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Sir Terence Aubrey Murray (1810–1873)

by Gwendoline Wilson

This article was published:

Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-1873), by unknown artist

Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-1873), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13425

Sir Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-1873), landowner and politician, was born at Balliston, County Limerick, Ireland, the third and last child of Terence Murray and his wife Ellen, née Fitzgerald, of Movida. When Ulster was colonized the Murrays had been granted land in Antrim and Derry. The family belonged to the Roman Catholic Church and its loyalty to the Royalist cause in the seventeenth century brought it close to extermination. In 1811 Murray's father became paymaster of a brigade of Guards in Portugal, where his wife soon joined him. Young Terence was left with his grandmother. His mother became incurably ill on her return home and left again later for France, where she died. Paymaster Murray was transferred to the 48th Regiment in 1815. The 48th was then in Ireland and in 1817 was sent to New South Wales and thence in 1825 to India, where Murray became gravely ill. He was given sick leave to England where he retired on half-pay and then decided to return to New South Wales, where his service entitled him to a free land grant. Leaving his elder son in Edinburgh to complete his medical studies, he sailed in the Elizabeth with his daughter and Terence. On arrival in Sydney in April 1827 he took his children to Erskine Park, a farm he had arranged to rent from the widow of his former commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel James Erskine.

In September 1827 Murray was given authority to take possession of 2500 acres (1012 ha) and located it north of Lake Bathurst and the eastern banks of Mulwaree Ponds. While he remained at Erskine Park young Terence was left to supervise the assigned servants and to establish the new farm. After some months the government ordered the Murrays to move. They started again at another site west of Mulwaree Ponds, but were soon ordered to move again. Murray was angry but he was compensated by an additional grant in the name of his son Terence. About May 1829 a site was chosen in the broad valley north of Lake George. The son's land, adjoining his father's, was called Old Collector. His sister Anna Maria married Captain George Bunn in 1829; she wrote The Guardian (Sydney 1837). His brother, James Fitzgerald Murray, on arrival in Sydney early in 1828, became a surgeon at the hospital, and in 1830 assistant surgeon to the penal settlement at Moreton Bay. Around 1835 he became superintendent of the Goulburn hospital. About 1839 he gave up active practice and built a homestead on land which he called Woden, granted to him in 1832 on the Limestone Plains. After her husband died in 1834, Anna Maria made her home with him; her two sons had already received early schooling at Goulburn.

In the solitude of his valley Terence continued his education alone, reading from well-chosen books until he knew long passages by heart. In Ireland he had attended the school of Rev. William White, an Anglican clergyman who gave him a respect for mathematics and a passion for Greek classics. Before leaving Dublin he had heard lectures by the Irish patriot, Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), who impressed upon him indelibly that moral suasion was more successful than brute force for obtaining rights.

In 1832, after four years spent in improving the original Murray grants, Terence established another farm, called Ajamatong, in the south-west corner of the Collector valley. In 1833, during an outbreak of bushranging, Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke appointed him head of the police in the southern highlands. His appearance gave him natural authority. Strong and very tall, he had a serious manner, a fiery temper, sandy hair and penetrating, dark eyes. He was an intrepid horseman and rode long distances while carrying out his duties.

Paymaster Murray died in 1835, leaving his property in the Collector valley to his younger son. Murray bought land beside his inherited grant and on this property, Winderradeen, established a fine homestead in 1837. T. A. Murray and Thomas Walker bought from Francis Mowatt the promise of a grant at Yarrowlumla (Yarralumla), on the Limestone Plains.

The late 1830s were years of great drought. Lake George evaporated. At the height of the drought in January 1839, Murray, with two Aboriginal friends and two convict overseers, and Stewart Mowle, a schoolboy who had been brought out from England, rode into the mountains looking for fresh pastures on the high plains; he decided to set up a station at Cooleman for his starving stock. In 1841 Murray rode overland to Melbourne, meeting many Aboriginal friends in the mountains; he was back at Yarralumla within eighteen days. For the census of March 1841, 108 people were mustered at Yarralumla. A few months later in Sydney Murray told an immigration commission that he employed prisoners and as many free men as he could induce to work for him, but found it so hard to engage labour that he feared the colony would be ruined unless labourers were brought from India.

On 27 May 1843 at St James's Church of England, Sydney, Murray married Mary, daughter of Colonel John Gibbes. He settled Yarralumla and part of Winderradeen on his wife, hoping thereby to save the properties if depression should cause his bankruptcy. She made a will, naming her father and brother as trustees. Murray, however, retained enough property in the Collector valley to qualify for election to the Legislative Council. In an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald he had already offered himself as a candidate who admitted no such distinction as Whig or Tory; his great objects were the welfare of the country, liberal and equal laws for all parties and all sects, and revival of the elements of prosperity and greatness that were lying dormant in the land.

Elected unopposed for the combined Counties of Murray, King and Georgiana he began his political life as a strong critic of the price of 20s. an acre for crown land. Within a week he proposed that a select committee should inquire into the sale of crown lands, and became its chairman. It reported that grazing was one of the most profitable pursuits in the colony but, of all occupations, the least likely to develop 'the active powers of the human mind' or the real resources of the country; since squatters had no enduring interest in the soil, the committee recommended the refund of fares to encourage English country gentlemen, clergymen, physicians, tradesmen and labourers, to emigrate as permanent settlers with their families and connexions.

In 1845 he was chairman of a select committee on the Masters and Servants Act. Its report advocated legal adjustments in disputes, and showed that the old convict system, though necessary in the colony's early years, had gone far to demoralize the employers as much as their free servants. For the same reasons he later opposed renewal of transportation to New South Wales. He also supported free trade within the empire, and the building of local railways, particularly a line to Goulburn, denouncing the Great South Road as the worst in the colony: his wool-drays, he said, were sometimes three months on the road to Sydney in wet weather. In 1846 he announced that he had given up squatting. While gold fever raged some years later Murray went fossicking among the Brindabella and Cooleman outcrops with scientific skill and detachment. At this time his sister left Woden to live at St Omer, since men working the property had gone to the diggings. She died there in 1889.

In the council Murray often spoke against capital punishment, describing it as a remnant of a barbarous state of society and no deterrent against crime. He opposed denominational education, declaring his favour of a general system on something like the Irish National system and his belief that those who resisted it were 'behind their age'. Though Catholic in upbringing, Murray's attitude to religion was liberal; once he startled the council by claiming to be a Unitarian, apparently thinking that this meant ecumenical. Murray was a member of William Charles Wentworth's committee that drew up the petition and remonstrance to the British government protesting against wrongs and insisting on the colony's undoubted rights. Later he sat on the select committee that drafted the new Constitution; at the outset Murray declared that the property qualifications for representatives were too high and excluded many talented men. Later he pressed for an inquiry into currency and banking. When trading banks assumed the right to issue money, he said, it was the duty of the legislature to dictate the terms; a national bank would give greater economic security.

Murray and his family left Yarralumla to make their home at Winderradeen about the beginning of 1855. His brother-in-law, Augustus Gibbes, took over Yarralumla and his parents went to live with him. Next year Murray was elected to the first Legislative Assembly. His brother, Dr Murray, was nominated to the Legislative Council and went to Sydney to take his seat, but soon became critically ill and died at Winderradeen on 24 June 1856.

Murray was not popular at first in the new Legislative Assembly; his aristocratic appearance and rather arrogant manner were against him. In the muddle of politics he was commonly ranged against the government, but in 1856 and again in 1857 he was appointed minister for Lands and Public Works under the leadership of Charles Cowper, when the more conservative elements were in opposition. In November 1857 his first son, James Aubrey Gibbes, was born, after a succession of five daughters only two of whom survived infancy; his wife died on 2 January 1858, and on her death most of Murray's property in her name passed to the control of her trustees; this was to cause strained feelings between Murray and his relations-in-law.

In the late 1850s Murray and the young democrat, Daniel Deniehy, became staunch friends while making joint efforts to solve the land problem. Deniehy publicly declared that Murray was the only representative of the old territorial aristocracy to join the ranks of the reformers. Even his enemies recognized him as an authority on practical rural affairs, he said, and when Murray saw any attempt by the Tory squattocratic party to secure the prize of responsible government for perpetuating their own domination he became one of the most fearless, active and determined leaders of the opposition. Murray also became a friend of (Sir) Henry Parkes, and they often caught the same train to the city.

After the defeat of the Cowper government in September 1859 Murray was commissioned by the governor to form a ministry but failed to do so. In the same month he proposed and became chairman of a select committee to inquire into the condition of the University of Sydney, which then had only thirty-eight students. It had been set up as a secular university, but the senate had introduced by-laws that, in effect, imposed religious tests on students before they could be granted degrees. Murray supported an objection by some professors to these by-laws. He also thought government was gravely mistaken in aiding the establishment of church colleges. In January 1860 John Hubert Plunkett proposed Murray as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and he was elected.

In 1860 his sister Anna Maria, who had come to Sydney to care for his children, engaged Agnes Ann Edwards of Hammersmith, London, as a governess. She was a woman of great ability, wit and charm, and a cousin of W. S. Gilbert. Soon afterwards Murray proposed marriage to her. Although she was an Anglican and half his age, she accepted. They were married at Winderradeen on 4 August 1860, with two ceremonies, the first Catholic, the other Anglican. In December 1861 Agnes Murray gave birth to a son, John Hubert Plunkett, later Sir Hubert Murray, administrator of Papua. Her second son, born in January 1866, was George Gilbert Aimé, later Professor Gilbert Murray, Oxford.

In October 1862 Murray became president of the Legislative Council. He remembered his old friend, Stewart Mowle, who was appointed clerk in the council, and Mowle noticed a change in his boyhood hero: Murray had come to abhor the mountains he once loved and was quite won over to city life and the serenity of books. There were also financial difficulties. In September 1865 he was unable to pay his creditors. While the bailiff wept, Winderradeen was stripped of furniture. Murray and his wife then went in haste to Sydney for help. His many friends rallied with generosity and saved him from insolvency but his fine library had to be sold. In 1866-67 he became executive commissioner for the exhibit from New South Wales at the Paris Exhibition. He was also active as the president of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. In February 1869 he was knighted.

In November both his sons by his second wife were given a Catholic baptism by Dr John Forrest. However, in a codicil to his will in July 1871, Murray entrusted the religious education and spiritual guidance of all his children under 21 to his wife. Murray died on 22 June 1873, at Richmond House, Darlinghurst, after a long and painful illness. According to his instructions, he was buried at St Jude's Church of England, Randwick, but among the crowds who mourned him on his last journey was the Catholic archbishop of Sydney who followed the funeral procession in his carriage.

'He served his country regardless of his own interests and died literally penniless', wrote Mowle; 'Those who knew him well, loved him with an unbounded love — he was the most faithful and best of friends'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 13, 15, 20, 22, 23, 26
  • A. Mowle, Reminiscences, 1822-51, by S. M. Mowle (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under E. B. Mowle and under George and Anna Maria (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Murray family papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Gwendoline Wilson, 'Murray, Sir Terence Aubrey (1810–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 May 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

Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-1873), by unknown artist

Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-1873), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13425

Life Summary [details]


Ballysteen, Limerick, Ireland


22 June, 1873 (aged ~ 63)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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