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Significant Scots
John G [Gloag] Murdoch


Born in 1830 at Huntingtower, Perthshire. Early in life he was apprenticed to block cutting for printing on cotton, but block printing having been supplanted by machine printing immediately after the end of his apprenticeship, he preferred not to be tied to a decaying trade and signed articles for a second apprenticeship to the new process. As an apprenticeship in those days was invariably for seven years, he was about 27 years old [ie 1857]  before his apprenticeship days were over, although he had begun at the age of 13. After being engaged for several years as a machine printer he began to long for a wider field for his energies, and although his employers were reluctant to part with him, and promised him rapid promotion if he would remain, he relinquished the cotton printing and connected himself with the firm of Messrs. Collins & Co. , of Glasgow, who were developing business rapidly as publishers of Family Bibles and similar works. He established successful agencies for their publications in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, and other towns in the North of England. In 1871 he came to London and began publishing on his own account, his principal business continuing to be in Family Bibles, of which he issued editions in Welsh and Dutch, as well as English. At that time the Family Bible was more popular than it is today, and Mr Murdoch's annual output for a number of years was more than 30,000, which were supplied to all parts of the Empire.

It was the custom in those days to give a premium plate to purchasers of the Family Bible and this eventually led Mr Murdoch into print publishing. At the time when the oleograph was in it prime and publishers were eager to issue first-class pictures in the artistic style, he established a great business in this department. He secured paintings from some of the most eminent artists of the day, such as the late Alphonse de Neuville, Richard Beavis, Frederick Goodall, R.A., Phil Morris, A.R.A., Robert Müller, and others, and from these he reproduced pictures in the best style of colour printing then extant. Several of these pictures had the good fortune to attract the attention of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, and owing to her patronage and the merits of the pictures themselves, they commanded an enormous sale.

About the same period the trade in photograph albums arose to great proportions in England, and as it had been for many years the practice to put a family portrait register into the Family Bible, it was an easy transition for the great Family Bible publisher to become an album publisher as well, and that on a large scale.

This album publishing had a great influence on the future of Mr Murdoch's business, for, strange to say, it formed the base of the extensive musical business for which Messrs. Murdoch & Co. are now well known. The stages of this curious development are simple enough when understood. In many of the portrait albums it became the custom to supply a little Swiss musical box which played as the album was opened. This Mr Murdoch supplied in many of his albums, and speedily he found himself interested not only in that but in all kinds of musical boxes, up to the very largest and most expensive. The business in musical boxes grew rapidly, and customers on all sides began to press for instruments of other kinds, so that in a short time there grew up a considerable trade in pianofortes and organs and all sorts of musical instruments.

Early in 1883 Mr Murdoch's business was amalgamated with that of Messrs. John and Alexander Dow (an offspring, several years previous) and converted into a private company, Mr Murdoch becoming the chairman and Messrs. John Dow, George Murdoch, and Alexander Dow the other directors. This company has followed the lines laid down by Mr Murdoch, and has grown steadily from that time until now.

The business in pianos and organs eventually became so large that it was found necessary to start factories to supply the needs of the company, and from these have emerged the well-known concerns of Spencer & Co., who have lately become pianoforte makers to H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, and Malcolm & Co., organ and Phoneon makers, Regent's Park. In both these concerns Mr Murdoch was the senior partner, and his sons, Mr J.G.Murdoch Junr and Mr James Murdoch, the respective managing partners.

During the building of this great business, Messrs Murdoch & Co. have ever been zealous that all their concerns should be conducted in the most straightforward manner, and that the goods manufactured and sold by them should be strictly in accordance with their description, and of sound quality. As time has passed, even the most violent of their opponents have come to see that the businesses established by Mr Murdoch and his company have been a help to the musical instrument trade, and that they are amongst its most useful members.

Mr Murdoch was a most loveable man, and everyone who came in personal touch with him found him to be a real friend. In him was to be seen none of the bluster and overbearing character usually associated with a successful business career. The marvellous success which converted a working cotton printer of 1857 into the great manufacturer and merchant of 1902 was due to a rare sympathy with men, which drew out their best from those with whom he was associated - a clearness of mind which saw plainly the practical; a shrewdness of judgment that saved him from making many mistakes; a courage that boldly seized the occasion; and a quiet perseverance that grappled with and overcame whatever difficulties lay in his path. Combined with these rare business qualities, he possessed a mind of lofty religious character. Throughout his life he never failed to meet an engagement and never broke a promise.

Mr Murdoch took an active part in the political life of St Pancras, and more than once was invited to stand for Parliament. In 1892 he was candidate for East Renfrewshire, a district familiar to him since boyhood, and he made a capital fight, greatly reducing the majority against his side; but the times were against him, and he shared with many others the disastrous fortunes of his party throughout the country.

The world is poorer for the passing of Mr Murdoch, and those who were in touch with him have sustained a loss in his death that time can never make good, but his influence remains, and they who are left in charge of the businesses founded by him have doubtless received an inspiration that will carry them forward on the principles he laid down.

Thanks to Colin Smythe for sending this in where he said...

Here's an obit from a music oriented journal, as far as I can guess, of John G. [Gloag] Murdoch. Would you consider him significant? Apart from the details in it, he also amassed the largest collection of English coins in the world, sold in 1903 at Sotheby's.


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