Morris Miller

Edmund Morris Miller (1881-1964), M.A.  Litt. D. 

  • Honorary member of LAA/ALIA 1958

Obituary in The Australian Library Journal  March 1965, pp41-42 by P.R. Eldershaw

Anyone who studied at the University of Tasmania between 1913 and 1951 must have felt the presence of Morris Miller; some (like myself) were lucky enough to be in personal touch with him as his students in philosophy, ethics or psychology.  A few people have the secret of life­ long youth. "Mossy" Miller had  it,  and this was part of the reason for his popularity among that long procession of undergraduates who sat at his feet: most of all perhaps among those inclined to take advantage of his unfailingly sunny temperament and his well-known reluctance to fail anybody.

My contacts with him continued after we both had left the University (I as B.A., he as Emeritus Professor), and I came more to appreciate not only his kindness and warmth,  but the sweep of his interests.  His work on Australian literature had given him a concern with the history of Tasmania, some of the fruits of which are to be found in Pressmen and Governors.  And he was among the first  to realize the significance of the proper management of the State's records; his influence was probably decisive in the appointment of the first full-time archivist in 1919. From then until his death he took a deep and well-informed interest in the development of the State Archives.

Morris Miller was born in Natal in 1881 but was brought by his parents to Melbourne eighteen months later.  From Wesley College he went to Melbourne University, where he graduated in 1904 and took his Master's degree two years later.  Work on Kant, on whom he was to become a specialist, won him his doctorate from Melbourne in 1918.

He began his library career in 1900 when he joined the staff of the Public Library of Victoria. The active part which he played in library affairs in the State is recorded in Some Public Library Memories (Typescript,  1954). In 1902 he became a member of the original Library Association of Australasia.  Ten years later, with A. E. McMicken he was responsible for founding the Library Association of Victoria, and he became its first chairman.  His forward-looking view of the importance of libraries is demonstrated in his pamphlet Libraries and Education, 1912.  In 1928 Sir William Sowden sought his co-operation in securing the support of the States for a meeting held in Melbourne to discuss the formation of a new Australia­ wide library association.  This meeting resulted in the foundation of the Australian Library Association.

More than any other man Morris Miller deserves the remembrance of the University of Tasmania. He became Associate Professor in 1925, Professor in 1928 and at the same time held the post of Vice-Chancellor from 1933 to 1945. Besides, he was Librarian for more than twenty years. He watched and nursed the progress of the university from its impecunious infancy to the beginning of the post-war explosion; he never knew the affIuence of the academics of the 'sixties, nor the comfort and convenience of their campuses. But one of his Tasmanian memorials is the unmatchable Sandy Bay university site, the securing of which he was so largely responsible for.

Outside the University his services were considerable: Chairman of the old Tasmanian Public Library Trustees for seventeen years; President of the Board of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institute; Patron of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association from its foundation: in all these he was energetic, but most important of all these extra-university involvements was his work as Chairman of the Mental Deficiency Board.  Here he was an Australian pioneer, and his draft legislation and imaginative administration represent a contribution to which no-one has paid adequate tribute. But the good opinion of his colleagues and those he taught meant more to him than civil honours.

All this, of course, was beyond the work was beyond the work for which librarians will remember Morris Miller. His bibliography of Australian literature, first published in 1940, remains the standard work, and it is remarkable that the research for it was finished in about six years of spare time.  In taking over the conception from Sir John Quick, he matured an early enthusiasm for Australian nationalism.  “Australia” he wrote “has reached a period in her national development when it is worthwhile to place on record what Australians, within and beyond their own country, have contributed to the world of book-writing.”  Here Morris Miller combined his talents in history and philosophical classification with the bibliophile’s passion for accuracy and comprehensiveness, and the work gains unity throughout from his sense of literary judgement.

In 1958 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Library Association of Australia “in recognition of his noteworthy services to librarianship and in furthering the objects of the Association”. 

Librarians share with many other humanitarians their debt to a many-sided scholar.

Honorary Member Morris Miller.  The Australian Library Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, January 1959, p. 34. Professor Morris Miller.

Born in NataI in 1881 and educated at Wesley College and the University of Melbourne, Morris Miller began his career as a librarian in 1900 when he joined the staff of the Public Library of Victoria. The active part which he played in library affairs in the state is recorded in "Some Public Library Memories” (Typescript, 1954). In 1902 he became a member of the original Library Association of Australia.  Ten years later, with A.E. McMicken , he was responsible for founding the Library Association of Victoria and he became its first Chairman.  Following a visit to Europe in 1908-9, he delivered a number of lectures on the function of the library which were remarkable for their imaginative and progressive approach to library problems.  It is particularly noteworthy that in these lectures he strongly advocated the development of inter-library loan services similar to those operating in Europe and the United States some nineteen years before the first inter-library loan agreement was reached by the University libraries.

In 1913 Morris Miller was appointed Lecturer in Mental and Moral Science in the University of Tasmania, where he subsequently held the positions of Professor of Psychology and Vice-Chancellor – the latter from 1933 to 1946.  During his term as Vice-Chancellor, the academic status of the University was advanced substantially, and it was due to his foresight that the Sandy Bay Rifle Range was acquired as a site for the new University which is now in course of construction.  For several years he conducted research and lectures on mental testing and as a result of a visit to the United States in 1921 to study the institutional care of mental defectives he was appointed Director of the State Psychological Clinic and Chairman of the Mental deficiency Board. Both of these positions he held for more than twenty years.

In 1928 Sir William Sowden sought his co-operation in securing the support of the states for a meeting held in Melbourne to discuss the formation of a new Australia­wide library association. This meeting resulted  in the  foundation of the Australian Library Association.

When he left Victoria to accept an academic appointment, Morris Miller thought he had left his library work behind him, but this was not the case. At the time, the library at the University of Tasmania was in a very sorry state.  Morris Miller’s assistance was solicited for the organisation and expansion of the library, and he carried most of the responsibility for its development until a fill-time librarian was appointed in 1945.

His interest in libraries led to his appointment, in 1917, to the Board of the Tasmanian Public Library, and he held the office of Chairman from 1923 until the reconstitution of the state services in 1943.  As Chairman, he was instrumental in acquiring the valuable Walker Collection of Australiana for the State Library.  The story of his connection with libraries in Tasmania is told in “Some Tasmanian Library Memories: (Library Opinion, Feb-June 1954).

While he was in Victoria, Morris Miller’s studies in imperial policy brought him into touch with Sir John Quick who, as a result of the intense patriotism, was inspired with the wish to develop in Australians a feeling of pride in their literary heritage.  When nearing his 80th year, Quick began collecting data for a universal Australian bibliography.  Finding the field too large, he narrowed it to pure literature.  Shortly afterwards he died, and the work was taken over by Morris Miller, who had already been assisting him with it.  The complete work, entitled “Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935:  a bibliographical and descriptive survey” was published in 1940 with a grant in aid from the Commonwealth Government.  It was never intended as an exhaustive record of Australian Literature, but was designed as a popular guide which would show the range and scope of a wide variety of works, and give a picture of the development of creative writing in this country.

The compilation of the bibliography was fraught with difficulties. It was financed on a shoestring, and it was only through his visits to the capital cities as Vice Chancellor that Morris Miller was able to have access to the material in the other states.  Also, at that time the major Australian libraries collected novels by Australian writers only if they were received under the Copyright Acts, or dealt with Australia, and so he spent many hours travelling around the suburbs of capital cities, searching for secondhand shops which might hide some Australiana, particularly fiction.  Most of the books which he collected in the course of his searches are now in the State Library of Tasmania. 

Although a revised edition of “Australian Literature” edited F.T. Macartney, was published in 1956, it differs in many respects from the original, and by no means supersedes it.

The great variety of his publications and of the positions which he has held bears witness to the enormous range of Morris Miller’s activities.  His interest in archives led to the publication of “Pressmen and Governors” (1952), and he has contributed numerous monographs and articles in the fields of literature, philosophy, psychology and politics.

Among the honours conferred on him are those of Emeritus Professor of the University of Tasmania; Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters; Honorary Member of the Australian Humanities Research Council and Fellow of the British Psychological Society; and at the present time he is Patron of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association and of the Tasmanian Fellowship of Australian writers.