Image of Portrait of Henry Arthur Morgan

Henry Arthur Morgan

Henry Morgan (1830-1912) was an energetic and progressive Tutor and then Master who transformed Jesus College.

Henry Arthur Morgan entered the College as a 19 year old undergraduate and never left. He was the driving force in its transformation from a small church institution into one of Cambridge’s larger Colleges.

At the forefront of the movement that put those Colleges to new uses, and one of the first generation to make being a College Fellow a lifetime profession instead of a stepping stone to some other career, Morgan laid the foundations for the modern Jesus College.

Early life

Like so many students, Fellows, and Masters of Jesus before him, Morgan was a clergyman’s son. His father was vicar of Conwy in north Wales, and he himself was a Welsh speaker and a bard at the National Eisteddfod. He remained keenly interested in Welsh affairs, and was always ready to enliven a party with the spirited singing of Welsh songs.

During a successful, but undistinguished, student career he became the College’s Captain of Boats and fell in love with the river, a love which lasted his whole life.

Career at Jesus

After graduating Morgan taught Mathematics as a College lecturer, but it was not until 1860 that he became a Fellow. In 1863 the Master appointed him Tutor, the College officer with overall responsibility for the admission, teaching, guidance, and discipline of its students.

A man of great physical energy and vitality, he was renowned as an oarsman (having rowed in over a hundred intercollegiate races), as a rowing coach, as a great walker, as an early mountaineer, and as an adventurous traveller in many parts of Europe.

He had a remarkable ability to maintain a rapport with men younger than himself, and to sustain their friendship and respect. Full of common sense and impatient of academic oddity, he enjoyed entertaining; he was a fine raconteur, and a devastating mimic.

Crucially, he inspired confidence in parents and schoolmasters. At that time it was Colleges and their tutors who competed for students, not students for a College place.

Expanding the College

Morgan was determined to restore and enhance the reputation and prosperity of his College. In increasing the number of students, he was rapidly and outstandingly successful.

When Morgan arrived as a freshman there had been 50 undergraduates on the College’s books, though fewer than 40 were in residence. By 1868 the college had 104 undergraduates, making it the seventh largest in Cambridge. By 1881 it had 216, so that it was for a while the third largest College.

A substantial proportion of the students Morgan admitted to the College did not remain long enough to take a degree and of those who did only a minority graduated with honours, which were needed only by those wishing to teach, to be civil servants, or to hold a senior church post.

It was for sporting rather than academic success that the College was renowned while Morgan was Tutor and, after 1885, its Master. For 11 successive years from 1875 the Jesus First VIII that Morgan trained were Head of the River (they came first in the annual May boat races).

A reforming Master

Morgan was also a forceful advocate of all the reforming causes of later 19th century Cambridge: the widening of the degree curriculum, the abolition of compulsory Greek, the introduction of entrance scholarships, degrees for women, allowing Fellows to marry, and other changes that would make a career in University teaching and research more attractive.

He himself married as soon as the rule changed: he was 52 and became the devoted father of five children. Sadly Morgan became increasingly deaf, which prevented him serving as Vice Chancellor, but he remained Master of Jesus College until he died in 1912.