Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Michael Egan Murnin (1814–1894)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Michael Egan Murnin (1814-1894), merchant and businessman, was born in Ireland, arrived in New South Wales about 1839 and began business as a merchant and commission agent. By the 1840s as owner of the 134-ton Bee he was shipping livestock to New Zealand and acting as the Sydney agent of an Auckland merchant and shipowner, John Sangster MacFarlane. He soon became part-owner of other trading vessels.

Business transactions from August 1844 to 1855 led to a dispute with MacFarlane who sued Murnin in the Supreme Court of New South Wales for alleged breaches of duty as an agent and damage to his credit. The complex suit, involving nineteen separate issues, was heard before Judge Dickinson and a special jury in April 1857. The court found against Murnin on the major issues and he was ordered to pay £3428 damages. His lawyers applied for a new trial but Murnin objected to the conditions and appealed to the Privy Council. In January 1860 MacFarlane petitioned the New South Wales parliament for action and payment. In March the Privy Council dismissed the case unheard for non prosequitur.

Murnin was a promoter and committee member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce in 1851, a member of the first board of directors of the Sydney Exchange Co. in 1852 and one of the first directors and sometime chairman of the Australian Mutual Provident Society. He was a director and later chairman of the New South Wales Marine Assurance Co. and the Australian Joint Stock Bank, a director of the Sydney Insurance Co. and the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co., and a trustee of the Mutual Building and Investment Society. Like many merchants he devoted some attention to charitable institutions; he was a director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary and of the Home Visiting and Relief Society.

In 1865, after suffering heavy losses on his four runs in the Port Curtis District of Queensland, and on railway contracts, Murnin's liabilities amounted to £150,000 and he was forced to divide his available assets. In June the Australian Joint Stock Bank recovered a judgment in the Supreme Court against him for £1649 and on 6 March 1868 J. S. Mitchell, managing director of the bank, instituted bankruptcy proceedings against him. His liabilities were £61,418, of which £39,072 was secured, and his assets £39,350. After his discharge he carried on business until 1876 when he retired to live near Mittagong.

Though politically inactive, Murnin joined other conservatives on the general committee of the Constitutional Association in November 1860. He was a founder of the Union Club in 1857 and a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1865. He had lived at first in Glebe and later at Mona, Darling Point, opposite St Mark's Church, and then at Burwood. Actively associated with the establishment of St Mark's, he was a churchwarden for many years. He was a lay member of the Church Society for the Diocese of Sydney and also a member of the New South Wales Auxiliary Bible Society. Predeceased by his second wife Catherine Arnold, née Thomson, whom he had married on 10 March 1860, he died aged 80 at his residence, Eisenfels, Nattai, near Mittagong, on 16 November 1894. He was survived by a son and three daughters of his first wife Grace née Abbott (d.1856), whom he had married in Sydney on 7 October 1847.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1859-60, 2, 87
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sept 1844, 16, 21 Apr 1857, 7 Mar, 1 Apr, 21 Oct 1868, 20 Nov 1894.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Murnin, Michael Egan (1814–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 June 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




16 November, 1894 (aged ~ 80)
Nattai, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.