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Morgan Bevan John (1841–1921)

by Anne Beggs Sunter

This article was published:

Morgan Bevan John (1841-1921), metalworker and businessman, was born on 21 January 1841 at Hirwain, Glamorganshire, Wales, son of Isaac John and his wife Sarah, née Bevan. Young Morgan learned his trade as a moulder and set up his own iron and brass foundry at Pontardulais, near Llanelly, producing varied types of agricultural machinery upon request.

However when one of his major debtors went bankrupt, John found himself in financial difficulty. He decided to migrate either to San Francisco or Victoria. The toss of a coin favoured Australia, so John took his wife Louisa, née Owen, whom he had married on 16 November 1861, and his young family to Victoria in 1874-75. They went straight to Ballarat where deep quartz-mining required much foundry-produced heavy equipment.

John invested his capital in a mining company, but disaster soon struck and he found himself almost penniless. For a while he earned a precarious living as a piano tuner. Fortunately he soon found employment as a moulder and in 1878 joined the Phoenix Foundry. He soon rose to be in charge of the brass shop, and for eighteen years he turned out the brass work for more than three-quarters of the locomotives delivered by the Phoenix to the Victorian Railways. As his financial circumstances improved, he was able to pay to have his son William apprenticed as a fitter and turner at the foundry.

In 1896 John decided to establish his own business, the Ballarat Brass Foundry. It opened in a very small way in Armstrong Street South, employing three men, but business was brisk and within three months he moved to Lydiard Street South, where extensive workshops were built. William had by 1900 completed his course in mechanical engineering at the Ballarat School of Mines. He joined his father's business and made the momentous decision for the foundry to concentrate on the manufacture of all types of valves. The fortunes of the foundry and the family rose rapidly with this decision: the company of M. B. John Ltd, incorporated in 1927, became one of the largest industries in Ballarat and one of the most important valve manufacturers in the world. The Ballarat foundry and associated plant by 1960 employed 850 men, with a total of almost 2000 employees at its branches and other plants throughout Australia. William's five sons all became involved in the company. Morgan John also invested in other companies, and in 1912 he bought the old Ballarat firm of J. B. Cowley's; his youngest son Bevan became manager of Cowley's Eureka Ironworks.

Morgan John's special love was music, and for many years he was a member of the Philharmonic Society. He conducted the St John's Presbyterian Church choir, and also took part in Ballarat's famed Welsh Eisteddfod by conducting the massed choir in its performance of the Messiah at the Alfred Hall.

John's first wife died of typhoid on 17 March 1880, survived by five of their ten children. On 1 June 1881 at Geelong he married Emily Arnott (1858-1950); they had two daughters and a son. In old age he suffered a stroke, but attended board meetings of the company until his death at his residence, Fernside, on 18 February 1921. He was buried in the old Ballarat cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £47,963.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • Ballarat Courier, 19 Feb 1921
  • G. S. Cope, Some Aspects of the Metal Trade in Ballarat, 1851-1901 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1971)
  • private information.

Citation details

Anne Beggs Sunter, 'John, Morgan Bevan (1841–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 January, 1841
Hirwain, Glamorgan, Wales


18 February, 1921 (aged 80)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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