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William Lloyd (Billy) Murdoch (1854–1911)

by Christopher Morris

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Billy Murdoch, by Ane, 1878

Billy Murdoch, by Ane, 1878

State Library of Victoria, 49203275

William Lloyd (Billy) Murdoch (1854-1911), cricketer, was born on 18 October 1854 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, son of Gilbert Murdoch and his wife Susanna, née Flegg.  By 1869 he had moved to New South Wales with his parents. He played for the Albert Cricket Club with F. R. Spofforth and from 1875 for New South Wales as wicket-keeper. In 1877 Spofforth refused to play against James Lillywhite's team in Melbourne when Murdoch was not selected. In that year he qualified as a solicitor and practised with his brother Gilbert.

In 1878 Murdoch toured England with D. Gregory's team as first wicket-keeper. Next year he became the first Australian to carry his bat through an innings in first-class cricket when he made 82 not out for New South Wales against Lord Harris's English team. When he was given run out in the second innings the crowd rushed the ground and Harris was struck several times and threatened to block any future tours of England. Murdoch captained Australian teams in England in 1880, 1882 and 1884 and each time headed the batting averages, but no longer kept wickets. In 1880 at the Oval in the only Test he backed himself to beat W. G. Grace's score of 152 and in the second innings made 153 not out; thereafter he wore on his watch-chain the sovereign he had won from Grace. Meanwhile in June 1879 the firm Murdoch & Murdoch was dissolved and in December William was bankrupted with debts of £775; his only asset was clothing valued at £10. The release of his estate in 1881 revealed that his share of the profits of the 1880 English tour had gone to his brother.

In 1882 Murdoch scored 321 for New South Wales against Victoria, the first Australian innings over 300. In 1884 his 211 at the Oval was the highest score by an Australian in any Test until 1903 and the highest for Australia against England until 1930. Short and plump with a stiff stance, Murdoch was unexpectedly fast on his feet and best on a hard wicket. Using a very high grip he excelled at cuts and off-drives. On wet wickets he had good defence but few scoring shots. As captain in sixteen out of his eighteen Tests, he was a shrewd tactician and one of the earliest to change his field for different batsmen. Jovial and optimistic, he inspired confidence, comradeship and high morale.

On 8 December 1884 at Melbourne Murdoch married Jemima, daughter of J. B. Watson, a mining magnate from Bendigo; their eldest son was born in 1886 at Cootamundra. Later they lived in Melbourne. In 1890 Murdoch was persuaded to lead one more team to England and again topped the averages. He settled in England and qualified for Sussex. In 1891-92 he toured South Africa and kept wickets for England in the first Test. In 1893-99 he captained Sussex and made six centuries; K. S. Ranjitsinhji had chosen to play for Sussex in order to have Murdoch as his captain. In his last years of first-class cricket he played for Grace's London County side and in 1904, his last season, made 104 for Gentlemen v. Players. Murdoch hit twenty-one centuries in first-class cricket including five double centuries. He scored 17,319 runs at an average of 26.64 and in Tests made 896 runs at an average of 32.

Murdoch enjoyed practical jokes, was an expert pigeon shooter and later an enthusiastic golfer. In 1893 he published a small manual, Cricket. In 1910 he visited Australia and died suddenly on 18 February 1911 at Melbourne while watching a Test match against South Africa. His body was embalmed and buried in the Kensal Green cemetery, London. He was survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • R. H. Lyttleton et al, Giants of the Game (Lond, 1899)
  • M. B. Hawke et al, The Memorial Biography of Dr. W. G. Grace (Lond, 1919)
  • A. G. Moyes, A Century of Cricketers (Lond, 1950) and Australian Batsmen (Syd, 1954)
  • A. A. Thomson, Cricket: The Great Captains (Lond, 1965)
  • Bulletin, 2 Apr, 7 May 1881
  • Parade, Oct 1962.

Citation details

Christopher Morris, 'Murdoch, William Lloyd (Billy) (1854–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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