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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Morgan, Sir William (1828–1883)

by E. J. R. Morgan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

William Morgan (1828-1883), by Archibald McDonald, 1864-69

William Morgan (1828-1883), by Archibald McDonald, 1864-69

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H29551

Sir William Morgan (1828-1883), merchant and politician, was born on 12 September 1828 at Wilshamstead, Bedfordshire, England, son of George Morgan, farmer, and his wife Sarah, née Horne. He reached Port Adelaide in the Glenelg on 13 February 1849. He worked first on land near the River Murray and his life was saved by an Aboriginal, Ranembe, whose name Morgan later gave to one of his sons. Morgan was next employed by Boord Bros, grocers, of Hindley Street, Adelaide, until he left for the Victorian gold diggings in 1851. He had modest success and on returning to Adelaide bought Boords' business and established William Morgan & Co., wholesale and retail grocers in Hindley Street. By 1865 the retail business was closed and the firm had become merchants in Currie Street but retained the premises in Hindley Street for about five years.

Morgan was elected a member of the Legislative Council in August 1867, coming second in the poll; re-elected in 1877, he headed the poll despite his refusal to have a committee working for him and retained his seat until 1883. He became chief secretary in the second Boucaut ministry on 3 June 1875 but resigned on 25 March 1876 because personal business was too pressing. He served again as chief secretary in the fourth Boucaut ministry from 26 October 1877 to 27 September 1878. When Boucaut was elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court Morgan became premier and chief secretary on 27 September 1878. He resigned office on 24 June 1881 because his financial affairs had become involved, particularly through unfortunate investments in copper and nickel mines in New Caledonia. Among many other business interests he was a founder in 1865 of the Bank of Adelaide. In politics he was a free trader, claiming that direct taxation should be levied mainly on individuals according to their incomes rather than indirect taxes on what they spent, which to Morgan was the general effect of customs duties. During his periods in office public works were greatly extended: a town, named after him, was made at the railhead of the line connecting Adelaide with the north-west bend of the River Murray; Adelaide's deep-drainage sewerage system, the first in an Australian capital, was begun; and much building in Adelaide, including the first parts of the University of Adelaide, the Public Library and in 1881 the National Gallery. He had been a delegate to the 1871 and 1880 Intercolonial Conferences in Melbourne and in a much-quoted speech in 1877 strongly advocated Federation of the Australian colonies.

Morgan was far-seeing, imaginative and energetic; he crammed much, probably too much, publicly and privately into his fifty-five years. He declined the offer of a baronetcy because he believed that Australia was too young a country to be burdened with hereditary titles, but in May 1883 he accepted appointment to the order of K.C.M.G. On 8 July 1854 he had married Harriett, daughter of Thomas Matthews of Hurd's Hill, Coromandel Valley; they had nine children. In June 1883 he left for England on a business trip. He died on 2 November at Brighton, and after a well-attended Anglican service was buried beside his parents at Wilshamstead.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Hodder, The History of South Australia, vol 2 (Lond, 1893)
  • G. D. Combe, Responsible Government in South Australia (Adel, 1957)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1872 (2), 1880 (56, 102, 183), 1881 (74)
  • Register (Adelaide), 3 Nov 1883
  • ‘Obituary’, Times (London), 3 Nov 1883, p 10
  • Australasian, 10 Nov 1883.

Citation details

E. J. R. Morgan, 'Morgan, Sir William (1828–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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