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William Matheson Morgan (1906–1972)

by E. D. J. Stewart

This article was published:

William Matheson Morgan (1906-1972), mining engineer, was born on 9 November 1906 in Adelaide, son of South Australian-born parents Alexander Matheson Morgan, medical practitioner, and his wife Myrtle Ellen, née Green. Sir William Morgan was his grandfather and (Sir) Edward Morgan his cousin. Like his father, Bill boarded at Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Victoria. He studied civil engineering at the University of Adelaide (B.E., 1930). At school he captained (1924) the VIII that won the 'Head of the River' and at university he 'regenerated' rowing.

Morgan worked as an underground surveyor for the Zinc Corporation Ltd at Broken Hill, New South Wales. In 1931 he joined Gold Mines of Australia Ltd's Mount Coolon mines in Queensland. Before World War II he also gained experience with Nargovissi Co. N.L., New Guinea, Bendigo Mines Ltd, Victoria, and Lake George Mines Pty Ltd, Captains Flat, New South Wales. In 1940 he was seconded to the State Electricity Commission of Victoria to manage the Kiewa tunnelling operations for its hydro-electric scheme. He remained in the Ovens Valley with Adelong Gold Estates. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Walkerville, Adelaide, on 25 March 1935 he had married Agnes Margaret Davis. During the years they spent near the snow country, he and his family became keen skiers.

Commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force on 16 March 1942, Morgan served with No.2 Mobile Works Squadron which built airfields in northern Australia, Papua and New Guinea. He was demobilized on 11 October 1944 as a flight lieutenant and returned to the S.E.C., directing coal exploration for its new La Trobe Valley fuel and power projects. As engineer for coal production from 1949, he revitalized and restructured brown-coal mining management; by the late 1950s the S.E.C. was recognized as a world leader in technology and low-cost mining methods.

Invited to join Western Mining Corporation Ltd in 1956, Morgan was appointed general manager of the struggling gold-mining company in 1957; he succeeded (Sir) Lindesay Clark as managing director in 1962. He was also a director of Alcoa of Australia Pty Ltd, Goldmines of Kalgoorlie (Australia) Ltd and Central Norseman Gold Corporation N.L. During the decade and a half of his leadership of W.M.C., the company diversified its mineral exploration and metal production projects. Recognizing the future importance of Japanese markets, he introduced profitable marketing strategies with small financial risks and major benefits to Australian shareholders. Following the discovery (1956) of high-grade nickel deposits at Kambalda, Western Australia, W.M.C. was one of the world's top three nickel producers by the late 1960s. The company had added aluminium and iron ore to its gold interests, and became involved in exploration for coal, petroleum and uranium.

Morgan was noted for his ability to pick the right man for the right place. He had a searching mind, and followed matters that caught his imagination with relentless energy. Having perceived the dominance of Germany in brown-coal mining, he learned (after the age of 40) to speak and write the language, and acquired sufficient mastery to address the Deutsche Bergbau Verein in German. In the mid-1950s he not only learned Japanese, but made himself conversant with Japanese culture, basic beliefs and conduct of business, thereby gaining further respect in Japanese industrial circles. He was a founding member and vice-president of the Australia-Japan Business Co-operation Committee and a member of the Pacific Basin Economic Co-operation Committee.

In addition, Morgan was an executive-member and president (1970) of the Australian Mining Industry Council, a director of Australian Mineral Industries Research Association Ltd and a council-member (from 1969) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. He served (1962-70) on the advisory council of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and sat on the science and industry forum of the Australian Academy of Science and the general court of directors of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia. He wrote and presented numerous papers on mining-related matters.

A tall, elegant man, Morgan had a wry sense of humour. He belonged to the Melbourne, Adelaide and Weld (Perth) clubs, and to the Royal Melbourne and Barwon Heads golf clubs. One of his favourite pastimes was restoring antique furniture. In 1971 he was appointed C.M.G. and awarded the medal of the A.I.M.M. In November that year he resigned as chief executive because of ill health. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died of cancer on 2 February 1972 at his Toorak home and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $226,847.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceedings, June 1972
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Dec 1966, 13 June 1971
  • Australian, 27 May 1967
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Feb 1968
  • Herald (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1972
  • Western Mining Corporation Archives (Melbourne)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

E. D. J. Stewart, 'Morgan, William Matheson (1906–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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