Morgan, George Osborne (DNB01)

MORGAN, Sir GEORGE OSBORNE (1826–1897), first baronet, lawyer and politician, was eldest son of Morgan Morgan, for thirty-one years vicar of Conway, Carnarvonshire, by Fanny Nonnen, daughter of John Nonnen of Liseberg, Gothenburg, who was descended on the mother's side from the Huguenot family of De Lorent. His younger brother was John Edward Morgan, M.D., professor of medicine at Owens College, Manchester (d. 4 Sept. 1892), and his youngest brother, the Rev. Henry Arthur Morgan, D.D., is master of Jesus College, Cambridge.

George Osborne Morgan, who derived his name of Osborne from the marriage in 1764 of Egbert Nonnen, his great-grandfather, with Anne Osborne of Burnage, Cheshire, was born at Gothenburg in Sweden on 8 May 1826, during the temporary occupancy by his father of the post of chaplain there. At the age of fifteen, after spending some time at the Friars' school, Bangor, he entered Shrewsbury School under Dr. Kennedy [see Kennedy, Benjamin Hall], who said of him that he had never known a boy 'with such a vast amount of undigested information.' His father had intended him for Cambridge and the church, but he preferred Oxford and matriculated from Balliol on 30 Nov. 1843. He then returned to Shrewsbury, and while still a schoolboy performed the extraordinary feat of obtaining the Craven scholarship at Oxford (16 March 1844), afterwards going back again to school. In the following autumn he stood for a scholarship at Balliol. He was awarded an exhibition, the two scholarships being won by Henry John Stephen Smith [q. v.] and Sir Alexander Grant (1826–1884) [q. v.], and he then went into residence. In 1846 he was proxime accessit for the Ireland scholarship, and in the same year he won the Newdigate prize for English verse, the subject being 'Settlers in Australia.' When he became under-secretary for the colonies in 1886, this poem was republished by the 'Melbourne Argus,' and enjoyed considerable popularity in Australia. In 1847 he migrated as a scholar to Worcester, and from that college obtained a first class in the school of literæ humaniores in the Michaelmas term of the same year, graduating B.A. in 1848. He obtained the chancellor's English essay prize in 1850 upon the theme 'The Ancients and Moderns compared in regard to the Administration of Justice,' and was elected Stowell civil law fellow of University College. He obtained the Eldon law scholarship in 1851. He had now determined upon the bar as a profession, having been admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 6 June 1850. While at Balliol his principal friend was (Sir) Alexander Grant. At the dinner at Balliol on the occasion of the opening of the new hall (16 Jan. 1877) Osborne Morgan, in responding for the bar, acknowledged the debt he owed to Jowett's influence [see Jowett, Benjamin, Suppl.] During his short residence as civil law fellow at University he took private pupils, among them Viscount Peel, Sir M. E. Grant Duff, and Lord-justice Chitty. His most intimate friends at this period, which was marked by vehement religious controversies, were the opponents of tractarianism, such as Arthur Penrhyn Stanley [q. v.], William Young Sellar [q. v.], and Arthur Hugh Clough [q. v.] He figures in Clough's poem 'The Bothie' as Lindsay.

In 1851 Morgan left Oxford. The present archbishop of Canterbury had offered him the vice-presidency of Kneller Hall, a training college for teachers then recently established at Twickenham, but he was resolutely bent upon the bar, and entered as a pupil in the chambers of equity counsel in Lincoln's Inn. Meanwhile he contributed political leading articles to the 'Morning Chronicle,' and after the staff of that newspaper founded the 'Saturday Review' he wrote very occasionally for the new periodical. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 6 June 1853, and practised as an equity draughtsman and conveyancer. He rapidly acquired a practice, and received a number of pupils to read in his chambers, among them Mr. Justice Byrne, Sir C. P. Ilbert, and Sir Robert Herbert. In 1858 he published 'Chancery Acts and Orders, being a Collection of Statutes and General Orders recently passed.' This, with slight variations in the title, ran through six editions, the second being published in 1860, and the last in 1885. He also became one of the four joint editors of 'the New Reports,' which contained cases decided in the courts of equity and common law between November 1862 and August 1865, the first of the six volumes appearing in March 1863. Among the reporters associated with him in this series were Lord-chancellor Herschell, the speaker of the House of Commons (the Right Hon. W. C. Gully), Lord Davey, Lord-justice Bowen, Lord-justice Rigby, and others.

In 1861 Morgan published a sympathetic lecture on the Italian revolution of 1860. He had already begun his political career by holding meetings in his chambers at Lincoln's Inn for the promotion of church dis-establishment and the abolition of university tests. Although a clergyman's son, he had been led to form opinions unfavourable to the establishment in consequence of abuses witnessed by him in the Welsh church. He became intimate with Edward Miall [q. v.], the leader of the militant nonconformists. His opinions on these subjects and his nationality designated him for a Welsh seat in parliament, and in 1859 he accepted an invitation to stand for Carnarvon borough, but withdrew in order to avoid division in the liberal party. A similar incident took place in 1867 in connection with Denbigh borough. In 1868, on Miall's recommendation, he was invited to stand for Denbighshire. He was returned as junior colleague to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn on 24 Nov. 1868. His maiden speech, delivered on 15 March 1869, was in support of the second reading of the university tests abolition bill. It struck the attention of Bright, and led to a friendship maintained throughout the rest of his life. On 6 July Osborne Morgan seconded Henry Richard's resolution upon the subject of evictions of liberal tenants by Welsh landlords during the recent elections. During this session too he first addressed himself to a question which long occupied his energies, that of the law affecting married women's property (14 April 1869), and he supported by a speech the second reading of Sir Wilfrid Lawson's permissive prohibitory liquor bill (12 May). On 10 Feb. 1870 he first introduced the measure with which his name was long associated, the burials bill permitting any Christian service in a parish churchyard, and on the same day he obtained the leave of the house to introduce the places of worship (sites) bill, facilitating the acquisition of land for religious purposes. From this bill, as introduced in 1870, W. E. Forster borrowed the clauses of the Elementary Education Act of that year empowering school boards to acquire land compulsorily. The places of worship (sites) bill did not become law till 1873. In 1871 and 1872 he seconded Sir Roundell Palmer's resolutions in favour of the creation of a general school of law, which led to the institution of examinations by the inns of court before calling students of law to the bar. He had been appointed a queen's counsel on 23 June 1869, and elected a bencher of Lincoln's Inn in the Michaelmas term following. In 1890 he became treasurer. His profession led him to take much interest in the reform of the land laws. During the session of 1878 he acted as chairman of the select committee on land titles and transfer, and drafted its report dated 24 June 1879. He also contributed an article upon the same subject to the 'Fortnightly Review' for December 1879, and in 1880 reprinted it as a pamphlet under the title 'Land Law Reform in England.' On all topics directly associated with law, such as the bills for the reconstitution of the courts of judicature (1873 and 1875), he frequently addressed the house. He supported the measure for the reform of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (1877), Mr. (now Sir George) Trevelyan's resolution for the extension of the suffrage to the counties (1879), and the Welsh Sunday closing bill, which became law in 1881. For ten successive sessions he introduced the burials bill, sometimes carrying it through the House of Commons by considerable majorities, but it was not finally passed by the House of Lords till 1880.

On the accession of Gladstone to power in that year Osborne Morgan became a member of the ministry as judge-advocate-general, and retired from the bar. He was also nominated a privy councillor. Upon the introduction by him on 28 March 1881 of the annual army discipline &c. bill, he provided for the abolition of the punishment of flogging, and carried it in spite of a strong opposition. He had sole charge of the married women's property bill, 1882, a bill which, bristling with legal difficulties, required exceptionally skilful handling in its passage through the House of Commons. It became law the same session. He took a warm interest in Welsh intermediate and higher education. On 14 March 1884 he supported by a speech Mr. (now Lord) Rendel's motion in favour of placing Aberystwyth College, 'in respect of state recognition and support, on an equal footing with the colleges at Cardiff and Bangor.' He was anxious to improve the education of women, and took part in the foundation of a women's hostel at Bangor College. An 'Osborne Morgan exhibition' was founded in the University College of North Wales after his death to commemorate his services. After the redistribution of the constituencies in 1885 Osborne Morgan, as sitting member, had the natural right of choice between East and West Denbighshire. West Denbighshire was held to be a safe liberal seat, whereas East Denbighshire was the centre of the influence of the Wynn family. With characteristic courage and self-sacrifice he chose the constituency which no liberal but himself could hope to contest with any prospect of success. In the result he won the election by 393 votes, and the Wynn family was deposed from the representation of the county for the first time for 182 years. This service was rewarded, on Gladstone's accession to office in February 1886, by the appointment of Osborne Morgan as parliamentary under-secretary for the colonies. As his chief, Lord Granville, sat in the House of Lords, the labour of representing the department in parliament chiefly fell upon Osborne Morgan. His tenure of office lasted only six months, but it was marked by exceptional activity. The distress which he experienced at a narrative of sufferings endured by Welsh settlers in Patagonia, as well as by other emigrants to Canada, led to his foundation of the emigration inquiry office, still a useful government institution. A glance at the index to Hansard for this session shows the number and variety of the questions connected with his department which engaged his attention. The strain proved excessive, and a stubborn contest for East Denbighshire with his former opponent, Sir W. W. Wynn, which Osborne Morgan won by the narrow majority of only twenty-six (7 July 1886), led to a severe illness, from which he never quite recovered. But his apparently inexhaustible energy showed itself throughout the sessions of 1887–92. During three months of 1888, and the sessions of 1889–92, and in the parliament of 1892–5 he was alternately chairman of the standing committees on law and trade.

In July 1892 he again won East Denbighshire, this time by the substantial majority of 765 against his former opponent. But he felt his health unequal to the resumption of office, and accepted Gladstone's offer of a baronetcy. Nevertheless, his activity in the house continued, especially on all matters affecting Wales, and he was unanimously chosen leader of the Welsh party. He died on 25 Aug. 1897, and was buried in the churchyard of Llantysilio near Llangollen. His last public appearance, a week before his death, was at an eistedfodd at Chirk, at which he delivered a speech on the effects of music upon character.

Osborne Morgan was, physically as well as mentally, a Celt. He had a Celt's ardent and imaginative disposition. His Newdigate prize, his passion for Tennyson's verse, and his temperament combined to fasten upon him at Oxford the name of 'the poet.' His ambition to develop Welsh education was part of a larger ambition of endowing Wales with the qualifications to stand by the side of 'the predominant partner' as a nationality with a character and aims of its own. His Celtic sympathies threw him, at the outset of his career in parliament, into the cause of Irish disestablishment, and at its close into that of Irish home rule. Yet he had been 'brought up to look with equal horror on democracy and dissent.' The change came with Oxford, and through the group of liberal thinkers whom he there made his friends.

Like many of Kennedy's pupils, Osborne Morgan wrote elegant Greek verse, as is attested by two compositions published in the 'Sabrinæ Corolla,' 1890, pp. 76, 363. He retained to the last his fondness for his school, of which he became a governor, and for classical literature, and in the year of his death (1897) published, with a dedication to Gladstone, a translation into English hexameter verse, perhaps a reminiscence of dough's influence, of the 'Eclogues of Virgil,' which was very favourably received. He contributed various articles on current topics to the 'Contemporary,' 'Fortnightly,' and 'Nineteenth Century' Reviews. He was an excellent raconteur and brilliant conversationalist. He married in 1856 Emily, daughter of Leopold Reiss of Eccles, Lancashire, who survives him. He left no issue.

A portrait is in the possession of his widow, painted by Edgar Hanley and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1882. Two engraved portraits were published by Morris & Co. in 1869 and 1897 respectively.

[Historical Register of the University of Oxford, 1888; Foster's Alumni Oxonienses, 1715-1886; Lincoln's Inn Admissions, 1896; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates; Daily News and Manchester Guardian, 27 Aug. 1897; Professor Lewis Campbell 'On some Liberal Movements of the last Half Century' in the Fortnightly Review for March 1900; private information.]

I. S. L.