Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morgan, William (1750-1833)

MORGAN, WILLIAM (1750–1833), actuary, born in June 1750 at Bridgend, Glamorganshire, was the eldest son of William Morgan, a surgeon practising in that town, by Sarah, sister of Dr. Richard Price [q. v.] George Cadogan Morgan [q. v.] was his only brother. He was intended for the medical profession; but owing to his father's limited means he was apprenticed, 11 July 1769, to a London apothecary. Towards the end of 1771 he returned home to assist his father, but on his death, in 1772, Morgan returned to London, and through the influence of Dr. Price became in February 1774 an assistant-actuary, and in February 1775 chief actuary to the Equitable Assurance Society, a post which he held until his resignation on 2 Dec. 1830. During the earlier part of this time he lived at the offices of the society in Chatham Place, Blackfriars, and there witnessed, in June 1780, the Gordon riots, his house being for a time threatened by the mob. He subsequently lived at Stamford Hill, where his house became a meeting-place for many of the advanced reformers of the day, including Home Tooke and Sir Francis Burdett. On 20 April 1792 Samuel Rogers met Tom Paine at dinnerat Morgan's house (Clayden, Early Life of Rogers, p. 246). Morgan appears to have been at one time suspected by the authorities, and his name is said to have been on the list of those threatened with prosecution, before the acquittal of Home Tooke. Despite his advanced views, Bishop Watson of Llandaff was an intimate friend. Morgan died at Stamford Hill on 4 May 1833, and was buried at Hornsey.

In 1781 Morgan married Susan Woodhouse, by whom he had several children. A daughter, Sarah, was married to Benjamin Travers, the surgeon : the eldest son, William Morgan, who married Maria Towgood, the beautiful niece of Samuel Rogers, was for a time assistant-actuary at his father's office, but after his early death was succeeded by another son, Arthur Morgan, who held the position of chief actuary from his father's resignation, 2 Dec. 1830, till 3 March 1870, when he resigned. He died seven days after. Thus father and son were actuaries for a period of ninety-six years.

Morgan takes high rank among the pioneers of life assurance in England. The phenomenal success of the Equitable Society in the midst of so many contemporary failures was mainly due to his careful administration and sound actuarial advice. The details which he published from time to time as to the mortality experience of that society furnished data for the amendment of the Northampton tables, and the construction of others by various actuaries [see Milne, Joshua]. The first instalment of Morgan's statistics was published in his 'Doctrine of Annuities and Assurances on Lives and Survivorships Stated and Explained,' London, 1779, 8vo, with a preface by Dr. Price. From 1786 onwards he delivered to the court of governors a series of addresses reviewing the policy of the society. Nine of the most important of these addresses were published, along with the 'Deed of Settlement of the Equitable Society,' in one volume, in 1833, four of them having been previously published in 1811, and six in 1820. A new edition, containing three additional addresses by Arthur Morgan, was issued in 1854. Upon the basis of Morgan's statements new tables of mortality were constructed, most notably by Griffith Davies and by T. Gompertz in 1825, and by Charles Babbage in 1826. Morgan also published a table of his own in 'A View of the Rise and Progress of the Equitable Society, and the Causes which have contributed to its Success,' London, 1828, 8vo (cf. a review in Westminster Rev. April 1828; Phil. Mag. 1828, an unsigned article by Dr. Thomas Young; Times of 26 June and 1 July 1828, attacks by Francis Baily and George Farren; John Bull, 28 March, probably by W. Baldwin, who issued a pamphlet on the subject in the following year). Morgan's table of mortality was revised by his son Arthur Morgan, and reissued in 1834.

In 1783 Morgan sent a paper on 'Probability of Survivorship' to the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Society, being admitted a fellow shortly afterwards. Other papers, which appeared in 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1791, 1794, and 1799, were embodied in the second edition of his 'Doctrine of Annuities,' 1821. In 1827 he was examined before a select committee of the House of Commons on friendly societies. He was also much consulted on questions relating to ecclesiastical property. Morgan was a Unitarian of a presbyterian type, like his uncle, Dr. Price, whose views on finance and politics he also inherited. He vigorously denounced the accumulation of the National Debt, and 'the improvident alienation of that fund by which it might have been redeemed.'

The following were his writings on this subject: 1. 'A Review of Dr. Price's Writings on the Subject of the Finances of the Kingdom, to which are added the three plans communicated by him to Mr. Pitt in 1786 for redeeming the National Debt,' London, 1792, 8vo; 2nd edit., 'with a supplement stating the amount of the debt in 1795,' 1795. 2. 'Facts addressed to the serious attention of the People of Great Britain, respecting the Expense of the War and the State of the National Debt in 1796.' Four editions were published in 1796, London, 8vo. 3. Additional facts on the same subject, London, 8vo; four editions published in 1796. 4. 'An Appeal to the People of Great Britain on the Present Alarming State of the Public Finances and of Public Credit,' London, 8vo, 1797, four editions. 5. 'A Comparative View of the Public Finances from the Beginning to the Close of the Late Administration,' London, 1801, three editions. 6. 'A Supplement to the Comparative View,' 1803. He was the author of a scientific work entitled ' An Examination of Dr. Crawford's Theory of Heat and Combustion,' London, 1781, 8vo, and also edited the foil owing: 'Observations on Reversionary Payments, by Richard Price, to which are added Algebraical Notes by W. M.;' 5th edit. 1792-80; 7th edit. 1812, and many subsequent editions. Morgan also edited the 'Works of Dr. Price, with Memoirs of his Life,' London, 1816, 8vo, and Dr. Price's Sermons, 1816.

[The fullest account of Morgan's actuarial work is to be found in Watford's Insurance Cyclopædia, ii. 596-622, iii. 1-23. For all other facts the best authority is A Welsh Family, from the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1885, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1893), by Miss Caroline E. Williams, for private circulation. See also Gent. Mag. for 1833, pt. i. p. 569; Memoirs of Dr. Price, ut supra.]

D. Ll. T.