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Peter Murdoch (1795–1871)

by P. R. Eldershaw

This article was published:

Peter Murdoch (1795-1871), public servant and settler, was born on 15 January 1795, son of James Murdoch and his wife Frances, daughter of John Wallace, of Kelly. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 35th Regiment in 1812 and was at Waterloo and in Paris during the occupation. In 1817 he was placed on half-pay and in 1821 accompanied his friend, Sir Thomas Brisbane, to New South Wales. He and James were the first of four brothers (John Wallace and Robert Wallace were the others) to come by way of New South Wales to settle in Van Diemen's Land.

Brisbane appointed Peter Murdoch superintendent of the government agricultural establishment at Emu Plains, New South Wales, in March 1822, and later defended him from retrospective allegations that he had connived at the prostitution of women convicts sent to work there. A board of inquiry dismissed the charges, finding his administration exemplary; Brisbane also gave him great credit for having made the farm yield a profit.

In January 1825 Peter, accompanied by James, arrived in Hobart Town to set up Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's new penal settlement on Maria Island. Brisbane recalled him to give evidence before the Emu Plains inquiry in September, and while he was in Sydney nominated him to the Commission of Survey and Valuation. Arthur appointed him second land commissioner in February 1826, and for two years he was Roderic O'Connor's companion, one might say crony, in the examination of the settled districts; Murdoch is responsible for two of the lively journals that resulted from their peregrinations.

In 1825 he had no intention of settling in Van Diemen's Land. He had been granted 2000 acres (809 ha) in New South Wales by Sir Thomas Brisbane, who recommended him for another 2000 acres (810 ha); but in 1827 Murdoch sought to take up this extension in the island. (Sir) Ralph Darling would allow this only if Murdoch relinquished all his New South Wales land, and was surprised when he agreed. Murdoch transferred all his property to Van Diemen's Land, where he already had a farm at Broadmarsh, and took the 2000 acres (809 ha) at the Handsome Sugarloaf. He owned 4600 acres (1862 ha) in 1831 when he sought an extension, and Arthur ordered a further 1000 acres (405 ha) in consideration of his services as land commissioner. By 1837 he was master of 6390 acres (2586 ha), including valuable land on Hunter Island.

In April 1834 Murdoch was appointed a police magistrate and stationed first at Richmond and then at Oatlands, where he resigned in 1835. Two years later he took his family to Scotland, and settled on an income at Todhillbank, Renfrewshire, 'interesting himself in country affairs and farming principally for amusement'. Murdoch seems to have been a competent and amiable man, who was widely mourned when he died at Capelrig, Renfrewshire, on 6 November 1871. His wife, Barclay Brown, whom he had married on 5 February 1830 at Capelrig, died at the same place some five weeks later, survived by four children.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 11-12
  • Mercury (Hobart), 19 Feb 1872
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • correspondence file under Peter Murdoch (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

P. R. Eldershaw, 'Murdoch, Peter (1795–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 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

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