Captain Robert Morgan

Robert Clark Morgan (1798-1864) was born in Kent, England. He married Mary Dorrington in 1822, when he was 25 and she was 22. In February 1836 they had one surviving child, having lost several soon after birth, and Mary was expecting another.

Morgan had joined the Royal Navy at the age of 11, and gone to sea in a man o’war. In 1814 he left the navy for the merchant marine, and went whaling, rising to his first command in 1828. In the same year he became a devout Wesleyan Methodist.

Morgan was appointed Master of the Duke of York, owned by the South Australian Company. The vessel was to take company personnel and settlers to Kangaroo Island, and then go whaling in the Pacific. Morgan joined the departing Duke of York at Gravesend on 25 February 1836.

As we know from following his diary on this blog, Morgan’s Duke of York was the first ship to arrive at Kangaroo Island on 27 July 1836.  He remained at the new settlement for nearly two months, before finally setting sail once again for Hobart on 20 September 1836. After a short stay in Hobart to reprovision, the Duke of York set off for the South Sea whaling grounds. By July 1837 they were back in Australian waters, still chasing whales, when they were shipwrecked off present day Port Curtis near Gladstone. There followed a harrowing experience.  All of the crew managed to cram into the three life boats and they set sail for Moreton Bay, some 300 miles distant, landing at intervals to find fresh water.  At one of these landing points two crew members were speared by local Aborigines. One of these men was George Glansford, who was a regular at Morgan’s prayer meetings. They finally reached Moreton Bay on 26 August 1837 and traveled by steamer to Sydney. Morgan finally arrived home in England in February 1838 – almost two years to the day after his original departure.

Almost at once Morgan visited the London Missionary Society to enquire about the command of the missionary ship Camden. This was eventually confirmed and he sailed for the Society in the Pacific from April 1838 until July 1843 with Rev. John Williams.  Morgan was with Williams when the latter was murdered in the New Hebrides in what is now Vanuatu. He returned to London in 1839, but made three subsequent voyages for the Society in command of their ship the John Williams. He retired after the third voyage in 1855.

In 1863 Morgan and his wife Mary sailed to Melbourne to live near their only surviving son, also called Robert. The daughter (Maria) who was born just as Morgan left for South Australia in 1836, had died at the age of seven. It seems that Robert junior had gone to Sydney in 1849, then went to Melbourne during the goldrushes in about 1852. Robert Clark Morgan senior died in Melbourne at South Yarra on 23 September 1864 at the age of 66 years. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.  Mary Morgan died not quite two years later, on 12 February 1866, and was buried beside her husband.

For a full account of Robert Morgan’s life see Dorothy Heinrich The Man Who Hunted Whales Awoonga, 2011.

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