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Reginald Augustus Frederick Murray (1846–1925)

by D. F. Branagan and T. G. Vallance

This article was published:

Reginald Augustus Frederick Murray (1846-1925), geologist, was born on 18 February 1846 at Frimley, Surrey, England, eldest child of Virginius Murray (1817-1861) and his wife Elizabeth Alicia, née Poitier; his great-grandfather was John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore. In 1852 his father, who had sold out from the army, migrated to Victoria, where he served as warden and police magistrate on the goldfields; his wife and children followed in 1855.

Educated at home and in Melbourne at the Rev. T. P. Fenner's Collegiate School at South Yarra, Murray worked on a cattle run near Avoca and then had some success as a digger. In April 1862 he became field assistant to C. S. Wilkinson in the Victorian Geological Survey Department directed by his kinsman A. R. C. Selwyn. With Wilkinson Murray worked in the Bacchus Marsh and Ballan districts and in 1864 the Otway Ranges.

After passing the civil service examination, Murray was a junior assistant in the Geological Survey from 1865 to 1869 when the survey was disbanded on the grounds of economy. Meanwhile he had qualified as a mining surveyor and secured a post as mining surveyor and registrar for the Alexandra subdivision. In 1871 he returned to his former work as a geological surveyor under R. Brough Smyth, secretary for mines. Murray was active in the Bendigo and Ballarat fields but from 1873 his main attention was devoted to extensive reconnaissance surveys of the rugged country of eastern and south-eastern Victoria in the course of which he suffered much hardship, once having to travel for six days without food. In Gippsland he worked partly with A. W. Howitt. Their reports are models of careful observation and probably the earliest accounts of regional geological studies in Australia to be supported by the techniques of microscopic petrography.

Murray returned briefly to mining and surveying after his dismissal on Black Wednesday, January 1878. Reappointed in May, he became in effect government geologist of Victoria in 1881 though not officially accorded that title for some years. The impressive list of publications issued by the Geological Survey in the next years testifies to a high state of activity despite Murray having the help of only one geological surveyor. He investigated the brown coal deposits that later proved important to Victoria's economy but, as administrative duties in Melbourne increased, his field-work was more and more restricted to brief inspections of mineral prospects.

Murray resigned from the civil service in 1897 to take up private geological practice. He visited Western Australia and then examined ore deposits at Lawn Hill, near Burketown, for the Queensland Silver Lead Mines Ltd, but opportunities for such consulting work were limited. When leaving the survey he had hoped to develop the brown coal deposits near Altona as a source of power for South Melbourne. This plan was frustrated when one of the promoters absconded with funds raised for the work; Murray was among those severely embarrassed. In reduced circumstances he undertook examining for the Ballarat School of Mines and was occasionally given work by the Geological Survey of Victoria; his last report, Bulletin 38, was issued in 1916. His later years were spent in seclusion at Willow Grove on the Tanjil River in Gippsland. He was twice married: first, in 1869 to Jane Louisa Otway (1840-1887), daughter of Henry Ford; and second, in 1888 to Ethel (d.1912), daughter of Thomas Thompson Bates. He died at Caulfield on 5 September 1925, survived by children of both marriages.

Murray was a notable pioneer of systematic geological exploration in Australia with a pragmatic attitude to geology. Although his experience was confined largely to Victoria he recognized the need for particular geological attention to be directed to the study of mineral deposits of economic importance throughout Australia. His presidential address to Section C of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1891 is devoted to this subject. In 1888 be had been elected fellow of the Geological Society of London; he was also prominent in the Geological Society of Australasia, and in 1898-99 was president of the Victoria Chamber of Mines. As well as producing many reports and maps, mainly in Victorian official publications, Murray wrote an important review, Victoria. Geology and Physical Geography (Melbourne, 1887; 2nd edition 1895), in which he displays a remarkable generosity in acknowledging the contributions of others and a dispassionate approach to his subject, rare among his contemporaries.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Dunn and D. J. Mahony, ‘Biographical sketch of the founders of the geological survey of Victoria’, Geological Survey of Victoria, Bulletin, 23 (1910), and for bibliography to 1899
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Sept 1925
  • private information.

Citation details

D. F. Branagan and T. G. Vallance, 'Murray, Reginald Augustus Frederick (1846–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 February, 1846
Frimley, Surrey, England


5 September, 1925 (aged 79)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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