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The Scottish Nation

MURCHISON, softened from Murdockson, the name of a minor clan in Lochalsh, Ross-shire, in Gaelic called Eilan Calmaon, it is supposed from their being long the governors of Eilean Donnan Castle, the place where Donald Gorme of Sleat met his death in 1539. Calm signifying a pillar, fort, or strength, and aon a person. Some of them have changed their name to Dove, from the erroneous impression that the word is Calaman, which is the Gaelic for a pigeon. The castle of Eilan Donnan is also called Seafort, from its being built on an island, surrounded by water at full tide, and from it the earls of Seaforth derive their title.

The Murchisons fought under the Mackenzies and carried their banners. They are descended from Murdoch or Murcha, who received a charter of the lands of Kintail from David II., in 1362.

Colonel Donald Murchison of Auchtertyre, Lochalsh, commissioner to William, 5th earl of Seaforth, was, during the period in which he lived, the military leader of the Mackenzies, Maclennans, and M’Raes, in their opposition to the government forces from 1719 to 1726. (see MACRAE.) He is mentioned as having successfully defended the lands of Seaforth, during the time their forfeiture lasted, and collecting the Seaforth rents, conveyed them to France, and delivered them to the earl, then in exile. All his movements were narrowly watched by government, and a reward offered for his apprehension, with a description of his person, which was posted up at all the ports, so that he might be captured at sea. General Wade wrote often, with very particular information, to government about hi, and in one of his communications he gives an account of Colonel Murchison’s entry into Edinburgh, with a numerous band of Highlanders. He encountered much annoyance from the Monroes, Rosses, and Mackays, and other loyal clans. Having lost his right-hand man Tuach of Conon, he was always in a state of warfare, but his wariness and tact invariably brought him out of danger.

The anecdotes of his feats are numerous, and a written record of his exploits is in the hands of Sir Roderick Murchison, a distant relative of the colonel, collected by Dr. Murchison of Tarradale, near Beauly, as related by his father, the grandfather of Sir Roderick. He lived at Auchtertyre, Lochalsh, and died at a great age. The colonel was at length captured at sea, on his return from France, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. King George I. visited him personally, and upon promise that in future he would be as faithful to him as to his own chief, gave him his liberty, and bestowed upon him a great part of the lands possessed by Seaforth in Kintail. About the same time peace and pardon for Seaforth and his clan were obtained by the aid of Marshal Wade. In an interview with the earl, after his return, his lordship upbraided him with taking possession of his land, and is even said to have broken open his charter-chest in the colonel’s absence, and carried off his title deeds. “Donald,” said the earl, “would not less land by far have satisfied you.” “I thought,” replied the colonel, “that Seaforth could never grudge me what his majesty has granted, after all the toils, hardships, and narrow escapes with my life, I have had in your cause.” The colonel’s indignation and agitation were so extreme that he burst a blood-vessel, went over to Conon, to the house of the widow of his old friend Tuach, where he died. Seaforth visited him before his death, and asked him if he should like to be buried in the Seaforth tomb. He replied that she who gave him a bed to die in would give him a grave to lie in. He left a brother, Murdoch Murchison, who was wounded at Culloden, and married Mary, daughter of the Rev. Finlay M’Rae, first reformed minister of Kintail, by whom he had a family.

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, D.C.L., of this family, has distinguished himself as a geologist. The eldest son of Kenneth Murchison, Esq. of Tarradale, Ross-shire, by his wife, the sister of General Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Bart., G.C.H., he was born at Tarradale, in 1792. Educated at Durham Grammar School and at the military College of Marlow, he received the honorary degree of M.A. from the universities of Cambridge and Durham. In 1807 he entered the army as an officer in the 36th foot, and took part in the battles of Vimeira and Corunna, &c. He was afterwards on the staff of his uncle, General Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and, lastly, was captain 6th Dragoons. In 1816 he left the army, and was induced, about 1818, by Sir Humphry Davy to devote himself to science. In 1828, in company with Sir Charles Lyall, he examined the extinct volcanoes of Auvergne, &c. In 1831, he applied himself to a systematic examination of the older sedimentary deposits in England and Wales, and after five years’ labour, succeeded in establishing what he named (from occupying those counties which formed the ancient kingdom of the Silures) the Silurian system, comprehending a succession of strata lying beneath the old red sandstone, and seeming to lie in close approximation to the deposits that preceded the existence of plants and animals. In 1837, he published his ‘Silurian system of Rocks.’ In 1841, the Czar Nicholas decorated him with the order of the second class of St. Anne, in diamonds, and subsequently gave him a magnificent colossal vase of Siberian aventurine, mounted on a column of porphyry, with this inscription, “Gratia Imperatoris totius Rossiae, Roderico Murchison, Geologiae Rossiae Exploratori, 1842.” In 1846, under the countenance of the Imperial government, in company with Professor Sedgwick and M. de Verneuil, he commenced a geological survey of the Russian empire; on completing which the emperor conferred upon him the grand cross of the order of St. Stanislaus. In 1845, he published, in two vols, his ‘Russia in Europe and the Ural Mountains,’ and in 1846, he received the royal license to accept the Russian orders, and was knighted. To the transactions of various scientific bodies, Sir Roderick has contributed upwards of 100 memoirs. In 1844, he instituted a comparison between the rocks of Eastern Australia and those of the auriferous Ural mountains, and was the first who publicly declared his opinion that gold must exist in Australia. Has been four times president of the Geological Society, and also of the Royal Geographical Society. IN 1846, he was president of the British Association. He is a fellow of the Royal and Linnaean Societies, member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg, and the Academies of Berlin, Copenhagen, &c., corresponding member of the Institute of France, and honorary member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Irish Academy, &c. In 1855, he succeeded Sir H. de la Beche, in the office of director of the Museum of Practical Geology.

Life of Sir Roderick I. Murchison
By Archibald Geikie, LL.D., F.R.S. (1875) in 2 volumes
Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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