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Bourchier, Sir Murray William James (1881–1937)

by Don Watson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Murray William James Bourchier (1881-1937), by G. Lekegian & Co.

Murray William James Bourchier (1881-1937), by G. Lekegian & Co.

Australian War Memorial, H00036

Sir Murray William James Bourchier (1881-1937), grazier, soldier and politician, was born on 4 April 1881 at Pootilla, Bungaree, Victoria, eldest son of Edward Bourchier, Geelong-born farmer, and his wife Francis (Fanny), née Cope. In 1878 Edward and his three brothers had taken up four adjoining selections on the Murray River near Tocumwal. Within a few years their properties had expanded considerably: Edward's, near Strathmerton, was called Woodland Park; the other three were known collectively as Boomagong. After a private education in Melbourne, Murray returned to Woodland Park. From 1909 until the outbreak of World War I he commanded a troop of light horse at Numurkah, attending annual camps and courses.

Bourchier's military service was distinguished. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1914 and sailed as a lieutenant in the 4th Light Horse Regiment, serving seven months on Gallipoli. After the Sinai campaign in 1916-17, during which he was promoted lieutenant-colonel commanding his regiment, he made the crucial final assault on Beersheba. On 31 October 1917 he led his men, many of them from his own district, at full gallop over two miles into Turkish entrenchments and on for a further two miles (3.2 km) into Beersheba to capture vital wells before the Turks could destroy them. Lacking sabres, the regiment used bayonets held in their hands as shock weapons. For this exploit he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and earned the sobriquet 'Bourchier of Beersheba'. Eleven months later, after fighting north through Palestine, he commanded a joint force of the 4th and 12th Light Horse regiments (Bourchier Force) in the final advance on Damascus; on entering the city the 4th captured 12,000 Turks and set about relieving their sufferings.

Bourchier was three times mentioned in dispatches. He was appointed C.M.G. in June 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended in October. In 1921 he was promoted colonel, commanding the 5th Cavalry Brigade, and in 1931 brigadier, in charge of the 2nd Cavalry Division. He returned to Strathmerton but later farmed a property at Katandra, which he named Kuneitra. On 16 June 1921 at Holy Trinity Church, Kew, he married Minona Francis, daughter of Sir Frank Madden.

In 1920 Bourchier entered the Legislative Assembly as the Victorian Farmers' Union member for Goulburn Valley; he had to contest the 1921 election but between 1924 and 1935 he was unopposed as Country Party member. The plight of returned soldiers had been his active concern; fittingly, his maiden speech was an attack on the (Sir) Harry Lawson government's neglect of ex-servicemen and the subject remained a constant theme. He was fiercely loyal to his electorate and its particular rural interests. He allied himself with the conservative John Allan against (Sir) Albert Dunstan's breakaway group of 1926, the Country Progressive Party. Bourchier would not tolerate the notion of an alliance with Labor, which Dunstan favoured. He opposed the unemployed workers' insurance bill of 1928 on the conflicting grounds that there would always be the 'unemployable' in the community and that lack of work was a temporary problem: he considered the money would be better spent on national under-takings, such as irrigation schemes. Similarly in 1931, he opposed the unemployment relief bill, because it discriminated against the unemployed in country areas. He was typical of the aggressive parochialism of his party.

Bourchier was minister of agriculture and of markets in the Allan government in 1924-27 and deputy leader of the party in 1927-30. When the party and the breakaway group amalgamated to form the United Country Party in 1930 he was obliged to stand down for Dunstan. Bourchier was not one of those approved by Sir Stanley Argyle to join his United Australia Party-Country Party coalition from May 1932. Next year, when Allan had to resign after a revolt by three members, Bourchier won the leadership ballot which followed. He was a principled and predictable man who never lacked a solid bloc of supporters, but he was an uninspired leader, and he seemed almost destined to lose in the end to the more resourceful Dunstan. His March 1935 election campaign was unimpressive; he concentrated almost entirely on rural matters in the general context of sound finance, a balanced budget, and no additional taxation. Although the party improved its position, his supporters grew impatient. On 14 March, at a meeting over which Bourchier presided, his leadership was challenged: Dunstan won by 13 votes to 11. In the Country Party government formed with Labor support on 2 April, Bourchier was named chief secretary and minister of labour and deputy premier.

In January 1936 his appointment as agent-general in London was announced. It is likely that Bourchier had in fact been in Dunstan's cabinet under sufferance. Nevertheless, government members insisted that, with his sound knowledge of primary industry and the needs of farmers, he was well qualified for the job. The appointment was extended from the usual three years to five, and Bourchier left for London in August. On 16 December 1937 he died in London of pernicious anaemia and cancer and was cremated; he was survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons, and left an estate valued for probate at £17,520. Bourchier was knighted posthumously in January 1938. His portrait by Longstaff is in the possession of the family. His son Murray Goulburn Madden became ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1977.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • M. H. Bourchier, ‘Boomagong’ and the Bourchier Family (Tocumwal, 1973, copy, State Library of Victoria)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1921, 277-79, 1928, 1085-87, 1931, 1086-89
  • Argus (Melbourne), Feb, 15 Mar 1935, Feb-June 1936
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Dec 1937
  • Shepparton Advertiser, 20 Dec 1937
  • J. B. Paul, The Premiership of Sir Albert Dunstan (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1961)
  • D. M. Hudson, The Role of the Country Party in the Formation of Governments in Victoria 1924-29 (4th year Honours essay, University of Melbourne, 1963).

Citation details

Don Watson, 'Bourchier, Sir Murray William James (1881–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bourchier-sir-murray-william-james-5303/text8953, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 30 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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