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Murray, Sir James (1788–1871), physician, was born in co. Londonderry, the son of Edward Murray and his wife, Belinda, daughter of John Powell. He was admitted as a licentiate of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons and as a licentiate in midwifery in 1807, and as licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (army) of the Dublin college in 1808. After hearing lectures given at Edinburgh by John Dalton, Murray determined to establish the ‘exact proportions of heat, or electricity, naturally belonging to … living atoms, in a state of health’ (Murray, Electricity, 6). In 1809 he married Mary, daughter of George Sharrock, with whom he had several children.

After qualifying Murray was appointed resident medical officer in a Belfast hospital and dispensary, where he experimented with electrical apparatus. His career prospered under the patronage of the marquess of Donegal, who owned Belfast Castle. About 1809 Murray developed a fluid magnesia, which he widely publicized. Epsom salts had long been known as a purgative; Murray's Fluid Magnesia, specially prepared and marketed by the firm of Sir James Murray & Son, was an aqueous solution of magnesium carbonate recommended as a palatable laxative and as a remedy for acidities, indigestion, heartburn, and gout. Murray developed a lemon syrup to mix with fluid magnesia to form a pleasant effervescing aperient for women and child patients. He also marketed Sir James Murray's Pure Fluid Camphor, a tonic for weak nerves, low fever, and diarrhoea. Some colleagues deprecated his descent into commerce; on several occasions he was forced to protect his business by litigation after his rights were infringed.

Murray graduated MD at Edinburgh University in 1829, and was appointed in 1831 as resident physician to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, the marquess of Anglesey, by whom he was knighted in 1833. He received an honorary degree of MD from Dublin University in 1832 and was appointed inspector of anatomical schools in Ireland (which post he held until a few months before his death). He was also a member of the central board of health. He travelled abroad with Anglesey in 1834–5, remitting rapturous letters about the architectural, artistic, and historic glories of Florence and Rome. At this time, and on a further visit to Italy in 1844, he studied malaria, developing a theory that the fever was caused by electro-galvanic currents and accumulations. He was passionately responsive to the natural beauties of Italy and relished the social brilliance of his connection with the viceroy. It was both a personal pleasure and a professional success to be confirmed as resident physician to Anglesey's successors as lords lieutenant of Ireland, the marquess of Normanby (1835) and Viscount Ebrington (1839). It cannot have been convenient that Murray's eldest child, , in 1841 published a novel, The Viceroy, satirizing ‘the worms and sycophants of Irish lord lieutenancy’ (Athenaeum, 9 Jan 1841, 35). When Earl De Grey was appointed viceroy in 1841, Murray's appointment at Dublin Castle was not renewed. In 1848 Murray married again; he and his second wife, Mary, daughter of Samuel Allen, had one daughter.

For some years Murray was physician to the Netterville Dispensary and to the Anglesey Lying-In Hospital, Dublin. He was the first physician to recommend inhalation of iodine in water vapour for respiratory diseases, and in 1829 he published his Dissertation on the influence of heat and humidity, with practical observations on the inhalation of iodine (reissued in 1837, with additions on his technique of tracheotomy, as Medical Essays). His Dissertation examined body temperatures in numerous diseases, and the effects of heat and fluidity on medicinal substances; it suggested that dilution aided the effects of most medicines. Electrotherapeutics, however, commanded Murray's greatest interest. In Electricity as a cause of cholera or other epidemics, and the relation of galvanism to the action of remedies (1849), he collected his ‘views of Voltaic agency on the laws of life’ (p. 4). He argued that epidemics were caused by disturbances of natural electricity; either depletion or excess of electricity in the nervous system could derange the vital organs; ‘nervous energy and electric power seemed to be identical, or, at least, … they appeared to stand in the relation of cause and effect’ (ibid., 9). During the cholera epidemic of 1832 he made strenuous efforts to save patients by removing atmospheric pressure from the external surface of their bodies using an air pump of his own devising. Murray advocated the medical use of atmospheric pressure in air-baths. He reported his many experiments in numerous publications.

Murray resented the credit of his discoveries being stolen by others, and the ‘intrigues of supercilious ignorance, and jealous mediocrity’ (Murray, Medical Essays, v). He remained of Herculean frame and strength until shortly before dying on 8 December 1871 at his home, 19 Upper Temple Street, Dublin. He was buried at Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.

Richard Davenport-Hines


ILN (23 Dec 1871) · ILN (6 Jan 1872) · The Lancet (16 Dec 1871) · Marquess of Anglesey [G. C. H. V. Paget], One-leg: the life and letters of Henry William Paget, first marquess of Anglesey (1961), 280–81 · M. Pelling, Cholera, fever and English medicine, 1825–1865 (1978) · J. Murray, Electricity as a cause of cholera or other epidemics (1849) · J. Murray, Medical essays (1837)


Plas Newydd, Anglesey, Anglesey MSS


engraving (after photograph by T. Cranfield), repro. in ILN (6 Jan 1872), 16

Wealth at death  

under £1500: probate, 19 March 1872, CGPLA Ire.