Little is known of Morgan's parentage or early years. He and his wife arrived at Paihia in the Prince of Denmark on 21 May 1833 to join the Church Missionary Society's establishment. For the greater part of his life he was a lay missionary and did not take Holy Orders until 1849. In October 1833 he accompanied Henry Williams to the eastern Waikato where Te Waharoa had asked for a mission to be opened. On 24 December 1833 he settled at the new mission at Te Puriri (near Thames). In 1834, with William Williams and A. N. Brown, he visited the Waikato and Bay of Plenty districts to select sites for missions at Mangapouri, Matamata, Ohinemutu, and Tauranga. He took charge of the new mission at Mangapouri and remained there until 1837, when the station was abandoned. In the following year, when mission work was resumed, he accompanied Chapman to Ohinemutu.
In 1841 Morgan took over Ashwell's station at Otawhao (Te Awamutu), where he came under Rewi Maniapoto's protection. He proved a tremendous success and, for the next 20 years, continued there as religious mentor, counsellor, and technical instructor to his Maori flock. Because he himself was deeply interested in agriculture, he imported wheat and English fruit trees and taught the Maoris agricultural husbandry. The mission wheatfields flourished and so did crops of potatoes, pumpkins, maize, barley, and fruit. Pigs were fattened on the surplus crops. The Maoris obtained seed from the mission and most of the villages in the area took up agriculture. Morgan also taught them the rudiments of town planning and soon the district presented a picture of neat, European-type villages set amid orchards and immense wheatfields. Sir George Grey visited the mission in 1849 and reported that the Maoris had constructed two steel flourmills at their own expense; further, that at one place alone, 1,000 acres of wheat had been planted. Soon an impressive trade with Auckland sprang into being. During the two or three years following Grey's visit, Te Awamutu flour was exported to the Californian goldfields where it fetched high prices.
In the 1850s, when the “King” movement was growing, Morgan opposed it strenuously and kept Governor Sir Thomas Gore Browne fully informed about all the political moves. His attitude towards Maori nationalism alienated many chiefs, including Wiremu Tamihana, and Morgan became known as the Governor's “watchman on the Waikato”. When Hawke's Bay was opened for settlement in the late 1850s, Morgan organised an overland mail route between Auckland and Napier. In May 1859 Hochstetter visited the mission and, in September 1861, Gorst arrived to take up the post of Resident Magistrate. Because of the explosive political situation in the Waikato, Morgan and his family left Te Awamutu in 1862. After this much of his work was destroyed when Cameron invaded the district and laid waste the cultivated areas in an effort to deprive the Maori rebels of their food supplies. When the war ended Morgan was anxious to return to his station; however, the Government advised against it. Morgan died suddenly at Mangere on 8 June 1865.
Morgan has gone down in local history as the man “who civilised the Waikato”. It is probable, however, that because of his success at Te Awamutu the eventual pacification of the Waikato tribes was made more difficult. The significance of his work, in Maori eyes at least, lay in the fact that, given instruction and guidance, Maoris could make a success of European agricultural methods. This realisation made the Government's policy of land confiscation a particularly bitter pill for him to swallow.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- The Maori King, Gorst, J. E. (1959)
- Armed Settlers – 1864–74, Norris, H. C. M. (1956)
- The Old Frontier – Te Awamutu, Cowan, J. (1922).