William Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil

William Shepherd Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil, GCMG, MC, PC, QC (10 August 1893 – 3 February 1961), was a British politician. He was a long-serving cabinet minister before serving as Speaker of the House of Commons from 1951 to 1959. He was then appointed as the 14th Governor-General of Australia, in office from 1960 until his death in 1961.

The Viscount Dunrossil
Morrison in 1956, when Speaker of the House of Commons
14th Governor-General of Australia
In office
2 February 1960  3 February 1961
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded bySir William Slim
Succeeded byLord De L'Isle
Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom
In office
31 October 1951  20 October 1959
Preceded byDouglas Clifton Brown
Succeeded bySir Harry Hylton-Foster
Ministerial positions
Postmaster General
In office
3 April 1940  7 February 1943
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterNeville Chamberlain
Winston Churchill
Preceded byGeorge Tryon
Succeeded byHarry Crookshank
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
29 January 1939  3 April 1940
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterNeville Chamberlain
Preceded byThe Earl Winterton
Succeeded byGeorge Tryon
Minister of Food
In office
4 September 1939  3 April 1940
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterNeville Chamberlain
Preceded byOffice Established
Charles McCurdy as Minister of Food Control, 1921
Succeeded byThe Lord Woolton
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
29 October 1936  29 January 1939
MonarchsEdward VIII
George VI
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Neville Chamberlain
Preceded byWalter Elliot
Succeeded bySir Reginald Dorman-Smith
Member of Parliament
for Cirencester and Tewkesbury
In office
30 May 1929  18 September 1959
Preceded byThomas Davies
Succeeded byNicholas Ridley
Personal details
Born(1893-08-10)10 August 1893
Torinturk, Argyll, Scotland
Died3 February 1961(1961-02-03) (aged 67)
Canberra, Australia
Resting placeSt John the Baptist Church, Reid
Political partyConservative
Katharine Swan
(m. 1924)
ChildrenFour, including John
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh

Morrison was the son of a Scottish farmer, born in the small village of Torinturk, Argyll. He attended George Watson's College and then went on to the University of Edinburgh; his studies were interrupted by World War I, where he served with the Royal Field Artillery and won the Military Cross. Training as a lawyer, Morrison was called to the bar in 1923 and began working as a private secretary to Thomas Inskip, the Solicitor General. After several previous attempts, he was elected to the House of Commons in 1929, representing a constituency in Gloucestershire for the Conservative Party.

In 1936, after several years as a junior minister, Morrison was made Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries by Stanley Baldwin. He also served as a minister under Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, including as Minister of Food (1939–1940), Postmaster General (1940–1943), and Minister of Town and Country Planning (1943–1945). Morrison was elevated to the speakership following the 1951 general election. He was praised for his impartiality, especially during the heated debate on the Suez Crisis, and was raised to the viscountcy when his term ended. Lord Dunrossil became governor-general in 1960, on the nomination of Robert Menzies, but served only a year before dying in office.

Early life

Morrison was born in Torinturk, Argyll, Scotland, the son of Marion (née McVicar) and John Morrison. His father was a farmer who had previously spent time working in South Africa's diamond industry. Morrison was educated at George Watson's College and the University of Edinburgh. He joined the British Army as an officer in the First World War and served with an artillery regiment in France, where he won the Military Cross.[1] In 1919 he left the Army with the rank of captain. He married Katharine Swan in 1924, with whom he had four sons.

Political career

Morrison was elected to the House of Commons as Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Cirencester and Tewkesbury in 1929. In Parliament he acquired the nickname "Shakes", from his habit of quoting from the works of William Shakespeare.

Government minister

Morrison had a long ministerial career under four Prime Ministers (Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill). He was:

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General 1931–35,
  • Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1935–36,
  • Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries 1936–39,
  • Minister of Food 1939–40,
  • Postmaster-General 1940–43
  • Minister for Town and Country Planning 1943–45.

Morrison was referred to in the book "Guilty Men" by Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard (writing under the pseudonym 'Cato'), published in 1940 as an attack on public figures for their failure to re-arm and their appeasement of Nazi Germany.[2] However, as noted in the diaries of Chips Channon, he was part of the Insurgents, the faction of the Conservative party that worked in secret against appeasement, to oust Chamberlain and replace him with Churchill ahead of the war.

Campaigning during the general election of 1945, Morrison attacked Socialism and pointed out that Hitler and Mussolini began as Socialists. He further claimed that although Labour objected to the Conservatives calling themselves 'National', the Conservatives had no objection in their opponents labelling themselves National-Socialists.[3] In 1947 he attacked identity cards which had been introduced during the war because he believed they were a nuisance to law-abiding people and also because the cards were ineffective.[4]

Speaker of the House of Commons

In 1951, when the Conservatives returned to power, Morrison was elected Speaker of the House of Commons. He was opposed by Labour MP Major James Milner, who said it was his party's turn to have a Speaker of the House. It was the first contested election for the post in the twentieth century. Morrison was elected in a vote on party lines.

Governor-General of Australia

Dunrossil and his wife in Canberra, 1960

Morrison held the post of Speaker until 1959, when he announced that he would not be contesting the forthcoming general election but retiring for reasons of health. As was customary for former Speakers, he was made a Viscount, taking the title Viscount Dunrossil, of Vallaquie in the Isle of North Uist and County of Inverness.[5] Given his health, it surprised many when it was announced shortly thereafter that he had been chosen to succeed Sir William Slim as Governor-General of Australia. He was also appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) that year.[6] By this time support for the idea of British governors-general was declining in Australia, but the Liberal Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, was determined to maintain the British link (and, in particular, the Scottish link).

Dunrossil took office on 2 February 1960. He was the first governor-general since Isaac Isaacs (1931–1936) to wear the full ceremonial vice-regal uniform, but despite this was known for having a more relaxed approach than his predecessor. Dunrossil suffered from ill health while in office, and his wife frequently deputised for him at ceremonial events. He suffered a pulmonary embolism on the morning of 3 February 1961, becoming the first and only governor-general to die in office. He was granted a state funeral, and buried at St John the Baptist Church, Reid. His Official Secretary throughout his term was Murray Tyrrell.[7]

Dunrossil was succeeded in the viscountcy by his son, John Morrison, 2nd Viscount Dunrossil, who was a career officer in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, holding several senior diplomatic appointments, including serving as Governor of Bermuda. He was proud to wear his father's vice-regal hat on formal occasions on the island colony.

Honours, decorations and arms

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG)1959[6]
Military Cross (MC)1915[1]
Knight of the Order of St John (KStJ)1960[8]
1914-15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medalwith palm for Mentioned in Dispatches
King George V Silver Jubilee Medal1935
King George VI Coronation Medal1937
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal1953

Morrison was unusual in having separate, and entirely different, grants of arms from both the College of Arms in England and the Lyon Court in Scotland.

Coat of arms of William Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil (except Scotland)
Earl Marshal’s Warrant 14 July 1952, Granted 14 August 1953. Agent Richmond Herald. Grants: 115 / 188.
A Viking galley with one mast and sail furled proper flying from the masthead a pennon Argent charged with a raven volant Sable.
Azure on a Pale Ermine between two Gannets reversed volant to the dexter their wings expanded palewise proper a representation of the Mace of the House of Commons Or.
An Tighnearna Mo Bhuachaille (The Lord is my Shepherd)[9]
Coat of arms of William Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil (in Scotland)
Petition to Lord Lyon 17 December 1959, matriculated 18 April 1960. (College of Arms: Scotland IV 143).


Coronet of a Viscount
Issuant from waves of the Sea Azure crested Argent a Mount Vert thereon an embattled Wall Azure masoned Argent charged with a Portcullis Or and issuant therefrom a Cubit Arm naked proper the hand grasping a Dagger Azure hilted Or
Per bend sinister Gules and Argent a Demi-Lion rampant issuant Or armed and langued Azure holding in his paws a Battleaxe the Shaft curved of the third and the Axehead of the fourth in chief and in base issuant from the Sea undy Vert and Or a Tower Sable Windows and Port Or over all a Bend sinister embattled Azure charged with an Open Crown Or jewelled Gules between two Fleurs-de-lys Argent; within a Bordure Vert for difference.
On either side a Lion regardant Or armed and langued Gules collared Vert supporting between the exterior forepaw and interior hindpaw a Battleaxe Azure the shaft embowed
Above the Crest: Teaghlach Phabbay (The household or family of Phabbay); Below the Shield: An Tighnearna Mo Bhuachaille (The Lord is my Shepherd)


  1. "No. 29131". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 April 1915. p. 3694.
  2. Cato (1940). Guilty men. London: V. Gollancz. OCLC 301463537.
  3. R. B. McCallum and A. Readman, The British General Election of 1945 (Oxford, 1947), p. 144.
  4. "Identity cards in the UK – a lesson from history". Statewatch News online. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  5. "No. 41867". The London Gazette. 13 November 1959. p. 7155.
  6. "No. 41917". The London Gazette. 1 January 1960. p. 79.
  7. Carroll, Brian (2004). Australia's Governors-General: From Hopetoun to Jeffery. Rosenberg. pp. 131–135. ISBN 1877058211.
  8. "No. 42108". The London Gazette. 2 August 1960. p. 5326.
  9. "Speaker Morrison, 1951-1959. English arms". Baz Manning. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  10. "Speaker Morrison, portrait armorial name plate. Scottish arms". Baz Manning. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
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