‘The best collector of clocks’

Charles Octavius Swinnerton Morgan (1803 –1888), known as Octavius Morgan, was a British politician, historian and antiquary. He was a significant benefactor to the British Museum.

Following the death his father, Octavius inherited a fortune , and in 1839 he had “The Friars” rebuilt for his use in the Elizabethan style [the Friars had at one time been home to Carmelite monks]. Octavius was said to have filled the house with “Tudor furniture, more curious than useful”.

Morgan had an octagonal preaching platform installed halfway up the main wooden staircase where he would conduct services every day. His congregation would consist of his maids, the housekeeper, bailiff and the boot boy.

Morgan sat as Member of Parliament for Monmouthshire from 1841 to 1874 for the Conservatives.  His fellow MP, Reginald Blewitt, describes Morgan as ‘flippant in his youth and overbearing, arrogant, short and effeminate’.

Morgan never married and died on 5 August 1888 aged 84.

During his lifetime Octavius Morgan made a number of generous donations to the British Museum including his clock collection.


Anonymous but generally believed to be by Reginald Blewitt.

“Mr Octavius Morgan as a young man was vain, flippant and conceited. Like the Morgans, he was a pygmy in stature, of a pale, languid complexion, rather effeminate. Although he could converse volubly on most subjects, his voice was squeaky. He delivered his opinions in a dogmatic, overbearing and arrogant manner. He was a great favourite of his father, during whose lifetime he ‘ruled the roost’ at Tredegar. Here he preferred to sponge on his father, rather than seek his fortune in the Church, at the bar, in medicine or commerce. However, his life was not spent in idleness. He was first to rise in the morning and supervised personally the domestic arrangements. Woe to the lazy footman or tardy housemaid who were late for the day’s work. He saw that the horses and cattle were properly attended to and fed, and personally fed the chickens. He made tea for his parents’ breakfast, spreading honey and butter on the dry toast for the young ladies, and made copies of the dinner menu, assisting the butler in decanting and icing the wines. The housekeeper admitted that he was ‘quite at home in a syllabub, and glorious in a trifle’. Many a piece of confectionary, enriched with silver frost-work and clever designs of almond paste and barley sugar were designed and made by him. In the kitchen all the soups, sauces, stews and curries were subject to his fastidious approval, and a new entree of his was unanimously adopted as a standing family dish and called ‘Cervelles de veaude la mode de Tredegar’.

Indifferent at sports and other manly amusements, he sought his recreation in the drawing-room, reading a page or two from the latest novel, helping to unravel a skein of silk or whispering sweet nothings in the ear of some impatient Desdemona who never wished ‘that heaven had made her such a man’. At night he lit the bed-candles for the ladies and provided them with curl-papers. I feel persuaded that, had he offered to assist at her nocturnal toilette, the youngest and fairest of the Tredegar visitors, the most punctilious mother would have said with a smile, ‘Never mind, my dear, it’s only Octavius!’. Some years ago it was rumoured that he was to marry a German baroness, but he is still a bachelor. When Mr Williams of Llangibby died, he was brought forward to represent the Tredegar interest in Monmouthshire at Parliament to the vacant county seat. Because of some rather discreditable manoeuvres by Lord Llanover, there was little opposition at the hustings. As a public man Octavius is little courteous to anyone, treating his political opponents with great rudeness and incivility.”

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