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Morgan, James (1816–1878)

by B. A. Knox

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

James Morgan (1816-1878), newspaper proprietor and politician, was born on 29 September 1816 in Longford, Ireland, son of Michael Morgan, a farmer descended from an Anglican family. Educated at Miss Edgeworth's private school, he followed agricultural pursuits and in 1835-38 was a surveyor in Wales. He sailed in the Palestine and reached Sydney on 14 March 1841. He went north to Broken Bay, hoping to join the squatting boom, and by 1845 was manager of a property on the Namoi. This experience enabled him to continue north to the Darling Downs where in 1849 he managed the Gammie brothers' Talgai station. In 1854 Morgan leased Crow's Nest station but failed within the year and returned to management in 1855. At Sydney in 1848 he had married Kate Barton (d.1907), also from Ireland.

Morgan never succeeded as an independent squatter. In 1860 he bought a small property, Summerhill, near Warwick, and entered the civil service as inspector of stock for the Darling Downs. His chief task was to prevent the importation of diseased stock, but he antagonized squatters of the kind that he presumably had wished to be. They forced his resignation in 1867, an event which completed Morgan's severance from pastoral ambition. It also precipitated him into a career of journalism and politics in which he advocated a land policy favouring the small agricultural selector. He was mayor of Warwick in 1867-68 when he bought the Warwick Argus in opposition to the Warwick Examiner and Times.

Morgan's editorials were sharp and aggressive. His principal target was the dummying which many large squatters practised after the 1868 Land Act, but bitterness led him often into intemperance. He was more persuasive when advocating the need to elect for Warwick constituency a member who would seek protection for agriculture and such public works as would benefit the increasing population of farmers and shopkeepers. This programme won him the seat in 1870 against G. J. E. Clark. Next year Morgan, a Freemason, seriously offended many Roman Catholics and was beaten by Clark's brother, Charles, after a close contest.

Morgan returned to the legislature unopposed in 1873 but soon showed that attacks on property had no place in his agrarianism. He strongly opposed free selection before survey and supported the fairly conservative Land Act of 1876. He was chairman of committees in 1874-78 but as member for Warwick was disappointing. He added to his failures by helping to form the Darling Downs Farmers' Co-operative Association which lasted but two years. Though weakened by a severe liver disease he contested Warwick again in 1878, but his record and personality were against him and so was the increased urban population of Warwick; he lost heavily to Jacob Horwitz, store-keeper and miller. In June he had transferred the Argus to his sons. He died on 29 November from the effects of a fall from a steamer in Brisbane, survived by his wife, six daughters and five sons, including Arthur, later premier of Queensland. He was paid tribute at his funeral in Warwick by 1200 locals and by the premier and government officials.

Select Bibliography

  • D. B. Waterson, ‘A Darling Downs quartet’, Queensland Heritage, Nov 1967
  • Warwick Argus, 5 Dec 1878.

Citation details

B. A. Knox, 'Morgan, James (1816–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-james-4245/text6855, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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