Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Morgan, John (1792–1866)

by Michael Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Morgan (1792?-1866), soldier, public servant and publicist, was born at Petersfield, near Portsmouth, England. He received a commission in the Royal Marines on 25 July 1812 and soon served in Spain. His battalion sailed to North America in May 1813, first fighting in the southern United States and thence moving to Canada. Morgan acquitted himself with distinction. At the war's end he returned to England and half-pay. He married and had at least one child, named, as was her mother, Rebecca. In 1823 Morgan wrote The Emigrant's Note Book and Guide … (London, 1824). Surveying the major British colonies, he urged Canada's advantages. Events thwarted his own plans to settle there; instead he became agent in south Wales for the Canada Land Co. This post he forsook late in 1828 on appointment as store-keeper in the original establishment at Swan River.

At Perth he became also magistrate, justice of the peace, and barracks master. He wrote many letters to Robert Hay describing the colony's progress. Hay's influence with Viscount Goderich won Morgan an offer of the police magistracy at Richmond, Van Diemen's Land, and he assumed this post late in 1834. Because Morgan believed that his debts disqualified him from paid offices, and hoped to earn more outside the public service, he resigned within three years as magistrate and a commissioner of the Court of Requests. But his position worsened, the sale of his land grant at Swan River fell through, and the British Treasury declared that his accounts as store-keeper showed a deficit of £800. Morgan argued that this 'debt' arose from the confusion inevitable in a colony's early years. However just his claim, the £800 shadowed his life henceforth. He sought many government jobs without success and finally the Crown resumed his Swan River land in compensation.

On leaving his official post Morgan became first a farmer, then a journalist. He was foundation editor of the Hobart Town Advertiser (1839), worked briefly on the Tasmanian, then began the Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch (1839-41). Meanwhile he had become secretary of the Hobart Mechanics' Institute, and of the Licensed Victuallers' Society, in whose interest he edited the Morning Advertiser (1841) and issued two directories (1840, 1847). He launched, with little success, a commercial exchange and an immigration agency. In 1846-51 he edited the Britannia and Trades' Advocate and for the next two years was secretary of the Hobart School of Arts. Intermittently he acted as agent for whatever business might offer.

As journalist and man of affairs Morgan expounded liberal-cum-transcendental ideas with variety, force, and flair. An advocate of colonial self-government, he was the litigant in 1847 in a test case wherein the local judiciary declared a dog-tax illegal, thus embarrassing the executive. He urged thorough reform of the British legal system and of the treatment of criminals. Thus he opposed transportation and denounced conditions in local gaols as well as in hospitals and lunatic asylums. Belief in the power of education showed especially in his connexion with the School of Arts. Morgan was unique among Australian contemporaries in his abuse of what he regarded as imperialist filibustering by Britain in the Middle East, China, India and New Zealand. He upheld the idea of a 'Universal Church', which would establish a new ethic of 'practical humanity'. His encouragement of benefit societies expressed this attitude and so did his dislike of episcopacy in both Anglican and Roman churches. Morgan fostered Hobart's Orange Lodge from 1846, and encouraged the supporters of John Joseph Therry in that priest's dispute with Bishop Robert Willson.

Agriculture and anthropology were other studies that illuminated his Western Australian letters and his whole life. Morgan collaborated with his subject to write The Life and Adventures of William Buckley … (Hobart, 1852), in which he described the Australian Aboriginals as 'generally treacherous, cowardly, and mere creatures holding the link in the chain of animal life between the man and the monkey'. Morgan died at the Hobart General Hospital on 22 April 1866, in his seventy-fourth year.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Morgan, Memorial: To the Right Honorable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, the Right Honorable the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, and to Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Right Honorable Earl Grey
  • The Humble Memorial of John Morgan, now Resident in Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, and One of the Coroners of the Territory (Hob, 1849).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Morgan, John (1792–1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-john-2479/text3331, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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