The news of the death of Dr Alexander Morrison, which occurred in a painfully sudden manner last evening, will be read with unfeigned regret by thousands of his friends and admirers throughout Australia. As a head master who equipped over six thousand pupils for the battle of life, and won the respect and esteem of each one, Dr Morrison occupied a unique position in the scholastic world of Australasia and the abrupt termination of his career, occurring at a time when, though full of years, his intellect was unimpaired and his industry undiminished, must be regarded as a public loss.
The members of Dr Morrison's family were as unprepared for the news of his death as were the general public. He seemed in the best of health, and no complaint of illness was made by him until the very moment of his death. A few days ago Dr Morrison appeared before the University Commission, and gave exhaustive evidence on the question of University administration. His last appearance in public was at the reception given to the officers of the Japanese fleet by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and on that occasion he gave no sign of failing health, though doubtless the organic malady which caused his death was even then present.
Yesterday morning Dr Morrison attended divine worship at Scots Church. He had a cheery word and a handshake for his old friends, and after the service he attended a meeting of kirk elders. During the afternoon he walked through the Fitzroy gardens with his grandchildren, apparently as well as ever. His daughter Mrs. E. I. Robson, and Mr. Bryce, a friend called to see him in the evening, and he entertained them in his study. At about half past 6 o'clock Dr. Morrison, who was sitting in his favourite chair, was seen to suddenly fall back without uttering a word, and become unconscious. A message was sent immediately to Dr. Dunbar Hooper, who, impressed with the urgency of the case, arrived at the house within a very few minutes. Meanwhile efforts had been made to revive the stricken man, but without avail and on Mr Hooper's arrival he could only confirm the worst forebodings. Death must have occurred within a few seconds of the seizure. It is supposed that it was attributable to failure of the heart's action, or to an apoplectic seizure, but no definite opinion could be given. The fact that his brother, Dr. George Morrison, of Geelong, died in a precisely similar manner about five years ago, while sitting in a chair and that his death was the result of heart failure, would incline towards the former view. Though apparently robust, Dr Alexander Morrison was during the course of a long life visited by almost every known complaint. He suffered from an attack of small pox when a boy in Scotland and had a severe attack of colonial fever shortly after arriving in Australia. These illnesses, it is supposed, left a constitutional weakness which led to his sudden demise.
The deceased gentleman was one of a family of eight sons and two daughters, and was born in 1829. His father was Mr. Donald Morrison, a farmer and contractor living in Morayshire. The sons all showed an eager desire to acquire knowledge, and each one might have said with Bacon, "I have taken all learning to be my province." All entered the University of Aberdeen, and after graduating joined either the church or the teaching profession. The only survivor is the youngest, Mr Robert Morrison who is now mathematical master at the Scotch College. Four of the brothers, including Alexander Morrison, received the degree of LL. D.
His first appointment was a rector of a school in Hamilton, near Glasgow. While teaching there in 1856, some three years after leaving the University he received the offer of an appointment as head master of the Scotch College, Melbourne. The first head master, Mr. Robert Lawson, who took charge of the school at its foundation in 1851, died, and a commission was appointed in Melbourne and sent to Scotland to select his successor. Their choice fell upon Dr. Thomas Morrison, an older and, at that time more distinguished brother, who was rector of a training college in Glasgow. He declined the appointment, however, and the commission determined to keep the choice in the family, approached Dr. Donald Morrison, rector of the Glasgow Academy, who returned a like answer. With a pertinacity equal to that of Jacob when he toiled for the daughter of Laban, the commission offered the appointment to Dr. Alexander Morrison, who accepted it. Accompanied by his brother, Mr. Robert Morrison, he sailed for Australia, arriving in Melbourne on July 26, 1857. He commenced his task in the following August, and, with the exception of a few months in 1875, which he spent on a holiday trip to his native land, he remained at his post until his death.
In those days the Scotch College had yet a name to make for itself. When Dr. Morrison arrived to take charge, he found a small school of about 50 day boys and six boarders. The school buildings had not reached anything like the splendid proportions that they assumed later, but, such as they were, containing only two school-rooms, they had been erected at a cost of £10,000. Stonemasons in those days received £2 per day, and carpenters and bricklayers were equally well paid. When Dr. Morrison arrived the only master at the school was Mr. G. Wilson Brown, who in after years became secretary for Education, and later on was appointed clerk of the Executive Council.
During the ensuing 46 years Dr. Morrison had a greater number of pupils through his hands than any teacher in Australia before or since. The first boy entered on the roll of the college was Mr. J. D. Law, manager of the Bank of Victoria, and at later dates occur the names of men whose names have already been written, or will be written in the pages of Australian history. Many of them are to be found to-day throughout the Commonwealth, in every profession and walk of life. The state Treasurer, Mr. Shiels, was an old Scotch College boy, and received his training at the hands of Dr. Morrison. So did Mr. Justice Hood, Professor Harper, Professor Watson, Colonel Price, and scores of Australia's public men. Mr G. H. Reid was at one time a pupil of the college, though only for a few months.
Dr. Morrison's work was not merely that of supervision. He taught constantly, and took an active interest in the welfare of his pupils, which did not cease when the doors of the college closed behind them. There were none more eager than Dr. Morrison to secure employment for boys on leaving school, or whose efforts were more successful; for it was recognised that those upon whom the hall-mark of the college had been placed were to be depended upon as worthy pupils of a worthy master. It is impossible to dissociate the name of Dr. Morrison form that of the college where he spent nearly the whole of his life. His unfailing success with his boys was shared to an extent by the masters who were associated with him, and who appeared to be drawn to this centre of learning from every quarter of the compass. Among those who have since earned some distinction in the scholastic world may be mentioned the names of Messrs. James Smith, J. McIntosh, A. B. Weigall (head master of Sydney Grammar School), D. Petrie (inspector of education, New Zealand), S. Summers (inspector of schools), John Garbutt (Ballarat College), the late Mr Alex. Sutherland, and Dr. McArthur.
Outside his life as a teacher Dr. Morrison was ever to the fore in matters involving the spread and encouragement of education. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Education which sat for several months in 1866, under the chairmanship of the late Chief Justice Higinbotham. The commission drew up a report favouring denominational education, which was, however, rejected by Parliament in the following session.
Dr. Morrison had claim to some distinction as the oldest member of the University Council. His election took place in July, 1878, a year prior to that of Sir John Madden. His appointment was for life, and was made before the passing of the act limiting the tenure of office. He took a deep and practical interest in University matters and was perhaps the most regular attendant at the council meetings. It was mainly through his efforts that Ormond College was established and his services were recognised at the founding of the institution when he was appointed chairman of the first council of the college, a position he continued to fill until his death. His interest in the college was unremitting, and it was largely through his instrumentality that the institution received its first subscription of £300 from the late Mr. Francis Ormond, and awakened in that gentleman a growing interest, which culminated in the donation of a magnificent bequest of £40,000, which covered the cost of the erection of the building.
Dr. Morrison's abilities were not directed towards the publication of books. Some years ago, however, he published a public school Latin grammar, which found general acceptance in Australia. As an instance of his unflagging energy it may be stated that only a few weeks ago he was engaged in the correction of proofs of a new edition of the work.
As a citizen and a churchman Dr. Morrison will be equally regretted. He was severely orthodox in his religious views, and he used all his energies as an elder to preserve the purity of the Presbyterian Church in Australia, and to keep it true to the traditions of the parent church. His genial good nature and generosity of heart made him many friends and no enemies. His wife whose maiden name was Miss Christina Fraser, died in 1883 and he leaves a family of four sons and three daughters. The sons have all shown conspicuous ability in the various professions which they have chosen. Mr. Alexander Morrison, barrister at law, is a scholar, linguist, musician and traveller. His other sons are Mr. J. S. Morrison, Mr. Herbert Morrison, both squatters, and Mr. Howard Morrison, a Melbourne merchant. His daughters are Mrs. E. F. Mitchell, Mrs. E. I. Robson and Mrs. G. Pigott.
'Morrison, Alexander (1829–1903)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/morrison-alexander-4254/text25281, accessed 22 May 2013.
Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 September 1888, p 444