A Craftsman in Rogart, Glasgow and London: The Life and Times of William Murray, 1796-1867

Post by Lloyd Pitcher, former Head of History at Bomaderry High School, History Presenter at Shoalhaven University of the Third Age, Nowra, New South Wales, Australia. Lloyd can be contacted at rl.pitch@bigpond.net.au.

William Murray was a highly regarded carver and gilder in Glasgow, Scotland. His funeral card described a substantial person: ‘a Citizen of Glasgow for upwards of 45 years’. When I first looked at this card, it was among some papers in a box, passed to my father by his mother, and to her father by his sister in Scotland. No-one in the family had connected the information in the box.

After many years of research, the information in the box is now connected. On 26 October 1795, an entry was made in an old Parochial Register of Proclamations of Banns and Marriages for one Duncan Murray, ‘Soldier in Drummond’s Regiment of Fencibles’ and Barbara Sutherland, daughter of Alexander Sutherland, ‘Soldier in the First Battalion of Breadalbane Fencibles, at the Gaelic Chapel in Perth, Scotland. The resident minister of the Chapel, Duncan McFarlane conducted the marriage ceremony.

A fencible was a soldier belonging to a British militia which could only be called up for service on home soil for the duration of a war, to free up regular soldiers for overseas duty. This force was especially necessary in Scotland, which had no substantial militia until 1798. Beginning in 1793, fencibles were initially formed by landowners – often descendants of the old clan chiefs. The term is derived from Middle English and means ‘fit or suitable for defence.’

WILLIAM MURRAY'S BIRTHPLACE, ROGART, SUTHERLAND

The centre of the parish of Rogart, from near the church. Photo: Robin Pitcher, 2012.

William was born to Duncan Murray and Barbara Sutherland on 2 September 1796 in the parish of Rogart in Sutherland, 85 kilometres north of Inverness. His mother was only twenty when he was born. William Murray was baptised on 23 October 1796 at Torbreck of Morness, Rogart. Of his childhood, his siblings and his early years, nothing is known until his marriage to Margaret McCallum in Bridgetown, Glasgow in 1821.

William and Margaret had eight children, six of whom survived. The family lived in a substantial mansion in Glasgow. Evidence shows William Murray to a very successful carver in wood, making high quality furniture. One item which recently appeared for auction described his highly detailed work. ‘The rectangular sienna marble top above a deep relief carved border, the moulded and panelled frieze decorated with paterae and cartouches, the tapering legs of architectural form and with corinthian capitals, the panels filled with bellflower pendant chains, and joined by moulded stretchers, the scrolled trees enclosing suppressed balls.’

A Fine William IV Gilt Pinewood Center Table

wm label on pinewood table

William IV pinewood marble-top table with provenance and authenticity label attached. Image courtesy Neal Action House, New Orleans USA.

In 1849, Margaret Murray passed away. William married Ann Ewing of Londonderry, Northern Ireland in 1851. Perhaps this was a catalyst for three of William’s sons to leave Scotland. In 1852 Archibald and Hugh made for the gold fields of Ballarat, near Melbourne, Australia. There is no evidence they ever returned. Son William travelled to the West Indies and New York, later settling in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1881 William visited his family in Scotland and returned to New Orleans. In 1855 Margaret Anne married China tea clipper captain, Donald MacKinnon, from the Isle of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. They had three children and for a time lived not far from William and Ann in London. Son Duncan and daughter Christina remained single.

Captain MacKinnon Medallion

Wax portrait of Captain Donald MacKinnon. Portrait restored by The Scottish Conservation Studio. Reproduced by kind permission of An Iodhlann, Isle of Tiree.

William Murray suffered severely from bronchitis. This was a genetic family predisposition which continues among descendants to the present day and which is referred to as ‘the Murray chest.’ By 1865, William and Ann had moved from Glasgow to 2 Seymour Terrace, Loughborough Road, Brixton, London. The belief was the London air was ‘softer’ compared with the air of Glasgow and would be better for William’s health. In an 1865 letter to his son Archibald in Sydney NSW, William Murray wrote that he had sent ‘a small specimen of his handywork of former days. It is a small plaster model of a likeness of William’s uncle, Dr [Adam] Sutherland, in Scotland.’

William's uncle, Dr Adam Sutherland

Plaster of Paris casing of Dr Adam Sutherland, William Murray’s uncle, sent to William’s son Archibald in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Photo: Lloyd Pitcher.

The years 1865 to 1867 were productive for William. During his convalescence from bouts of bronchitis he made wax and plaster of paris models. Models to be sent overseas were made in plaster of paris as wax models could distort in the heat.

By 1867, William and Ann had relocated to 13 Fairfield Place, Bow. But London air is still very cold in winter and in 1867, the bronchitis from which William suffered so severely eventually overwhelmed him.

As far as can be determined, William Murray’s grandchildren in Scotland had no children of their own. William never saw any of his seven grandchildren living in Australia. They all married and had families of their own. William Murray’s antipodean descendants are today scattered all over Australia.

From his beginning in Rogart, William Murray is remembered today as a successful carver in wood and as a citizen of Glasgow, Scotland. His six children lived very different lives from his own. Three left Scotland and two never returned. From 1852 to 1867, he never again saw them. It is fortunate some of the letters he wrote have survived to the present and enabled his descendants to gain insights into the life and times of William Murray. 

Sideboard carved by William Murray

Centrepiece of William Murray's sideboard

Sideboard, and closeup of the centrepiece, carved by William Murray circa 1860.

Sources:

Lloyd Pitcher The Life of William Murray 1796-1867: Carver and Gilder, Citizen of Glasgow (Vincentia: New South Wales, 2018)

An Iodhlann, Tiree’s Historical Centre.

http://www.aniodhlann.org.uk/object/2015-46-1/ (accessed 18 July 2019)

https://www.prices4antiques.com/Furniture-Table-Center-Baroque-Style-Murray-William-Giltwood-Rectangular-Top-Carved-Apron-Scrolled-Legs-F7991779.html (accessed 21 July 2019)

https://www.prices4antiques.com/Furniture-Table-Center-William-IV-Pinewood-Relief-Carved-Marble-Top-B164783.html (accessed 21 July 2019)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s