Sir Henry Morgan and the Perils of Wikipedia

Today (25 August) marks the anniversary of the death of one of Wales’s most famous seafarers, Sir Henry Morgan, and this was duly marked on social media. Unfortunately, many tweeters chose to describe Llanrumney-born Morgan as a ‘Royal Navy admiral’, apparently relying on his Wikipedia entry, which describes him as such. (To add insult to injury, some tweeters – invariably from across the pond – described him as an ‘English’ Royal Navy admiral…) This might be excusable for those who aren’t expert in the field and have only had time to refer to the most obvious online source, but there’s simply no excuse when the same claim is made in the Twitter feeds of the likes of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, which should surely be authoritative.

To clarify: Morgan never held a Royal Navy commission of any sort. He was granted a local commission as admiral by Sir Thomas Modyford, governor of Jamaica, in 1667, but this was in command of local privateers and ‘irregulars’, not official naval forces. Samuel Pepys, a near-contemporary of Morgan, was holding high administrative office in the navy throughout the time period in question, and was thus in a much better position to know the truth of the matter than any Wikipedia editor: and Henry Morgan is omitted from Pepys’s definitive list of those who held flag office between the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution.

I’ve said very little about Morgan in Britannia’s Dragon, partly because he never served a ‘proper’ navy – the central criterion of the book’s focus – and partly because he has been written about in so much detail elsewhere. Covering Morgan (and other Welsh ‘pirates’ like Bartholomew Roberts) would simply have forced the deletion of less well-known material elsewhere in the book, and that wasn’t something I was prepared to do. Fortunately, my first guest submitter on this blog, Josh Provan of the Adventures in Historyland blog, has solved the problem for me by providing links to his three posts (to date) about Henry Morgan!

1 thought on “Sir Henry Morgan and the Perils of Wikipedia

  1. joshprovan

    Royal Navy! Really! I never knew people thought he was part of the regular service. The closest he came to an Admiral was being made Admiral of the Brethren of the Coast, which is hardly the same thing. Wise to be wary of the troubled Waters of Wikipedia.

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