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From Caldwell to Tasmania
"Interview by Sarah Powell"


George Roger Mure at Pilot's House, TasmaniaTasmania, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, is "an island of plateaux, platforms, and rugged ranges" which "exhibits the most spectacular mountain scenery in Australia". But it was not mountain scenery that attracted George Mure and his wife to Tasmania, an island on the other side of the world from Caldwell in Scotland, the Mures' ancestral home, but an intriguing chain of events, a mutual love of the sea and an enthusiasm that enabled them to rise to a series of challenges.

But, before exploring the New World life and achievements of the Mure family, let us delve back some seven centuries, and 300 years before Tasmania was "discovered" by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642, to investigate the Scots lineage and some of the history of the family.

According to Burke's Landed Gentry, George Mure's family is directly descended from Sir Reginald More, or Mure, of Abercorn and Cowdams who, as far as is known, was Chamberlain of Scotland as early as 1329. It was Sir Reginald's younger son, Gilchrist More, who acquired the estate of Caldwell in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire through marriage with the heir of Caldwell, of that ilk. The family pedigree also shows descent from the Mures (or variously Moores, Mores or Muirs) of Rowallan (or Rouallan).

Feudal strife and "slauchter"

Feudal strife was commonplace in Scotland in bygone centuries, and the Mure family was as involved as any. In 1500, according to the family records, The Caldwell Papers, Robert Mure, a son of Adam Mure of Caldwell, was granted a Remission under the Privy Seal for the "slauchter of umquhile Patrick Boure, and for the forthocht fellony done upon the Laird of Ralston". Sir Adam's second son, John, described as "a bold and turbulent baron", fought against the government of the Duke of Albany and was involved in the sacking of the "Castle and Palace" of Glasgow in 1515. A consequent action for damages for the destruction and plunder of these properties forced him to mortgage his estate of Camseskane.

A generation later, this laird's son, also called John, took part in 1543 in "the bloody battle called the Field of the Muir of Glasgow". Six years later he was indicted for having "with his fyve brothers and twenty-six others, armed in warlike manner, invaded Robert Master of Sempill and his servands for their slauchter, near the place and tour of Cauldwell, and put them to flight".

The Mures, of course, were also at times the victims. Robert Mure, one of the three sons of John Mure, was slain by "Sir Patrick Houstoun of that ilk, and others" in 1550, in a "crewall slauchter, committed under silence of night, on actient feud and forthocht felony". Despite the conviction and beheading of Sir Patrick for the crime, a feud was to rage between the Houstouns and the Mures for the next thirty years. A clan feud also claimed the life of Robert's son, Sir John (he had been knighted by James V), who, in 1570, was killed by the Cuninghams of Aitkett and the Ryeburns of that ilk. Other misfortunes, violent disputes and "murderous deeds" were to characterise the history of later generations.

last tower standing of original four at Caldwell CastleMoving forward to the seventeenth century we find William Mure of Caldwell who, as mentioned in Burke's Landed Gentry, was "attainted for joining the Covenanters, fled to Holland, and died in exile". His support for the Presbyterian cause and role in the rebellion against the English monarchy led to seizure of his estates which were granted to "the celebrated" General Dalziel – an "Inglisman" who subsequently destroyed Caldwell Castle (just one tower still stands today).

Mure's unfortunate wife, meanwhile, was imprisoned with two of her daughters in Blackness Castle where she "underwent much cruel persecution". One of her daughters, Anne, was to die as a result. As Anne lay mortally ill in the house of relatives, not far from Blackness, her mother appealed to be allowed to visit her: "Yet such was the unnatural cruelty of the times that so reasonable a request could not be granted." Some ten years later Barbara, the other imprisoned daughter, was, by special Act of Parliament, granted a full restitution of the patrimonial estates".

Historic upheavals

caldwell hall family crest in stone.jpg (143260 bytes)The Mure family were to be witnesses of, or participants in, several other historic upheavals. "In the eighteenth century," relates George Mure, "a later William Mure was Member of Parliament for Renfrewshire from 1742 to 1761, and one of the Barons of the Scottish Exchequer. It was this Baron Mure who built Caldwell House. During this period, in 1745, a Jacobite rebellion incited by Charles Edward, the son of King James II, led to the fall of Perth and then Edinburgh to the rebels. Prince Charles endeavoured to pursue his campaign into England but absence of support led to his retreat from Derby back to Scotland in December of that year. Over the next four months, his forces were weakened by desertions and, despite a memorable success at Falkirk, they were forced ever northwards by the government army, to be defeated at the Battle of Culloden in the spring of 1746.

"The reaction of the London Parliament to the rebellion was to pass a Disarming Act which banned not only weaponry but also bagpipes and Highland dress. Other laws curtailed the powers of clan chiefs over their tenants and abolished the bond of military service between chief and clansmen."

Letters about the rebellion collected in The Caldwell Papers speak of "unnatural rebellion", "the entry of Caldwell House, designed by Adam and built c. 1763the rebell army into Edinburgh", and an attack by the rebels on the king's army which, at one point, led to "a panick into the foot, which was greatly increased by the cries and confusion of many thousands of spectators…" – a rather intriguing vision! The writer of this particular account describes "this memorable battle, at which I was present, and in which about 7000 of the best troops in the world fled like so many children before half that number of undisplined militia". The rebels, nonetheless, were eventually forced into retreat by the Duke of Cumberland's forces.

Meanwhile a certain Archibald Stuart, wine-merchant, Lord Provost and MP for the city of Edinburgh, and a mutual friend of John Coutts, an influential banker, and of William Mure, was accused of Caldwell House gutted by a fire in the 1990s"favouring the Pretender and conniving at the occupation of the town by the rebell force". To his friends' relief, no doubt, Stuart was honourably acquitted at his trial.

Farther afield, thirty-six years later, William Mure's son, William, was to serve in America as a captain in his Britannic Majesty's 82nd Regiment of Foot, which was forced into capitulation at Yorktown in October 1781. As America won its independence, Capt. Mure was made a prisoner of war.

A very secret service

- The marriage of David William Alexander Mure to Diana Melicent Wathen at Mercer's Hall, London, February 1938In more recent history, William Mure, grandson of the first Lord Leconfield and head of his sept, the Mures of Caldwell, died in 1912 leaving a son, David William Alexander Mure who was born that same year at Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire. David Mure was the last of his family to be born in Scotland.

George explains that "At the outbreak of WWII, David Mure, my father, enlisted in the Royal Norfolk Regiment and was soon commissioned into the 60th Rifles. Initially he served in the Western Desert but was then enlisted by the so-called 'A' Force. The overt role of this Middle East-based operation was to train soldiers in escape methods. In practice, it was involved in top-secret work, using the radio sets of double agents to feed back misleading information to the German Abwehr. Work on breaking the codes used by the famed Enigma machine was crucial to the operation.

"The method was ingenious. Each agent had a team of imaginary contacts and sub-agents. As my father described it in his book Practise to Deceive: 'The agent's wireless transmissions or letters to his Abwehr controllers would duly contain the latest news from his notional team. Enormous trouble was taken to endow each notional contact or sub-agent with a character of his own, with quirks and idiosyncrasies which were lovingly maintained throughout each transmission rather as in a long-running radio or television serial. The transmissions or letters were, of course, composed by us, and similar care was taken to preserve the principal agent's character and maintain the impression of his busy life spent spying for the Germans.'

"The deception was reinforced by what my father described as 'fabricated invasion flotillas, tanks, aircraft, etc. and a system of displaying false divisional signs converting non-operational to operational formations'. He also attributed the success of these operations to the always tacit and sometimes, he believed, active connivance of the chief of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, and his colleagues of the Schwarze Kapelle, the anti-Nazi conspirators within the German General Staff.

"Of enormous importance to the Allied war effort, the 'A' Force's skills at deception successfully diverted the Germans from planned Allied invasions of the Sicilian and Normandy coasts by encouraging them to focus on a forthcoming, but entirely fictitious, invasion of the Balkans by the Allies."

The Mures in Tasmania

William George Mure and brother Jock Lloyd Mure (sons of William James Mure), with Mure shieldDavid Mure's son George, the current head of the family, has also led a somewhat unusual, and decidedly colourful, life. Born in London in 1939, during the war years he lived on his great uncle's estate in Norfolk where learned to row and fish. George then moved to Kenya at the age of eight when his mother remarried. While boarding school life was tough there for a posh "Pongo" (the nickname given to English boys), holidays in Kenya, he recalls, were wonderful… and fishing became his passion.

"I fell totally in love with the East African coast, both above and below the water," says George. "Most school holidays were spent at Shimoni where I had the use of a twenty-foot gaff-rigged boat, ideal for getting out to the many coral islands and reefs. I swam, fished and goggled, taking my catch back to the East African Fisheries factory managed by a family friend."

George's love of the sea and fishing led him to start painting the fish he speared, building up a substantial collection of paintings and accompanying notes. He entered this collection in the Three-Nation Natural History Competition for secondary schools in Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda, and won the Swinerton and Burt Natural History prize. "As a result," says George, "I was hooked on fish for life. I knew that I wanted to be a fisherman."

His parents, perhaps understandably, had other aspirations for their son. George was sent back to London to matriculate and then embarked on a medical career. However, he failed his exams at the end of the first year, "and left for Australia under a slight cloud".

For two years George worked in a variety of jobs, ranging from a year as a jackeroo in northern New South Wales and a period taking tourists big game fishing in the Seychelles, to a stint as a fish filleter on Tasmania's east coast.

Again George's parents intervened, this time enrolling him in the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. There George enjoyed himself thoroughly, meeting at a ball "a very beautiful blonde with a healthy sun tan, and wearing a revealing yellow evening dress". Jill was the daughter of the manager of Scotts in Piccadilly, which had the reputation as Britain's best seafood restaurant. Fine cuisine, and the restaurant industry, were her passions. "We became good friends," says George. And, in 1962, Jill and George married, and set sail for Australia.

Sydney was their first port of call and there George joined a fish marketing company, Ross Fisheries, which sent him to Hobart, Tasmania to buy and sell fish. "At the end of 1962," recalls George, "we bought the Pilot's House at Tinderbox in Tasmania, a delightful Victorian weatherboard dwelling right on the heads dividing the Derwent River from the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. We still live there and it has been our spiritual home wherever we have wandered".

"In 1964, I was promoted to be Melbourne manager of Ross Fisheries – and that year, our son, William, was born. The job and city living did not appeal to us so, in 1965, we up-anchored and went to Western Australia where we went into business for ourselves. We bought a 42 ft lobster boat called the Aquanita – and this was to be the start of our fishing career. That same year our daughter, Sarah, was born – a good omen!"

The experience built up by the Mures was substantial. In Darwin they joined five other West Australian boats to form a small fishing fleet to supply a factory ship. Finding the Aquanita too small, they then bought a 70 ft tug and converted her into a trawler. And they took the children, aged three and four, to New Guinea in their wider search for prawns…

George Roger and Jill Mure – Presentation of award for Best Seafood Restaurant in Australia given by Remy Martin/BulletinThere were other adventures too… bad weather, maritime rescues, and a huge financial loss resulting from a crooked insurance broker. Each was part of a chain of events that eventually led the Mures to return to Tasmania where they bought a Victorian cottage at Battery Point and opened it as Mures Fish House – a restaurant that was a huge success from the moment it opened in 1973. In 1986 this restaurant was to win the Remy Martin/Bulletin award for Best Seafood Restaurant in Australia.

Mures Fish House was both the catalyst for the Mures' entry into the restaurant business, and for their re-entry into fishing. Discovering how difficult it was to ensure a regular supply and good variety of fresh fish, they started Australia's first commercial mussel farm at Margate. They also formed a joint venture with Hazell Brothers to start a boat-building factory to produce fibre-glass fishing vessels.

Jill and George's son, William James Mure – Hobart 1999In 1985 the Mures joined a venture to develop a waterfront fish centre on the dockside of Hobart's Sullivans Cove. Having bought out their partners in 1990, this became a family-owned business run by their son William and his wife Judy, daughter Sarah and her husband Rick McMahon. George describes the business as "a 200-seat, licensed la carte seafood restaurant, a self-service licensed bistro, a licensed sushi bar, and a fish factory capable of servicing our own business and the fresh wholesale trade of Hobart. We have also now bought a 54 ft fishing boat. William, our son, is the skipper and, until a relief skipper can be trained up, I have to sometimes don my oilies and sea boots and return to sea to give Will a break..." – a role that clearly doesn't daunt George one iota. The Mures are now one of the largest owners of fishing quotas in the State of Tasmania.

Mures in Tasmania has become an institution and a place of pilgrimage for lovers of seafood dishes – so, as George rather modestly puts it: "The Scottish influence is alive and well in Tasmania…" While relishing such fine dishes as oyster soup, sashimi mille feuille, Tasmanian salmon in boronia oils, or warm seafood salad, tuned-in diners hearing the creak of rigging, lapping of water and keening of seagulls on the dockside will surely gain some inkling into the Mures' long love affair with the sea.

Thanks to Burke's Landed Gentry for sending in this information


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