the future of Manchuria cannot be disregarded". Germany had occupied Kiao-chao towards the end of 1897, and a great struggle for political preponderacy was going on.[2]:10

In January 1899, he went to Siam and wrote that there was no need for French interference in that country and that it was quite capable of governing itself. He travelled extensively during the following 15 months, returning first to Peking, then on to Korea, Assam, England, Australia, Japan and back to Peking via Korea.[2]:11

The Boxer Uprising broke out soon after and, during the siege of the legations from June to August, Morrison, an acting-lieutenant, showed great courage, always ready to volunteer in the face of danger. He was superficially wounded in July[4] but was erroneously reported as killed and the subject of a highly laudatory obituary notice occupying two columns of The Times on 17 July 1900. After a siege of 55 days, the legations were relieved on 14 August 1900 by an army of various nationalities under General Alfred Gaselee. The army then ransacked much of the palaces in Peking, with Morrison taking part in the looting, making off with silks, furs, porcelain and bronzes.[4]

When the Russo-Japanese War broke out on 10 February 1904, Morrison became a correspondent with the Japanese army. He was present at the entry of the Japanese into Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou) early in 1905, and represented The Times at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States, peace conference. In 1907, he crossed China from Peking to the French border of Tonkin, and, in 1910, rode from Honan City, Burma, across Asia to Andijan in Russian Turkestan, a journey of 3,750 miles (6,000 km) which was completed in 174 days. From Andijan he took a train to St Petersburg, and then traveled to London, arriving on 29 July 1910.[2]:12

Morrison returned to China the next year and, when plague broke out in Manchuria, went to Harbin where there had been success in stemming its spread. He wrote a series of articles advocating the launch of modern scientific public health services in China. When the Chinese revolution began in 1911, Morrison took the side of the revolutionaries.[2]:12-13

Political adviser[edit]

Citing poor pay and lack of prospects, in August 1912, Morrison resigned his position at The Times to become Political Adviser to the President of the Chinese Republic at a salary equivalent to £4,000 a year,[2]:15[1] and immediately went to London to assist in floating a Chinese loan of £10 million. In China, during the following years, he had an anxious time advising upon and endeavouring to deal with the political intrigues that prevailed. He was instrumental in ensuring that Peking foster its relations with the United States over Japan during this period.[2]:17 He visited Australia again in December 1917 and returned to Peking in February 1918. He represented China during the peace discussions at Versailles in 1919 but his health began to give way and he retired to England. He died on 30 May 1920, at Sidmouth, Devon, and is buried there.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Morrison had married, in 1912, Jennie Wark Robin (1889–1923),[2]:15 his former secretary, who survived him for only three years. His three sons, Ian (1913–1950), Alastair Gwynne (1915–2009),[6] and Colin (1917–1990), all grew to manhood and graduated at the University of Cambridge.

George Morrison (1862-1920)

Legacy[edit]

Ex libris George Ernest Morrison

In his role as adviser to the president of China, Morrison is credited with having a significant influence on China's decision to enter World War I in opposition to Germany and in its foreign relations thereafter.[2]:16

Morrison did not know Chinese, but he was an avid collector of books on China in Western languages.[7] In 1917, Morrison's remarkable library, which contained the largest number of books on China ever collected, was sold to Baron Iwasaki Hisaya, son of Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder of Mitsubishi Corporation, of Tokyo, for £35,000, with the provisos that it remain intact and that serious students should have access to it. It had taken 18 years at a cost, by 1912, of £12,000 for Morrison to accumulate, ultimately, some 24,000 works. He had no other assets of note at the time of the sale.[2]:29

The collection, considered by far the most extensive Asiatic library ever assembled,[2]:25-26 subsequently became the foundation of the Oriental Library in Tokyo.[8] In 1932 the inaugural "George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology" was delivered at Canberra, a fund having been established by Chinese residents of Australia to provide for an annual lecture in Morrison's memory.

Morrison was a tall and fearless man. He had sought adventure, gathering experience and knowledge as he went.[2]:17 Polly Condit Smith, who was alongside Morrison during the Boxer uprising, wrote "Although he was not a military man he had proved himself one of the most important members of the garrison, being always in motion and cognizant of what was going on everywhere, and by far the best informed person within the Legation quadrangle. To this must be added a cool judgement, total disregard of danger and a perpetual sense of responsibility to help everyone to do his best - the most attractive at our impromptu mess, as dirty, happy and healthy a hero as one could find anywhere."[9] Sir Robert Hart, on the other hand, in Peking at the same time as Morrison, regarded him as a lazy, self-indulgent man, intolerant, racist, and unprincipled.[4]

Morrison's diaries, manuscripts and papers were bequeathed to the Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia.[2]:18

A fictional account of Morrison's romantic affair with Mae Ruth Perkins was published in A Most Immoral Woman by Australian author Linda Jaivin in 2009.[10][11]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Adventurous Australian Won Fame as a Patriot of China". The Daily Mirror. 17 November 1949. p. 17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Enoki, Kazuo (1967). Dr G E Morrison and the Toyo Bunko. The Toyo Bunko.
  3. ^ Maker Unknown, State Library of New South Wales. "Manuscripts, oral history & pictures - State Library of New South Wales". acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 2016-12-20.
  4. ^ a b c d Seagrave, S. Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China Vintage Books, 1993.
  5. ^ Pearl, Cyril, Morrison of Peking, Penguin Books, Victoria, Australia, 1970
  6. ^ "A life of adventure from Beijing and beyond" Sydney Morning Herald 12 August 2009
  7. ^ Hugh Trevor-Roper: Hermit of Peking. The hidden life of Sir Edmund Backhouse. London: Eland, ²2008; pp. 43 and 380.
  8. ^ "Historical Background", Official Toyo Bunko website, retrieved 17 November 2009
  9. ^ The Siege at Peking, Peter Fleming, 1959, Dorset
  10. ^ Linda Jaivin. "A Most Immoral Woman (2009)". Archived from the original on 25 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  11. ^ Jaivin, Linda (5 January 2010). "Linda Jaivin, A Most Immoral Woman". The Book Show (Interview). Interviewed by Ramona Koval. ABC Radio National. Retrieved 15 January 2014.

References[edit]

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