The grave of Viscount Dunrossil

St John's churchyard has been the final resting place to many of Canberra's pioneers and former residents. Occupations of those buried range over the years from sawyer, ploughman, shoemaker, shepherd, wheelwright, stonemason, farmer, grazier, printer, bricklayer, engine driver, public servant, surveyor, architect, military officer and Governor-General.

 

The churchyard was officially closed to burials in 1937, but between 1920 and 1937, £2 could buy an Exclusive Right of Burial Certificate. This most often meant that those who had relatives already buried there could be buried with them.

The Cemeteries Ordinance of 1933 left specific provision for 'such exceptions and qualifications as the Minister thinks fit'. This was fortunate, because in 1961 an extremely qualified candidate needed a place. William Shepherd Morrison, widely known as "Shakes" for his habit of quoting Shakespeare, was born in Argyllshire, Scotland, in 1893.

 

A scholar of Edinburgh University and a decorated veteran of the First World War, he became a barrister before entering the British Parliament as the Conservative member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury. After a distinguished political career, including as Speaker of the House of Commons from 1951 to 1959, he retired due to ill health.

It would seem that quiet retirement did not suit him, because the following year he became the 14th Governor-General of Australia.

Viscount Dunrossil was sworn in on February 3, 1960. Despite a propensity for ostentatious outfits and fierce expressions, he was, by many accounts, a pleasant and good-humoured man, whose ill-health unfortunately meant that after a cracking start, he was unable to engage fully with his role. Lady Dunrossil often stood in for him.

Viscount Dunrossil's untimely demise at only 67, one year and a day after he was sworn in, caused not only significant personal grief to his widow, family and staff, but consternation among public officials. A governor-general had never previously (or in fact since) died whilst in office. Arrangements were quickly made with direct input from the prime minister and one of Canberra's most famous public servants, Sir Geoffrey Yeend.

It was reported in The Canberra Times that the funeral for Viscount Dunrossil was "...one of the saddest in Canberra's short history, but mixed with the sadness was a pride - a pride that a man of such qualities as Viscount Dunrossil had so loved Canberra that his widow had known she would be following his wishes in allowing him to be buried here, so becoming forever part of a growing city in a growing country." In 1983 the ashes of Lady Dunrossil were brought from the UK and were interred into the grave.

  • from ACT's Archives

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