1850s British immigrant John Morgan well-respected
John Morgan was born in Gillingham in Dorset, England, in 1829. He and his brother grew up seeing their father and friends struggle to meet the lease demands of greedy landowners and saw many a young man fail to establish a farm in what John viewed as a corrupt Crown leasehold system. They decided to try their luck in a thriving new colony and migrated to New Zealand aboard the Berkshire.
The brothers landed in New Plymouth in 1850 and worked as labourers, earning 3s 6d a day each, riches compared with the measly 1s a day rates in England. Their first venture in farming was unsuccessful; their land in Omata, in Taranaki, produced a limited harvest. They sold up and purchased a larger block of land in Tataraimaka in Taranaki, which fared better.
A work trip to Whanganui and both brothers preparing to marry brought more change.
On December 21, 1853 John married Mary Elvina Faull, who had migrated to New Zealand as a young girl in 1841. They began the move to Whanganui on January 1, 1854 and arrived eight days later, where they worked for John Treweek at Kai Iwi. They moved into town where John earned 5s per day at Taylor and Watt before heading back to New Plymouth briefly and finally back to Whanganui.
A successful farmer, John Morgan bought the 700-acre (283ha) estate Newtonlees near Lake Wiritoa in 1861, where he and Mary settled to work and raise their six sons and four daughters. They stayed for 40 years before retiring and relocating to town.
Morgan was involved in the New Zealand Wars, taking the rank of ensign. As well as offering the paddocks and barn at Newtonlees as a training and accommodation site for the Alexandra Troops, he made a tidy profit from selling the meat from his beasts to supply them. His knowledge of the district also proved to be very useful to the military staff who were stationed to the area.
Back at home after the wars, Morgan was an advocate of applying science to farming and encouraged others to keep up to date with new farming technologies. He was the first farmer to introduce the Samuelson Mowing Machine to New Zealand, and the first in the district to import Hampshire Down sheep.
Morgan was involved in local and national politics, serving as the Whangaehu Member of the Wellington Provincial Council from 1868-76. He also served on the first Agricultural Association, the first Wanganui Harbour Board, and helped to have the tolls on the Town Bridge abolished in 1882, which was beneficial to the region.
He was a faithful member of the Trinity Methodist Church, and was respected as an honest man who kept his word and was well liked and trusted.
In his later years Morgan suffered from rheumatism and sciatica. As moving became more difficult, he turned to more genteel pastimes and took up drawing. Pen and ink was his preferred method, and he completed a number of well-received works before his death on May 1, 1916.
Botanicals seemed to be his favourite theme, but he also sketched castles and other buildings from his home country. A number of his drawings were printed as postcards.
Several paintings remain with the family. The Whanganui Regional Museum has 10 in its collection.
• Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.