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John Murray (1837–1917)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published:

John Murray (1837-1917), pastoralist and politician, was born on 15 August 1837 at Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of Peter Murray, coachman, and his wife Jean, née Witherspoon. He was formally educated at Mauchline, and throughout his life read widely. About 1852 he arrived on the Victorian goldfields with his parents and siblings. Ten years later John Murray and his brothers Thomas and Campbell began business in New South Wales, shipping live cattle from Twofold Bay and Newcastle to New Zealand. This terminated two years later when New Zealand banned cattle imports, because of pleuro-pneumonia in Australia.

Riding overland from Brisbane, John reached Rockhampton about December 1864. His eldest brother Peter had settled there. In 1869-71 John selected almost 2000 acres (809 ha) of good land on what was then the Rockhampton agricultural reserve and named his property Fitzroy Park. He successfully grew sugar-cane as early as 1872 and was largely responsible for the establishment of the Pandora Sugar Co. Ltd in 1880 (liquidated 1884). In these years he demonstrated the resourcefulness and determination which distinguished him to the end.

At Rockhampton on 1 September 1873 with Primitive Methodist forms, Murray had married Jane Elizabeth Hartley (d.1877) by whom he had two sons and one daughter. On 3 January 1882 he married Margaret McGavin also at Rockhampton; they had three sons and one daughter.

Murray was a foundation member of the Gogango Divisional Board, becoming chairman for three terms. Having shown his ability to think analytically and speak forcefully, he was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly in May 1888 for Normanby as supporter of McIlwraith's National Party. On 16 November 1903 he resigned from parliament to contest the Senate election, but was defeated. A true conservative, he believed the then Labor balance of power in the Commonwealth parliament meant 'government from the gutter'. This was typical of his Scottish forthrightness.

For most of Murray's political career, he endeavoured to steer a middle course between the supporters and opponents of Central Queensland separation. Declaring his support for separation in 1890, he later declined a cabinet seat in the Griffith-McIlwraith coalition. The ultimate success of the separationists seemed in no doubt. It was a different matter in 1898 when he accepted the portfolio of secretary for railways and public works (April 1898–February 1901) under the premiership of T. J. Byrnes and (Sir) James Dickson. In the south he was seen as a politician capable of rising above the 'narrow endeavour' to play off the smaller question of separation against Federation. According to the separationists, however, Murray had aligned himself with their declared enemies. On 12 March 1901 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. From February 1901 to August 1902 he was secretary for public instruction, then minister without portfolio in the Philp ministry until his retirement in September 1903.

At 66, feeling that 'time was running short', he returned to the pastoral industry, eventually acquiring eight pastoral leases. In 1911 when he purchased Beaconsfield East and West stations, Ilfracombe, his wife Margaret told their sons they must endeavour 'to make the name of Murray a power in the land … there is no doubt [your] father has a master mind and is no ordinary man'.

In his later years Murray lived chiefly at Tullibardine, Brisbane. He took ill while on a visit to Beaconsfield and died at Longreach on 18 November 1917. Buried at Longreach, his remains were later reinterred in Toowong cemetery, Brisbane, with Presbyterian forms. His estate was sworn for probate at £48,775.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox, The History of Queensland, vol 3 (Brisb, 1923)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Queensland), 1889, 4, p 301
  • Capricornian, 24 Nov, 8 Dec 1917
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 10 Sept 1873, 3 Dec 1877, 22 Apr 1879, 9, 27 Aug, 27 Nov 1880, 13 Aug 1881, 7 Jan 1882, 15 Apr 1893, 17 Jan, 18, 23 Feb 1889, 24 Jan, 7 Mar 1899
  • Brisbane Courier, 24 Mar 1919
  • A. E. Hermann, Development of Rockhampton and District (manuscript, no date) and minute book, Rockhampton Land Court (both held by Rockhampton and District Historical Society)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Murray, John (1837–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 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]


15 August, 1837
Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland


18 November, 1917 (aged 80)
Longreach, Queensland, Australia

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