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.

George Read Murphy (1856–1925)

by Anne Beggs Sunter

This article was published:

George Read Murphy (1856-1925), public servant, inventor and writer, was born on 17 May 1856 at Prahran, Melbourne, eldest son of Henry Morgan Murphy, merchant, and his wife Edith, née Read. His Dublin-born father was a member of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1864-73. After attending Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Murphy was appointed to the Victorian Public Service as a clerk of courts on 5 January 1874, the youngest officer ever given charge of a court. His public service career extended over forty years and embraced a variety of duties in seventeen country and suburban localities. He was at times clerk of courts, coroner and police magistrate.

But Murphy's public service career, distinguished as it was, seemed to be merely a source of financial security which allowed him to pursue a busy intellectual life. From his youth he wrote verse and prose and letters to editors on a wide range of social issues. When a serious coach accident in 1886 necessitated his taking extended sick leave from the public service, he went to London and immersed himself in the issues of the day. He studied the torpedo, invented some twenty years earlier, and patented the 'Victoria' torpedo, which was commended in The Times. A company purchased the rights to manufacture for £500 a year but failed to sell them to the Royal Navy because of the expense involved in changing from the existing systems. He lectured to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1890 on torpedoes.

While in London Murphy wrote his first novel, The Blakely Tragedy (1891), which was in reality a plea for legislation to banish prostitutes from the streets. Returning to Victoria to resume his legal duties at Geelong, he published Beyond the Ice (London, 1894). The subtitle suggests an adventure story about a trip to a newly discovered region near the North Pole; it is in fact a Utopian novel, showing how Australia (Zara), America (Ura), England (Gurla) and the civilized dependencies (Roda) might attain a state of universal happiness in a socialist society guided by the philosophy of Christ. In 1894 he also published at Geelong his History of Federation, a fictitious presentation in dialogue form. He also lectured and wrote on prison and racing reform, socialism and reform of the petty sessions, and he was largely responsible for bringing about the royal commission on law reform in 1897.

Murphy retired as police magistrate at Ballarat in 1916. He had married Ellen Stock at Sandford, Victoria, on 3 November 1904; they had no children. He lived in retirement in Melbourne and published his last book, Peace, in 1920. He died of pneumonia in Sydney on 11 September 1925 and was buried with Anglican rites in Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. McCallum, Ballarat and District Citizens and Sports at Home and Abroad (Ballarat, 1916)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 25 July 1901
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Sept 1925.

Citation details

Anne Beggs Sunter, 'Murphy, George Read (1856–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 13 June 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]


17 May, 1856
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


11 September, 1925 (aged 69)
Sydney, 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.