John Morris

John Morris (1902-1956).   

Obituary Australian Library Journal, vol. 5, no. 3, July 1956, pp. 91-92.

The Honourable Sir John Demetrius Morris, K.C. M.G., M.A., LL.B., died suddenly at his home in Hobart on 3rd July.  A man of considerable mark, we regret his death at only  fifty-three years not only as a sad blow to Australia and particularly to his adopted State, Tasmania, but also an extremely severe loss to our Association.

Since its reconstitution in 1949 the Library Association of Australia has had the inestimable benefit of having its destinies directed by a succession of two famous Australians, Sir John Latham and Sir John Morris.

It has undoubtedly been of tremendous value in terms of prestige to have such well­ known and respected public figures as our Presidents, but we may be assured that in each case there has been more than the mere lending of an important name to our Presidency or the formal occupation of a nominal office. Both our Sir Johns, and our almost inevitable use of the possessive is perhaps unconscious evidence of it, have demonstrated a keen interest in the Association, a real desire to participate, not only by advising on matters of policy but even by directing their judicially trained minds to details of constitution and management in which we could by no means have required or even dared to hope for their assistance. We have honoured them for their achievements, felt grateful for the sincerity of their interest and appreciated very deeply the warmth of their friendship. It is all the more tragic to us then that we should have lost one of them so soon.

Sir John Morris had a most distinguished career and it is undoubtedly a measure of his talents as of his determination and capacity for work that, by the age when men of quality are normally just beginning to play a leading part in the direction of affairs, he had already established what amounted to a monopoly of the high places in his State.

Chief Justice of Tasmania at only 38 he was knighted at 41 and created a KCMG at only 50 years. Chancellor of the University of Tasmania at perhaps the most difficult period of its existence he found time nevertheless to act as Chairman both of the State Library Board and of the Adult Education Board. The Presidency of the Royal Lifesaving Society was but one of his further associations and yet another pledge of his devotion to the public service.

Like all men of quality Sir John had the capacity to feel deeply about matters he considered fundamental.  Unlike many, however, he coupled with this attribute the ability to express himself clearly and forcibly on these issues and to convey his conviction and his enthusiasm to others.

It seems clear that to this more than to any other single factor is due the present advanced stage of free library provision in Tasmania, a situation which both in achievement and in promise reflects considerable credit upon the smallest and least rich of the Australian States and compares more than favourably with that in more than one of her mainland sisters.

This Journal was proud to print in full Sir John Morris' address to the Victorian Branch just two years ago, but no mere print can express the sincerity with which he spoke of the place of libraries in society or the impressiveness of his argument that our professional standing as librarians depends now on University recognition of our craft. How sad it is that he was not able to attend the recent meeting of Federal Council to hear our Vice-President report, at last, the official acceptance of this view by our own Board of Examination. This address in Melbourne was one of three occasions only on which Sir John addressed us;  the Brisbane meeting last year one of but two at which he presided over our counsels. It is again a measure of the man, his ability and his personality, that on so short an acquaintance we have appreciated his full worth.

If we may generalise even further from our all too short experience of Sir John Morris perhaps it would be fair to say that he was even more impressive when he spoke without preparation.  Leaving aside his charmingly efficient direction of the business of Council and Conference, an efficiency and charm which his predecessor had probably established in our minds as the norm for such occasions, we shall probably never forget the earnest feeling of his closing remarks in Brisbane.

Here was revealed to us a man to whom the improvement of his fellows was very dear and whom no cant or convention prevented from speaking openly of his convictions. If we may take some little consolation in our loss perhaps it is that Sir John was spared to attend and preside over our Conference in Brisbane in August last; not only because his able direction of business contributed so much to its success, nor even because we were privileged to hear his quite moving confession of faith in the library as an agency for the betterment of man, but because so many of us were able to meet him informally and enjoy the full measure of his humanity.

That we had the privilege of his experience lends added sincerity to our expression of sympathy to Lady Morris.

CA McCallum