Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Murdoch (1876–1961)

by Ronald McNicoll

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Thomas Murdoch (1876-1961), military engineer, was born on 16 April 1876 at Milawa, Victoria, son of James Murdoch, farmer and former stonemason, and his wife Elizabeth, née Doig, both Scottish born. He was educated at South Melbourne College and at the University of Melbourne (B.C.E., 1898). He also became a licensed surveyor. In 1897 he joined the civil engineering staff of the Victorian Railways.  

In 1901 Murdoch was commissioned in the Victorian Railways Infantry, a militia regiment. In 1904 he transferred as a lieutenant to the Corps of Australian Engineers and by mid-1906 was a captain commanding No.2 Electric Company. In 1910 he passed an examination for appointment to the Permanent Military Forces. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Engineers and appointed staff officer (Works) for Victoria. Before long he was director of engineers at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, as well as director of works. In 1913 he was promoted captain.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Murdoch was 38, too old for most postings in the Australian Imperial Force. He remained in Australia, consoled at the end of 1915 with a brevet majority for meritorious service. It was not until June 1917 that a place was found for him in the A.I.F., as a major. By September he was at the Engineer Training Depot at Brightlingsea, Essex, England, and in November he took command of the 1st Field Company, then in the quiet Messines sector after months of fighting in the 3rd Ypres battles. In April 1918 Murdoch was promoted lieutenant-colonel and appointed to command the 1st Pioneer Battalion. He held this command throughout the final six months of the war, for much of which the battalion worked under the chief engineer of the Corps. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the 1919 New Year honours.

Murdoch returned to Australia in April 1919 and took up duty as director of works at Army Headquarters. His duties remained unchanged when he was transferred to the Department of Defence in 1928. In 1930 he resigned from the Permanent Military Forces, staying on as director of works in a civilian capacity. In 1936 he was made a life member of the Victorian Institute of Engineers which he had joined in 1910. He retired from Defence in January 1937 with an honorary colonelcy, his stated intention being to play a lot of golf.

The outbreak of World War II called for an enlarged army works service and in November 1939 Murdoch was called back to the active list and appointed deputy director general of engineer services with the rank of colonel. A year later he was made director general, and a brigadier. By the time he retired from the directorate in November 1941 the severe staff shortages had been overcome and a substantial volume of work done, though there were still shortcomings in the handling of engineer stores.

After a year of inactivity Brigadier Murdoch joined the Department of Munitions, where he was concerned with the allocation of power generation resources and took part in the early planning for the post-war hydro-electric development of the upper Snowy River. He remained with Munitions until the end of the war.

On 25 April 1905 at Elsternwick, Melbourne, he had married Kathleen Tiernan; they had two daughters and three sons, who included Major General Ian Murdoch and Air Marshal Sir Alister Murdoch. Predeceased by his wife and a daughter, Murdoch died at Geelong on 13 July 1961 and was buried in Geelong western cemetery with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Drake Brockman, The Turning Wheel (Perth, 1960)
  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers, 1919 to 1945 (Canb, 1982)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ronald McNicoll, 'Murdoch, Thomas (1876–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 April, 1876
Milawa, Victoria, Australia


13 July, 1961 (aged 85)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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