Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Murdoch (1785–1848)

by A. Rand

This article was published:

James Murdoch (1785-1848), physician and farmer, was born on 14 July 1785 the son of John Murdoch of Craigow, Kinross-shire, Scotland, and his wife Mary, née Robertson. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and was appointed lecturer on midwifery and physician accoucheur to the Edinburgh New Town Dispensary. In November 1813 he married Grace, only daughter of James Beveridge, of Easter Balado, Kinross-shire. With his wife and son John he left for Van Diemen's Land in the Castle Forbes, arriving at Hobart Town on 1 March 1822. As an obstetrician and children's doctor he began a practice in Liverpool Street. In June he offered a course of instruction to midwives, and advertised his free attendance on the poor. He received a grant of 800 acres (324 ha) of land at Cambridge which he named Craigow. By 1829 he was living there and had bought a farm at Risdon where he established a medicinal garden and chemical still, reporting to the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, of which he was a fellow, on the results of medical herb-growing in Van Diemen's Land. His cultivation of opium and aniseed and the production of sugar from beetroot were very successful. He had also made perfumes from the products of his Risdon garden.

His scientific interests were turned to further advantage in the extraction of salt from tidal pans at Pitt Water near his Craigow property and in the mineralogical surveys of settlers' land on which he offered advice on the most advantageous method of cropping the soils and on the quality of coal, lime and metallic ore deposits found. In 1825 he had official encouragement in the analysis of the salt in the pans at Salt Pan Plains near Ross. Tenders were subsequently called for their lease.

Although reputedly convivial, he was highly respected for his medical skill throughout a widely scattered country practice on the east of the River Derwent. He died suddenly on 22 April 1848, his wife having predeceased him in 1841.

They had reared six sons and two daughters, of whom the most distinguished was John (1814-1878), who in 1840 established a corn-chandling business in Hobart and in 1858-64 served the city as in alderman. James Murdoch of Craigow (1852-1925), more than twenty years member of the Legislative Council and warden of the Clarence municipality, was the eldest of John's seven sons and three daughters. Others of note were John Hugh Germain (1859-1923), merchant, director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and member of the Chamber of Commerce; Peter (1865-1948), member of the House of Assembly, 1922; George (1873-1952), solicitor and founder of the Hobart legal firm which bears his name.

Select Bibliography

  • Hobart Town Gazette, 19 Oct 1822
  • Hobart Town Courier, 26 Apr 1828, 6 June 1834
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 Mar 1922
  • CSO 1/167/3994, 1/139/3392 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

A. Rand, 'Murdoch, James (1785–1848)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 July, 1785


22 April, 1848 (aged 62)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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