1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Morrison, George Ernest

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

MORRISON, GEORGE ERNEST (1862-1920), British traveller and journalist, Peking correspondent of The Times from 1897 until 1912, when he resigned to become political adviser to Yuan Shih-k'ai, president of the newly proclaimed Chinese republic, was born at Geelong, Victoria, Australia. He displayed early in life a love of adventurous wandering and an insatiable curiosity concerning every phase and aspect of human affairs. Until his service with The Times obliged him to establish his headquarters at Peking, which he came in time to regard as his home, his career was an unbroken series of journeys, in which his love of adventure on unbeaten tracks was usually combined with some practical purpose of exploration. Thus, in 1882, he studied the Kanaka labour question in the South Sea Islands as a sailor before the mast. Later in the same year he crossed Australia on foot, from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne, covering 2,043 m. in 123 days. His next journey, to New Guinea, nearly cost him his life; he returned from it with two spear-heads in his body, which were eventually removed by Professor Cheyne at Edinburgh, under whom Morrison concluded his medical studies. In 1887 he took his M.D. and C.M. degrees, but the life of a medical practitioner had no attractions for him. After journeys to the United States and the West Indies he worked for a time in his medical capacity, first at the Rio Tinto mines in Spain and then as court physician to the shereef of Wazan in Morocco. From 1890-2 he was in charge of the hospital at Ballarat. In 1893, wearying of routine work, he set out to travel in the Far East; in the following year he made a journey overland from Shanghai to Rangoon, and described it in a work entitled An Australian in China (1895). This journey laid the foundation of his reputation and led to the engagement of his services by The Times. In Nov. 1895 he went as special Times correspondent to Siam, where the French Government's claims in the region of the Mekong valley had necessitated negotiations for an agreement with Great Britain. Here he did excellent work; in Feb. 1897 he accepted the appointment offered him by The Times as resident correspondent at Peking, and for the rest of his life all his work and interests became centred in China. He never attained to any degree of proficiency in the Chinese language, but in the course of numerous journeys during the ensuing 20 years he visited every province and dependency of the Empire, with the exception of Tibet, and acquired an intimate knowledge of men and affairs in every part of the country. In 1907 he travelled from Peking to the borders of Tonquin, and three years later from Central China to Russian Turkestan. During the siege of Peking legations by the Boxers in 1900 he displayed conspicuous gallantry and initiative, and was specially mentioned in despatches by Sir Claude Macdonald. In Jan. 1905 he was present at the triumphal entry of the Japanese army into Port Arthur, and subsequently represented The Times at the Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth.

At the outset of the revolutionary movement in China (Oct. 1911) Dr. Morrison frankly proclaimed his sympathy with the Republican programme of Sun Yat-sen and the Cantonese Radicals, and advocated the abdication of the Manchu dynasty. In Aug. 1912, six months after the abdication, he became one of several foreign advisers engaged by the Chinese Government, with special duties as political adviser to President Yuan. When, during the stormy period between 1913 and 1916, it became evident that Yuan Shih-k'ai intended to restore the monarchy in his own person, there were occasions when Dr. Morrison's position was somewhat delicate, because of the prominent part which he had played as an advocate of Republicanism, but his unfailing tact and good humour, combined with his unquestionable devotion to the best interests of China, enabled him to fill this difficult position and to retain the goodwill and respect even of those who differed from his political opinions. For nearly 20 years his modernized Chinese house, with its famous library of works on China, was a place of pilgrimage for travellers in the Far East, and “Morrison of Peking” was a name familiar in all parts of the world. He died at Sidmouth May 30 1920.