History of West Australia/Alfred Edward Morgans

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ALFRED EDWARD MORGANS.

Alfred Edward Morgans HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Hermes & Hall.
ALFRED E. MORGANS.

LET any one traverse the length and breadth of the Western Australian Goldfields, and take a concensus of opinion on the most influential name they hold, and he will probably, in keeping with his expectations, find that that honour falls to Mr. Morgans. Laborious and circuitous as such a process would inevitably be, it yet is the only true way of ascertaining a correct calculus of a man's worth. It is exceedingly fortunate for Western Australians that Mr. Morgans retains his active presence in their midst. He has, in his earnest desire to promote the best interests of the colony, brought to bear on every question that affects her development a rich accumulation of experience, whose every consequence should tend to the general prosperity.

Mr. Morgans was born in Monmouthshire, Wales, in 1850. His youthful education was sought in different private schools in Wales and England. Almost parallel to the usual classical instruction ran a technical and commercial training in several schools of mines. On leaving school he apprenticed himself as a mechanical engineer to the firm of Ebbw Vale, one of the largest companies in Britain. The usual term of service over, he left to give practical expression to his acquirements. Opportunity and scope were not lacking in a country teeming with coal and iron mines. In various parts of Wales he embarked on successful coal and iron mining enterprises. After gaining clear and accurate insight into their various departments, together with their scientific conduct, he was eventually called to fulfil an exceedingly important trust, which his abilities were now well able to perform. Not mere experience alone, however, would have procured for him so responsible a post. A keen, yet cool judgment, a force of mental energy that made speculation and foresight mere logical determinations, impressed those best qualified to judge and criticise in a most favourable manner. Such conclusions as to his capabilities were not guided, as too often is the case, by mere scholastic qualifications.

He was commissioned by an influential and wealthy financial group to superintend extensive gold and silver mining interests in Central America and especially Southern Mexico. He arrived at the scene of operations in 1878, and discharged his arduous duties for eighteen years. In a short time he had shown himself so able an expert on all mining matters that he was soon recognised as an authority. No wonder need be felt at this when we state that he was instrumental in efficiently developing large areas of territory. His sound and practical advice on many subjects, grievances, and disputes was oftentimes speedily adopted.

The interests of his principals in Mexico were immense. The output of their mines supplied a large proportion of the total production in that wealthy gold region. Mr. Morgans was, therefore, among the influential mining men in the world. He at one time had 6,000 subordinates to him. In the interests of his company he constructed several valuable railways, and he mingled enterprise of the firm was at the least decidedly pretentious. By carefully collating the possibility of the various issues, and by his shrewd business tact and system, his sojourn in America proved highly remunerative. Not content with the mere routine of business, he carried on an enthusiastic study of natural history, and constantly added to his wide knowledge on the various forms of this science as presented in America. He also penetrated into the inexplicabilities of antiquarian research in Central America, and from their long resting place he unearthed many curious specimens of old-time handiwork, and some he donated to the Museum in London. Altogether, his career in America was important, and he could supply an interesting and valuable record of the strange inner history of Central American politics.

In 1896 he came to Western Australia, arriving in Coolgardie in March as representative of the same financial group which now bears the name of Morgans Syndicate Limited. Here, as when in America, his developing many properties purchased for his syndicate, which buys and opens up mines, and assists in the general development of the gold resources of the colony. At Norseman, around Coolgardie White Feather, Niagara, Mount Margaret and Lake Way its interests and possessions are extensive. Considerable development has been already effected by the hundreds of men working under Mr. Morgan's charge. His sincerity of belief in the auriferous wealth of Western Australia has now become marked. It is not a mere sanguine assertion that he makes when he states, after deliberate, cautious, and careful examination, that her fields are extensive and very valuable. Such an admission, proceeding as it does from a mass of great scientific ability, whose experience has taught him the wise lesson of careful thought before expression, should be gladly received as the most authentic evidence that can be furnished on this question. He clenches his admission by rooting his faith to Western Australia's future greatness. Yet to realise this felicity, many drawbacks, he declares, must be abolished. He is loud (1896) in his denunciations of the labour conditions under the new mining laws. To capitalists the laws are harsh and unjustly severe. Instead of one man to five acres, it should be, from many considerations, one to fifty. It is easily seen that there is not sufficient population in the whole colony to man the leases even with our extended ratio of one to fifty. When this is so it seems a strange anomaly, or rather abnormality, that the Government should not amend such laws. Though his eulogy on the valuable auriferous resources of the colony has been often noted and apprised, still there are certain Governmental misgivings that force him to ascribe depreciation to their full value.

In consideration of the vastness of this colony, he opines that it is next to impossible for it to receive proper development under a restrictive and exclusive policy. He dislikes political monopoly, and says—"That in view of the wide area of the colony, these goldfields should be opened to private enterprise for railway constructions, water furnishing, roadways opening, and mine development generally. If this individual enterprise was tolerated, more would be done by this beneficent economic process in five years than the Government could ever contemplate completing in twenty-five years under the present system of what I call Government monopoly of everything."

In support of his affirmations, he instances by analogy the marvelous growth of the United States, where this doctrine which he is championing has been most advantageously at work. The United States Government, perhaps the most progressive in the world, absolutely eschews the policy which has been strangely adopted by the Government of Western Australia. The resources of the States, as extensive as they are wealthy, have been developed more rapidly than those of any country since the dawn of history. Yet their attitude to development was such that never did they allow themselves to be enticed into the construction of railways and other means of transit, or waterworks, or any other works of a public nature, not even telegraph lines. They saw well, as the Cobdenic school of laissez faire saw years ago, that such undertakings were better left to individual enterprise as ensuring speedier and better execution. Yet facts speak more convincingly than mere declamatory phrases. The United States of to-day boasts of 150,000 miles of railway, not one inch of which belongs to the Government.

Such facts, indeed, lead one to assent to the utility of a policy which has proved so profitable in the States. Then, other things being equal, we say that Mr. Morgans is right in predicting prosperous and happy consequences from the existence of such a procedure in Western Australia. He desires to permit capital as unrestricted a flow as possible. Every person (and therefore every industry) must work out his own destiny; a grandmotherly supervision is inimical to rapid development. State monopolies are neither healthy nor stimulating. The weight of his judgment, and the sincerity of his views and actions, must combine to make Mr. Morgans a champion of the gold-mining industry in this colony. He is a leader in experience and by right of talent. His advice, assistance, and co-operation are eagerly sought and heartily given. His charity and courtesy render him popular among the working men, and his fine conversational powers, his gentlemanly and dignified bearing, spontaneously call forth goodwill of all goldfields residents. Frank, yet dignified, discreet and sincere, this gentleman is esteemed as a friend by rich and poor.

[Since the above sketch was written (in 1896) we are happy to state that the Government has amended the mining laws in such a manner as to give Mr. Morgans and those who agree with him more satisfaction. At the general election to the House of Assembly in May, 1897, Mr. Morgans was elected by a large majority for the Coolgardie constituency. It was only after considerable agitation that he was led to allow himself to be nominated. It is certain that his invaluable experience and ability will be extensively availed of in Parliament.]