Sir Thomas Morgan - biography

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From Jersey in the 17th century (1931), by A C Saunders

Major-General Sir Thomas Morgan, 1st Baronet (1604 – 1679) was a Welsh soldier during the English Civil War, and Commander-in-Chief in Scotland during the Restoration

After the Earl of St Albans had given up the Governorship of the Island, Charles decided to send Sir Thomas Morgan as Governor, and on 10 December 1665, he arrived in Jersey, and took up his appointment.

Military career

Sir Philippe de Carteret was Bailiff, but he died on 25 September that year and was succeeded by Sir Edward de Carteret. Sir Thomas was a man very much below the average of the height of men, with a broad set figure, and a very choleric disposition. He was a very distinguished soldier who had served in the 30 years war. He had joined the Parliamentarian party, and had taken part in the siege of Lathom House in 1644.

During the troublous times in Scotland in 1651, he was one of Monck's Major Generals, and was knighted by Richard Cromwell on 25 November 1658. He was a strong follower of Monck and Lambart, for - as he told his general - "I am no statesman: I am sure you are a lover of your country and therefore I will join with you." When Monck marched to London, Morgan remained in charge of the troops in Scotland, and when Charles was proclaimed in Edinburgh as King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Morgan showed his enthusiasm by firing off the celebrated cannon "Mons Meg" with his own hand.


He was made a baronet and appointed Governor of Jersey, but as he arrived before his appointment, he refused to take office until everything was in order. In his instructions from Charles dated 21 December 1655, he was directed to take over the stores, and ammunition, from the Lieut-Governor at Elizabeth Castle, and the other forts, and at once report on the present state of the Island; the defects and dangers and the best means to redress the former and defend the people. Charles directed him to assure the Bailiff and people of Jersey of his particular care in preserving them in full enjoyment of their civil rights, and to protect them from all violence, and invasion from abroad. He was directed to fortify the bowling green at Elizabeth Castle, and was authorised to spend £2,000 on such work. This work was completed in 1668 when Elizabeth Castle proper, and Fort Charles were joined. He was to take charge of the King's Revenue reserving for himself £1,000 per annum, and finally he was directed to make a weekly report on the state of the Island, and especially to watch the movements of their French neighbours.

Morgan was a very keen soldier, and took every opportunity to strengthen the defences of the Island. We hear of him spending days and days watching the Islanders and others repairing the defences, seated on a cannon, or on a wall, and smoking his pipe. He was apt to swear at the men if they did not do at once what he wanted, and threaten them with all sorts of terrible punishments. It was nothing for a workman to hear the Governor threatening him "Sirrah, I'll cleave your skull" or "By God, Sirrah, I shall rub your nose".

Unpopular with island officials

But with all his threats, he was popular with those under him, for they knew he was a good soldier, and liked what he did to be well done. He was essentially a man of action, and was bored stiff by the meetings of the States, with the long speeches about what he considered matters of little importance, and during such meetings he would be seen walking outside smoking his pipe. As he said, he was no statesman, and therefore it is no wonder that he, and the Bailiff and Jurats, did not get on well together.

He was very autocratic, and gave orders and took action without any consideration for the wishes of those who were entitled to be consulted, and, during his rule of 13 years, we find this great little man governing the Isle of Jersey, and getting more and more unpopular with the officials whom he ignored, but retaining the respect of those who, knowing the dangers of those days, recognised that he was the best man to look after the defences of the Island.

In the 13th Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise, we have a copy of the petition to the "King's most Excellt Matie" from the Bailiff and Jurats of the Island, which was read in Council on 21 May 1679, and orders were given for the redress of the grievances contained therein.

Sir Thomas had died on 13 April 1679 and, although the question came up again, by the efforts of his successor, Sir John Lanier, to delay the registration of the Order in Council, the dispute developed into Les proces entre Les Etats et le Gouverneur Lanier, the remonstrance of the States dealt principally with the actions and misdeeds of their late Governor.

Wool licence

One of the complaints against Morgan was about the old question of wool licences. At first the manufacture of stockings in Jersey was dependent entirely upon Jersey wool, but as the trade increased, quantities were allowed to be imported from England, by licence up to 2,000 tods.

The Governor had reserved for himself and friends one quarter of this allowance. This quantity, the petition said, the Governor disposed of at the rate of 2d 6d per tod. So long as he got his fee, he did not care whether the wool was purchased by Jerseymen, or by those who had no connection with the Island. The Bailiff and Jurats pointed out that the wool was allowed for the benefit of the Islanders only, and that the Governor had no right either to charge a fee, or dispose of this quantity against the wishes of the inhabitants.

Then they objected to the action of the Governor in claiming the sole power to grant passports for ships, and certificates for the due arrival of goods imported to Jersey under a licence. They contended that they were better fitted to carry out such regulations respecting the shipping "both by theire owne interest and by feare of forefiting Yr Maties favour in case of abuse". They asked that the States should be joined in the responsibility of the shipping laws, and at least that the Customes appointed by the Governor, should be appointed, and sworn, by the Royal Court and be responsible to it "for all excesses and defects committed by him in ye said office".

The petition then went on to explain the very many grievances the Islanders had suffered under military rule, and pointed out that when the Attorney-General questioned the Governor's authority in claiming dues in connection with "Seawracks" over and above those claimed by previous governors.

Morgan got very angry, and furiously told him that "he had been like to lay him by Ye heeles". He did not mince matters with the States, for at one of their sittings he caused a paper to be read to those present - "Gentlemen, You are here nowe altogether, and I must tell you that you have provoked me very farre, and affronted me very grossely by using Yor authority to imprison the Kgs soldiers before my face and Yt without my consent and to detain them for 15 days prisoners upon pretended Priviledge."

The States had certainly many grievances but Sir Thomas went his own way, and let them see that he cared nothing for the respect due to the Bailiff and Jurats.

Apples and cider

The apple season was good, and the Bailiff and Jurats decided that a good way to encourage work in the Island was to stop all importation of apples, and cider, from Normandy; therefore they passed an order to that effect.

Although Sir Thomas was present when the order was passed, that same evening he issued licences to two persons to import large quantities of Normandy apples, and made it public that he was prepared to grant others.

Not only this, but he allowed a large number of hogsheads of Normandy cider to be landed at Mont Orgueil, not only for the use of the garrison, but for sale by retail to any who cared to buy. As the Magistrates pointed out, the people flocked there, mostly on Sundays and during Divine Service, where they could get a cheap drink and be drunk and disorderly. And when this abuse was modestly represented to the Governor, by the Constable of St Martin at one of the sittings of the Court, Sir Thomas, indignant at being so bearded before the assembly, threatened to "lay him by Ye heeles and Yt he would thinke of him".

They accused him of smuggling great quantities of wines, aqua vita, and brandy, into the Castles, and they stated that in 1677 no fewer than 14 Hogsheads of brandy were landed at Elizabeth Castle and disposed of free of duty. They evidently had very just cause of complaint against this autocratic Governor, who appears to have taken every opportunity to defy the regulations which the Bailiff and Jurats had taken so much trouble to pass through the States.

Ecclesiastical matters

Even in ecclesiastical matters Sir Thomas had his say, for when a lewd woman had been condemned, on the report that she had done away with her child, "to Ye whip and then banished for Yt she was originally a stranger, and being under Ye Executioner's hand, four soldiers of Ye garrison in Ye sight of Ye people there assembled assaulted Ye said Executioner with swords drawne, wounded him sore, rescued and caryed away Ye woman, and raised such an uproare by Ye helpe of theire fellowes and of other unruly people, that had it not been for Ye assistance of some gentlemen, they would have killed him outright."

Evidently the soldiers of the garrison did what they liked, and cared little for the laws of the Island. When a soldier named Clarke murdered one of the Islanders, the Governor, ignoring the Royal Court, took charge of the case and sent him prisoner to the Castle, where some of his comrades rescued him without any opposition and put him in a boat and sent him out of the Island without being punished in any way. There were many other cases of soldiers helping others to escape from the officers of the Court, and were ever ready to use their swords to overawe those in authority. They also refused to assist the Magistrates in conducting prisoners to prison at Mont Orgueil, although in former days it was the custom for the Master Porter of the Castle to convey them to the Castle, and keep them in proper custody.


ir Thomas thought nothing of levying taxes on goods exported from the Island, and we find that the Bailiff and Jurats complained that by a note under his hand, he directed his Customs to levy one penny for "every tobacco roale being above five pounds weight" sent out of the Island. He raised the charge for a passport to foreign vessels leaving the Island, to 15 pence, no matter the size of the vessel, and 5 pence per head on every passenger against all precedent. He charged each person making a voyage to Normandy and Brittany, five pence per voyage, although in former days this charge was payable for a passport lasting a year. They accused the Governor of issuing blank passports to strangers, to the great prejudice of the Jersey people.

Sir Thomas was Governor, and he had the troops under his command, and they were willing to do what they were told, provided their little irregularities were connived at, and they had a certain amount of freedom in their disputes with the inhabitants. These unfortunate people had no one to defend them, and we find that they were compelled to mow the meadows belonging to the Crown, on payment of one penny a day and a cup of small beer, although the laws could compel the inhabitants to work but one day each year, and that at the regulated pay.

He took charge of the building of the pier, and the inhabitants agreed that all the carts in the Island should be used for two days each year in order to carry the necessary building material. This hardly satisfied Sir Thomas, who demanded that instead of carts, the people should give the equivalent in money. He therefore demanded 1,000 crowns for carrying on the work, which, as the Bailiff and Jurats protested, was hard on the poor husbandmen, who could lend their carts but had little money to spare.

Then there was the billeting of the soldiers; and here we find that the Governor wished for the best, and was not content with what the Constables of each parish had provided. It was a serious state of affairs, for if the Governor had power to billet soldiers anywhere, then he might use his power to pay off any grudge he had against an opponent.

Six of Captain Wide's troop were sent to St Martin and the Constable, who was an Advocate of the Court, provided a house for their use, with a man to wait on them. The Governor, however, was not satisfied, so he ordered two of the troopers to be lodged at the house of a Jurat, and two at the Constable's house, and when the matter was raised in Court, Sir Thomas held up his cane to him "threatening him in these unworthy termes: 'By God, Sirrah, I shall rubb your nose'"

But we must not allow the petition of the Bailiff and Jurats to prejudice us too much against Sir Thomas. He had been sent to Jersey at a time of danger on account of his great military experience, and notwithstanding his faults, faults which were very common in that age, he saw that the Islanders were prepared to defend themselves against the expected attacks of their near neighbours, and he did everything possible to encourage the trade of the Island. He placed the militia on a proper footing and introduced the scarlet uniform which continued to be in use until the recent war.

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