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Morgan, Sir Arthur (1856–1916)

by Rod Kirkpatrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Sir Arthur Morgan (1856-1916), newspaper proprietor and premier, was born on 19 September 1856 at Rosenthal station, Warwick, Queensland, son of James Morgan and his wife Kate, née Barton, both Irish born. Arthur's schooling in the Warwick district was cut short when his father bought the Warwick Argus newspaper and printing business on 1 June 1868. Arthur learned the trade from back room to front office. By 18 he was manager, as his father's responsibilities in the Legislative Assembly took him away increasingly from 1873. A justice of the peace before he was 20, Arthur became editor and, with his brother, proprietor of the Argus a few months before his father died in 1878. The paper became a bi-weekly publication from 26 August 1879, and a month later moved into new commodious premises. On 26 July 1880 Arthur married Alice Augusta Clinton at Warwick with Church of England rites. By August 1888 the Argus was asserting that its circulation bordered on one thousand each issue, double that of its competitor, the Examiner and Times.

Arthur Morgan entered politics at the local level in 1885 when elected to the Warwick Municipal Council; he served as mayor in 1886-90 and 1898. On 18 July 1887 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Warwick and represented this electorate until 4 April 1896 when he stood aside to allow T. J. Byrnes to pursue the premiership via the seat. He was chairman of the royal commission on local government that year. Morgan regained Warwick on 2 October 1898 at the by-election after Byrnes's death and, enjoying 'the confidence of all parties', served the assembly as Queensland's first native-born Speaker from May 1899 until September 1903. He resigned after a series of dramatic political events surrounding the defeat of the Philp government. Labor leader W. H. Browne, unable to form a government, recommended that the governor send for Morgan. Drawing on support from the 'Darling Downs bunch' (seceders from (Sir) Robert Philp), he formed a composite group from farming representatives, liberal progressives and the Labor Party.

When the Morgan-Browne coalition ministry was sworn in on 17 September 1903, one commentator noted that the member for Warwick had before him a particular opportunity for performing 'a master stroke of statesmanship'. Morgan became premier, chief secretary and secretary for railways. The coalition was returned overwhelmingly in 1904. It was responsible for the mildly progressive Income Tax Amendment Act of 1904 and introduced the franchise for women in State elections. According to T. O'Sullivan, Morgan was a dignified, courteous and sensitive man who became 'thoroughly disillusioned' by the hurly-burly, factionalism and strife of parliamentary politics. He relinquished the premiership, accepting the presidency of the Legislative Council from 19 January 1906 after the death of Sir Hugh Nelson. William Kidston became premier.

In 1907, about the time he was knighted, Morgan effectively stepped aside as editor of the Warwick Argus. For nearly thirty years he had followed a moderately liberal political line. Never a member of the Queensland Club, actively identified with agricultural and acclimatization bodies, he compared city people to drones who were simply useful machines for paying taxes. It was the miner, pastoralist and farmer who produced the wealth on which the city people lived and grew fat.

Morgan released his reins on the Argus overtly in 1910 when he ceased to be sole proprietor and became chairman of directors of Warwick Argus Ltd, which was incorporated on 4 June with a capital of £8000. Andrew Dunn and sons bought the paper on 31 March 1914.

On Kidston's recommendation, in 1907 the governor Lord Chelmsford reluctantly appointed Morgan—'the lesser evil of the two', who was still close to politics—lieutenant-governor, by-passing (Sir) Pope Cooper. Morgan deputized in 1907 and 1908 during Chelmsford's absences and, in 1909 and 1914, was lieutenant-governor on the retirement of governors Chelmsford and Sir William MacGregor. He was still president of the Legislative Council when he died at his Brisbane residence, Clinton, Upper Paddington, on 20 December 1916 after a long illness; he was buried in Toowong cemetery after a state funeral and service at St John's Anglican Cathedral. His estate was valued for probate at £8790. Morgan was survived by his wife, five sons and three daughters. His eldest son Arthur Clinton served with the 11th Light Horse at Gallipoli and briefly became a member of parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty (1859-1919) Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • Commercial Publishing Co. of Syd. Ltd, Annual Review of Queensland, 1902
  • Queensland Trustees Ltd, Trustees Quarterly Review, Jan 1917
  • Historical Papers (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), 10 (1978-79), no 4
  • Warwick Argus, 4 July, 5 Dec 1878, 26 Aug, 27 Sept 1879, 25 Aug, 25 Sept 1888
  • Brisbane Courier, 18 Sept 1903, 21 Dec 1916
  • Warwick Examiner, 11 Jan, 1 Feb 1908
  • Toowong Chronicle, 21 Dec 1916
  • B. A. Knox, The Honourable Sir Arthur Morgan, Kt: His Public Life and Work (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1956)
  • T. O'Sullivan, Reminiscences of the Queensland Parliament, 1903-15 (no date, State Library of Queensland)
  • GOV/68, 3 Feb 1906, 4 May 1907 and A/18942 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Rod Kirkpatrick, 'Morgan, Sir Arthur (1856–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-sir-arthur-7652/text13383, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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