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Morgans, Alfred Edward (1850–1933)

by G. C. Bolton

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

Alfred Edward Morgans (1850-1933), mining investor and politician, was born on 17 February 1850 at Ochr Churith Machen Lower in Monmouthshire (now Gwent, Wales), son of Morgan Morgan, mine engineer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Tucker. After education at private schools and schools of mines, he was apprenticed at Ebbw Vale and worked in various regions of Britain as a mechanical engineer specializing in iron and coal-mining. In 1878-95 he spent much time in Central America representing British investment in mining and railways, especially in Guatemala and Nicaragua. From this period he retained many picturesque anecdotes, claiming acquaintance with the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and other notable people. Morgans also developed an interest in Aztec and Mayan archaeology and sent artefacts to British museums.

Early in 1896 he came to Western Australia to inspect mining properties for London capitalists and stayed as local managing director and attorney. He was responsible for the development of the Mount Morgans field, the establishment of a short-lived copper-smelting plant at Murrin Murrin, and for several more gold and asbestos enterprises. In May 1897 he entered the Legislative Assembly as member for Coolgardie and, despite his capitalist beliefs and background, easily retained the seat against all opponents until his retirement in June 1904. A prosperous-looking figure with waxed moustache and pince-nez, Morgans was a good-humoured and diplomatic personality who largely confined his public utterances to the advocacy of goldfields railways and public works. He was a powerful supporter of the Coolgardie goldfields water scheme and promoted civic amenities which would encourage families to settle permanently on the goldfields.

In politics he described himself as an independent cross-bencher but usually voted with the Forrest ministry. After Forrest entered Federal politics early in 1901 a period of political instability followed which brought Morgans to the fore. In November George Leake's first ministry lost a vote of confidence in the Legislative Assembly, largely over railway policy. The leader of the Opposition F. H. Piesse, a former railways minister, was unable to form a cabinet and the task was entrusted to Morgans, as a practical man of experience. He became premier on 21 November. Of his five ministers three were recruited from among Leake's following; but at the ensuing ministerial elections in December all three were defeated. Morgans sought a parliamentary dissolution from the governor Sir Arthur Lawley, who refused. Several back-benchers then defected to Leake from Morgans, who resigned on 23 December. He never sought parliamentary office again and retired at the next election. Among the consolations of an opulent private life he numbered a grazing property in the Porongorups on which he tried to acclimatize fallow deer.

From 1910 the goldfields were in decline and Morgans' fortunes with them; he occupied himself with a variety of honorary offices. He was consul for Austria-Hungary in 1910-17, vice-consul for Spain in 1915, and consular agent for the United States of America in 1921-30, having acted in that post since 1918. Between 1918 and 1920 he served on the North Fremantle Municipal Council and he was president of the acclimatization committee administering the Perth Zoological Gardens in 1921-29. He died at South Perth on 10 August 1933 and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £3658. Morgans had married Fanny Ridler at Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire, England, on 19 March 1872. She and their son Morgan Morgans, also a mining investor, predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly (compiler), History of Western Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • P. W. H. Thiel & Co., Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • J. Raeside, Golden Days (Perth, 1929)
  • C. F. H. Jenkins, The Noah's Ark Syndrome (Perth, 1977)
  • G. S. Reid and M. R. Oliver, The Premiers of Western Australia 1890-1982 (Perth, 1982).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Morgans, Alfred Edward (1850–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morgans-alfred-edward-7653/text13387, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 December 2014.

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

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