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Russell Mervyn Murray (1877–1945)

by Ann G. Smith

This article was published:

Russell Mervyn Murray (1877-1945), mining engineer, was born on 12 July 1877 at Elliminyt, Victoria, son of Victorian-born parents Andrew Strachan Murray, grazier, and his wife Florence Eleanor, née Blunden. His grandfather Hugh Murray, son of Hugh Murray, had settled in the Colac district during the Tasmanian pastoral exodus in the 1830s. Russell was to re-cross Bass Strait as a pioneer of modern mining.

Educated at Colac Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (B.C.E., 1900), Murray applied several times for employment with the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co., Tasmania, before being appointed draftsman and assistant surveyor at Gormanston in 1900. He became acting manager of the Mount Lyell mines on the death of W. T. Batchelor in 1906 and formally engineer-in-charge next year. He succeeded Robert Sticht as general manager in 1922.

Murray had the sort of careful, analytical mind which avoided misplaced optimism and promoted efficiency. He looked, and was, kind and dependable. His courageous and calm direction of rescue operations during the fire at North Lyell in 1912, when forty-two died, earned him the Royal Humane Society's silver medal and the respect of the miners. His subsequent initiation of a scheme for improved living conditions, resembling the welfare programmes evolving at Port Pirie and Wallaroo, South Australia, earned him, in addition, the miners' gratitude. He deprecated the term 'welfare', preferring 'self-preservation': he saw that the renovation of houses at Gormanston, the provision of social clubs, of cheap firewood, food, electricity and railway fares, the subsidizing of bands, school of mines and soldiers' clubs would prevent the development of that acrimony which the 1912 disaster might have wrought between men and management. Later, Murray's policy proved of great importance in enabling the company to survive the post-war slump in copper prices.

During his period of management Murray introduced large-scale changes in mining operations. In 1906-22 he oversaw the development of the Mount Lyell complex as the biggest group of underground mines in Australia. From 1922 until he retired in 1944, crippled by arthritis, he supervised the swing back to open-cut mining as appropriate for the large-scale exploitation of the remaining low-grade copper deposits. He recommended the installation of an electrolytic copper refinery after his visit to the United States of America in 1926.

A leading exponent of industrial legislation, Murray was president of the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1927; he was also a member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers. In a peripatetic profession he was unusual in spending his entire working life on one field. Locally he remained popular: he was elected warden of Gormanston every year from 1920 until his death from coronary disease at Queenstown on 22 January 1945.

Murray had married Vivienne Douglas with Anglican rites in Hobart on 15 November 1905. She survived him with their two daughters and three sons, the eldest of whom, Hugh Mervyn, became general manager of Mount Lyell in 1948. Murray's estate, consisting mainly of government bonds, was valued for probate at £27,737.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell (Melb, 1967)
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 18 May 1922
  • Mercury (Hobart), 23 Jan 1945.

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Murray, Russell Mervyn (1877–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 May 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]


12 July, 1877
Elliminyt, Victoria, Australia


22 January, 1945 (aged 67)
Queenstown, Tasmania, Australia

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