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William Morgan, F.R.S., 1750–1833

Nature volume 131, pages 612613 (29 April 1933) | Download Citation



WILLIAM MORGAN, who died on May 2, 1833, was the son of a doctor at Bridgend and studied medicine in London, but he failed to make headway after his father's death. He returned to London, where his uncle, Richard Price, found him work with the first life assurance company to grant assurances for the whole of life at a level premium depending on the age when the assurance was effected. This new venture gave Morgan his opportunity. He studied mathematics, applied them to life contingencies and produced, in 1779, his “Doctrine of Annuities and Assurances”. He followed this with a series of five papers to the Royal Society in which, for the first time, solutions were given of complicated survivorship probabilities in terms that enabled a computer to use actual mortality statistics instead of an arbitrary law of mortality such as de Moivre's. He was given the Copley Medal in 1789 and his fellowship of the Royal Society in the following year. Morgan did still more important scientific work in connexion with his business, where he worked out the proper reserves that should be kept by a life assurance company and studied the difficult problems of surplus and bonus distribution so skilfully that he evolved a fair method for the particular scale of premium—the general problem still gives difficulty and is widely discussed even now. Morgan also studied the mortality experience of the persons insured, and his manuscript volume on the subject, from which he gave abridged tables in his published work, was the first investigation of the kind. Morgan published some tracts on public finance, wrote a life of Price and edited his works, contributed articles to Rees' “Cyclopedia”, etc., and, in earlier days, displayed an interest in electricity and heat. His great achievement was that, in effect, he started the profession of ‘actuary’ and a new science which Would nowadays be called actuarial science, and he proved that life assurance was a practical possibility and not merely an interesting theory.

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