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Biographical entry Morgan, John (1797 - 1847)

MRCS March 17th 1820; FRCS Dec 11th 1843; one of the original 300 Fellows.

10 January 1797
Stamford Hill, UK
14 October 1847
Totttenham, UK
General surgeon


Born at Stamford Hill on Jan 10th, 1797, the second son of William Morgan, the noted Actuary to the Equitable Life Assurance Office and a native of Glamorganshire, where the family had been landowners for centuries. His father began life as a medical student and is said to have come from Glamorganshire to London “with sixpence in his pocket and a club foot”.

After education at home, John Morgan became an articled pupil of Sir Astley Cooper at the School of St Thomas's and Guy's Hospitals, having as a fellow-pupil Aston Key. He showed an intense interest in natural history, and began to stuff birds and small animals almost as soon as he could use a knife and his fingers. After his pupilage he became Demonstrator of Anatomy at the private school near to the Hospital. He was elected Assistant Surgeon to Guy's Hospital in 1821, and in 1824, at the early age of 27, he was elected (together with Aston Key) Surgeon to Guy's Hospital on the retirement of Forster and Lucas. He thus became a colleague of Sir Astley Cooper, who on his retirement was succeeded by his nephew, Bransby Cooper. For many years Morgan was joint Lecturer on Surgery; latterly he only gave a course of ophthalmic lectures in the Eye Infirmary attached to the Hospital. He suffered himself from iritis, and was instrumental in establishing a ward at Guy's Hospital for the treatment of diseases of the eye.

On the death of Frederick Tyrell, Morgan was elected a Member of the College Council on June 9th, 1843. Much interested in comparative anatomy, he dissected ‘Chum’ the elephant, whose skeleton is in the College Museum. Many of his anatomical preparations are there, others are in Guy's Hospital Museum. His remarkable collection of stuffed British birds is preserved at Cambridge.

As a surgeon Morgan was distinguished by the attention he paid to the medical state of his patient previous to operating, whilst he became one of the best operators in London. On two or three occasions he removed considerable portions of the lower jaw. He tied the external iliac artery successfully on a very stout patient who was suffering from a large inguinal hernia on the same side as the aneurysm. For a highly vascular naevus – an aneurysm by anastomosis – occupying one entire side of the face which had been previously treated by the crucial ligature under crossed pins and by the actual cautery, he followed the similar case operated upon successfully by F Travers, and ligatured the common carotid artery. The patient recovered, but was not benefited. Morgan was one of the first, and certainly one of the most energetic, originators of the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park.

He practised early at Broad Street Buildings, later in Finsbury Square, and for seven or eight years before his death he lived at Tottenham. After suffering with albuminuria, he died at Tottenham on Oct 14th, 1847. He married in 1831 Miss Anne Gosse, of Poole, sister of William Gosse (qv); he left two sons: the eldest succeeded his grandfather and uncle in the Equitable Life Assurance Company, the younger entered the medical profession.

In person Morgan was of middle height and a thick-set heavy man, very different from his colleagues Key and Bransby Cooper, the one striding in the hospital with head erect waiting for everyone to do him reverence, the other in a jaunty manner greeting those around him in familiar and pleasant tones; whilst Morgan walked straight in with a white impassive face, went to work without a word of gossip, taking heed of nothing or nobody, gave his opinion of the case in a few words, and then went on to the next bed. His work was done well and in a business-like manner, his colleagues highly respecting his opinion and his pupils being much attached to him. As it was the habit of surgeons to take snuff, so did Morgan to excess; it was often possible to mark his traces in the wards by the snuff he let fall. He practised in Finsbury Square and had a country house at Tottenham.

Lectures on Diseases of the Eye, 8vo, London, 1839; 2nd ed., 1848, by JOHN F. FRANCE; this contains a life of Morgan.
Essay on the Operation of Poisonous Agents upon the Living Body (with THOMAS ADDISON), London, 1829.
Contributions to Guy's Hosp. Rep. and Trans. Linnean Soc.
He communicated to the Transactions of the Linnean Society (1833, xvi, 455) an interesting paper on the mammary organs of the kangaroo, and the Museum of Guy's Hospital contains two preparations made by him, one “the pouch of a young and virgin kangaroo showing the teats in an undeveloped state, one of them artificially drawn out: the second, the mammary gland of an adult kangaroo, showing the marsupial teat in an undeveloped state, the ducts filled with mercury.” The specimens were perhaps prepared from animals sent to him by his brother-in-law, William Gosse (qv).

Sources used to compile this entry: [There is an unusually full and good notice of John Morgan in the Lond. and Prov. Med. Directory for 1848, 117. J. F. Clarke's Autobiographical Recollections of the Medical Profession, London, 1874, 526. Wilks and Bettany's Biographical History of Guy's Hospital, London, 1892, 387].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England