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John Murray (c. 1775–1807)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

John Murray (b.1775?), seaman and explorer, claimed to have been born at Edinburgh, to have been 21 when he joined the Polyphemus and to have begun his career as an able seaman in the Duke from June to December 1789, but in 1802 the Navy Board stated that all this was incorrect. He had, however, served as a midshipman in the Polyphemus from October 1794 to May 1797, as mate in the Apollo from May to December 1797, as second master and pilot of the Blazer from January to July 1798 and as mate of the Porpoise from October 1798 to July 1800, in which year he passed his lieutenant's examination. In November 1800 he came to New South Wales while serving in the Porpoise, and next March Governor Philip Gidley King transferred him to the Lady Nelson as mate. Murray was thus able to accompany Francis Barrallier and James Grant on their visit to Jervis Bay and Western Port, and on their survey of the Hunter River in June. After their return to Sydney Grant resigned his command and on 3 September King appointed Murray acting lieutenant and commander of the Lady Nelson. In October Murray took instructions to Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux on Norfolk Island, and on his return was ordered to complete Grant's exploration of the south coast.

He set out for the Kent Group in Bass Strait on 12 November but mistook his destination and actually reached the Furneaux Islands. After returning to the Kent Group he steered through the passage separating the main islands, named Murray's Passage, and then began a survey of Western Port, which he reached in December. On 4 January 1802 he sighted Port Phillip but found the entrance dangerous and decided to survey it later. He charted the east coast of King Island, then returned to Port Phillip on 31 January and sent John Bowen into the bay in a launch to examine it. Murray entered Port Phillip in the Lady Nelson on 14 February and anchored inside. He named various landmarks: Arthur's Seat, Swan Island, Point Paterson and Point Palmer. On 8 March he took possession of Port Phillip, which he named Port King and which King renamed later.

Murray arrived back in Sydney on 23 March, having made charts of the Kent Group, King Island and Port Phillip; together with his journals they were sent to England, with a recommendation by King that Murray's lieutenancy be confirmed. The Lady Nelson was badly in need of new sails and caulking, but by the time Matthew Flinders arrived on his great voyage she appeared ready to accompany the Investigator. They left on 22 July 1802, but the Lady Nelson proved unfit and on 17 October when they were off the Cumberland Isles, Flinders ordered Murray to return. Early in 1803 Murray made another voyage to Norfolk Island and to the Hawkesbury, but in April King received a dispatch dated 5 May 1802, informing him that the Navy Board had refused to give Murray a commission or pass him as an officer in the future because he had given false details of service in the Duke and had not been in service for six years, as he claimed when examined for his commission. King had to remove Murray from his command but asked that, if Murray should manage to clear his name as he said he could, he be allowed to return to take command of the Lady Nelson again. King's good opinion of Murray was also shown in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks recommending Murray to his notice and expressing his desire that Murray be allowed to return. Murray left for England in the Glatton in May 1803, and he appears as the author of charts of the English coast made in 1804, 1805 and 1807, but he did not achieve his desire to return to New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 4-5
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3-4
  • F. P. Labilliere, Early History of the Colony of Victoria, vol 2 (Lond, 1878)
  • I. Lee, The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson (Lond, 1915)
  • J. S. Cumpston, Shipping Arrivals and Departures 1788-1825 (Canberra, 1963)
  • T. W. Fowler, ‘The Work of Captain Matthew Flinders in Port Phillip’, Victorian Geographical Journal, vol 29, 1912, pp 20-32
  • J. H. Watson, ‘Early Port Phillip’, Journal and Proceedings (Australian Historical Society), vol 3, part 10, 1916, pp 466-83
  • W. S. Campbell, ‘An Historical Vessel: The Lady Nelson’, Journal and Proceedings (Australian Historical Society), vol 3, part 10, 1916, pp 483-506
  • C. R. Long, ‘Memorials to Victorian Explorers and Pioneers: Part 1’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 4, no 4, June 1914-15, pp 153-61
  • Australian charts, 1795-1803 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under J. Murray (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Murray, John (c. 1775–1807)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 16 June 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


c. 1775
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


1807 (aged ~ 32)

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