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Significant Scots
Sir George Murray


MURRAY, SIR GEORGE.—This gallant soldier and able statesman was the second son of Sir William Murray, Bart., and Lady Augusta Mackenzie, seventh and youngest daughter of George, Earl of Cromarty. He was born at the family seat in Perthshire, on the 6th of February, 1772, and received his education, first at the high school, and afterwards at the university of Edinburgh. Having chosen the military profession, he obtained an ensigncy in the 71st regiment of foot at the age of seventeen, from which he rapidly transferred himself, first to the 34th, and afterwards to the 3d regiment of Guards. He first saw service in the campaigns of Flanders in 1794 and 1795, and shared in the disastrous retreat of the allied army through Holland and Germany, and subsequently, during the last of these years, he served in the West Indies under Sir Ralph Abercromby, until ill health obliged him to return home, where he served upon the staff, both in England and Ireland, during 1797 and 1798. Such is but a scanty outline of his military services during this stirring period, when war was the principal occupation, and when it was successively shifted to every quarter of the globe. During these changes, the promotion of Sir George went onward steadily, so that he rose through the various ranks, from an ensign to a lieutenant-colonelcy in the Guards, to which he was appointed in 1799.

It is well known that at this period the military profession had few of those attractions which it subsequently possessed, when Wellington, and the heroes whom he trained to victory, directed the operations of our armies; in too many cases, our commanders groped their way in the dark, while the soldiers had little more than their characteristic bull-dog obstinacy and courage to rely upon, when they found themselves out-marched and out-manoeuvred. This Colonel Murray was doomed to experience in his next campaign, which was the expedition to Holland, an expedition attended with an immense amount of loss, suffering, and disaster, and with very little honour as a counterpoise. Of course, Murray came in for his full share of hardship and privation during the retreat, and was wounded at the Helder, but was able to proceed with his regiment to Cork. A better promise of distinction dawned for him when he was sent with his regiment from Cork to Gibraltar, to serve under the brave Sir Ralph Abercromby in the Egyptian campaign; and in this successful expedition he performed an important part, having been placed in the quarter-master-general’s department, and sent forward to Egypt for the purpose of making arrangements previous to the arrival of the British army. Here Murray’s active enterprising spirit found full occupation; he was present at every engagement, where he rendered most effectual service, and had his merit acknowledged by the Turkish government, which conferred upon him the order of the crescent.

After the termination of this prosperous expedition, Colonel Murray’s services were transferred from Egypt to the West Indies, for which he embarked in 1802, with the rank of adjutant-general to the British forces in these colonies. His stay there, however, was brief; and on returning home, and occupying for a short period a situation at the horse-guards, he was next employed in Ireland, with the appointment of deputy quarter-master-general. From this comparatively peaceful occupation, after holding it for two years, he was called out, in 1806, to the more congenial prospect of active service, in consequence of the projected expedition to Stralsund, which, like many others of the same kind, was rendered abortive through the unprecedented successes of the French, upon which few as yet could calculate, owing to the new mode of warfare introduced by Napoleon, and the startling rapidity of his movements. Colonel Murray’s next service was of a diplomatic character, and to the court of Sweden; but its freakish sovereign, whose proceedings were perplexing alike to friend and enemy, was not to be reasoned into moderation; and therefore neither Murray, nor yet Sir John Moore, who was sent out with a military force, could avert those disasters which terminated in that monarch’s deposition. From Sweden Colonel Murray, now holding the rank of quarter-master-general, went with the British troops in that country to Portugal, where they joined Sir Arthur Wellesley, who had now commenced that splendid career which scarcely encountered an interruption, and led to such important results in the history of Europe, of which ages must tell the termination.

It would be too much to detail the career of Colonel Murray while he served in Spain and Portugal under the command of Wellington. At almost every engagement he was present, while his conduct was such as to elevate him into that chosen band whom history will recognize as the "heroes of the peninsular war." The sense of the value of his services was also shown in his appointment to the rank of major-general in 1812, to the command of a regiment in 1813, and to the honorary title of knight of the bath in the same year. With the exile of Napoleon to Elba, when it was thought that every chance of further war had ended, Sir George Murray was not to retire, like so many of his companions in arms, into peaceful obscurity; on the contrary, his talents for civil occupation having been fully experienced, he was appointed to the difficult charge of the government of the Canadas. He had scarcely fully entered, however, upon the duties of this new appointment, when he was advertised by the secretary of state of Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and landing in France, accompanied with the choice of remaining in his government of the Canadas, or returning to Europe, and resuming his military occupations. Sir George at once decided upon the latter; but though he made the utmost haste to rejoin the army, such delays occurred that he did not reach it until the battle of Waterloo had been fought, and Paris occupied by the allies. In the French capital he remained three years with the army of occupation, holding the rank of lieutenant-general, and honoured with seven different orders of foreign knighthood, independently of those he had received from his own court, in attestation of his services and worth. At his return home, also, when Paris was resigned by the allies to its own government, he was appointed governor of the castle of Edinburgh, afterwards of the royal military college, and finally, lieutenant-general of the ordnance. Literary distinctions, moreover, were not wanting; for in 1820 he received from the university of Oxford the degree of doctor of common laws, and in 1824 he was chosen a fellow of the Royal Society.

Such is a very scanty outline of the history of Sir George Murray; and it gives but a faint idea of his long military career. "Very few men," says one of his biographers, "even among our distinguished veterans, have seen such severe and active service as Sir G. Murray. Sharp fighting and military hardships seemed to be his lot, from the first moment at which he carried the colours of his regiment, till the last cannon resounded on the field of Waterloo. With the single exception of India, he was absent neither from the disasters nor the triumphs of the British army. France, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, the West Indies, Denmark, and Egypt, have witnessed the services of this able and experienced commander. . . .It has often been remarked of the Duke of Wellington, as of all great men, that he is singularly prompt in discerning the particular individual who happens to be the man above all others best fitted for the particular duties which he requires to have discharged. His great general of division was Lord Hill, and his great cavalry officer Lord Anglesey; his great organizer of raw levies, Lord Beresford, and his best of all quartermasters, General Sir G. Murray."

Sir George was now to astonish the world by equal excellence in a very different department. He had left the university of Edinburgh for the army at the early age of seventeen, and from that period to the close of his military career his life had been one of incessant action and change, so that it was evident he could have had very little time for study and self-improvement. And yet he was distinguished throughout as an accomplished scholar, eloquent orator, and able writer, and was now to bring all these qualities to bear upon his new vocation as a statesman. Men who wondered how or at what time he could have acquired those excellencies, which are generally the result of a life of peaceful avocation and study, were obliged to settle upon the conclusion that his mind must have been of such a singularly precocious character as to be able to finish its education at the early age of seventeen! He commenced his career as a politician in 1823, when he was chosen member of parliament for the county of Perth, and in 1820 he changed his condition in life, by becoming a husband and a father, at the age of fifty-four, his wife being Lady Louisa Erskine, sister of the Marquis of Anglesey, and widow of Sir James Erskine, by whom he had one daughter. In 1828 he resigned the command of the army in Ireland for the office of secretary of state for the colonies—and it was in this department especially that he astounded his cotemporaries by his political sagacity, aptitude for business, and talents as an orator and debater. "He possessed," we are told, "the power of logical arrangement in a remarkable degree; and though his speeches did not ‘smell of the lamp,’ they always had a beginning, middle, and conclusion; besides that, they possessed a coherence and congruity rarely found in parliamentary speeches, a force and appropriateness of diction not often surpassed, an eloquence and copiousness which a soldier could not be expected to attain, and an agreeable style of delivery which many more professed speakers might imitate with advantage."

After these explanations, it becomes the less necessary to enter into a full detail of Sir George Murray’s political proceedings. His office of secretary for the colonies was discharged with ability and success; and his ascendency in the House upon general questions was universally felt and acknowledged. He supported the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, and opposed the Liberal government in 1830 and 1831. In 1832, upon the passing of the Reform Bill, and dissolution of Parliament that followed, Sir George was again candidate for Perthshire, to which he had been repeatedly elected as representative; but on this occasion the tide was against him and in favour of Lord Ormelie; but when the latter succeeded to the peerage in 1834 as Marquis of Breadalbane, Perthshire again presented a parliamentary vacancy, to which Sir George was called, in preference to Mr. Graham, the Whig candidate. This seat he again lost under Sir Robert Peel’s administration in 1834-5, Mr. Fox Maule, now Lord Panmure, being the successful candidate; but Sir George held the important appointment of master-general of the Ordnance to console him under his defeat. Such were the political fluctuations of this stirring period, in which the chief war that was waged by the country was one of hot and hard words, with the floor of the House of Commons for its battle-field. In 1837, when there was a general election, in consequence of the accession of Queen Victoria, Sir George Murray stood for Westminster; but his political opinions were so different from those of the many in this stronghold of Liberalism, that he was unsuccessful. Scarcely two years afterwards he was tempted to stand for Manchester, which had become vacant by the promotion of its representative, Mr. Paulett Thompson, to the peerage; but here again Sir George was unsuccessful. Still, however, he remained a minister of the crown, as master-general of the Ordnance, to which he was reappointed in 1841. His last public effort was in a literary capacity, when he edited five volumes of the Duke of Marlborough’s despatches, by which an important addition was made to the historical annals of Britain.

After so long a course of active exertion, Sir George’s strong constitution gave way, so that for more than a year previous to his death, he was unable to leave his house in Belgrave Square: there, however, he continued to attend to the duties of his office until the last six months, when, unable for further exertion, he tendered his resignation. His death occurred on the 26th of July, 1846, at the age of seventy-four.


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