Murray, Sir George
- C. H. H. Owen
Murray, Sir George (1759–1819), naval officer, was born at Chichester and baptized at St Peter the Great Church in the town on 16 April 1759, the second son of Gideon Murray (1721–1772), magistrate and alderman, and his wife, Anne Stringer. In 1770, when eleven years old, he joined the frigate Niger (Captain Francis Banks), and he later transferred with Banks to the Pembroke (60 guns), serving mostly in the Mediterranean. Two years after this he joined the Panther (60 guns), flagship of Commodore Molyneux Shuldham on the Newfoundland station, and he spent most of the next six years off North America. After joining the Romney (50 guns), flagship of Rear-Admiral Montagu, Murray was lent to the schooner Placentia and was shipwrecked off Cape Race in 1775. In the Bristol (50 guns; Sir Peter Parker's flagship) he was at the bloody but unsuccessful attack on Charles Town, South Carolina, on 28 June 1776; and he was also in the Chatham (50 guns) with Parker at the occupation of Rhode Island. In January 1778 he moved to the Eagle (64 guns), Lord Howe's flagship, before taking part in the summer operations against D'Estaing.
On his return home Murray was promoted lieutenant on 31 December 1778 and appointed to the frigate Arethusa (Captain Charles Everitt). On 19 March 1779 she was wrecked near Ushant when chasing a French frigate, and Murray was taken prisoner. He occupied his time studying French and the organization of the French navy, and was released on parole a year later—on the instigation it is said of Sartine, the French minister of marine, who admired his spirited conduct in chastising an American privateersman who appeared in public wearing British naval uniform and the royal cockade.
After nine months in the Marlborough (74 guns) Murray joined the Monmouth (64 guns) commanded by James Alms, his fellow townsman, before sailing in April 1781 to the East Indies. On passage she took part in Commodore George Johnstone's inept action off the Cape Verde Islands against Suffren. In the East Indies Murray fought in all five actions between Sir Edward Hughes and Suffren, moving after the second to Hughes's flagship Superb (74 guns), where Thomas Troubridge was a fellow lieutenant. In the action on 3 September 1782 Murray was wounded; he was promoted by Hughes to captain on 12 October for his gallantry, and given command of the frigate San Carlos. After the fifth action he moved to the Inflexible (64 guns), before returning to England in June 1784 to pay her off.
Murray is believed to have devoted the next six years to study, including two years in France to improve his knowledge of French language and literature. In June 1790 he commissioned the frigate Triton and in the following April he was sent to survey the Great Belt and the approaches to Copenhagen, an experience which proved invaluable ten years later. He sailed to Halifax in September 1791 and became senior naval officer, Jamaica, in the following May. He returned home in June 1793, transferred to the frigate Nymphe in December, and was present at Lord Bridport's action against the French off Lorient on 23 June 1795. On leaving the Nymphe he married, in St John the Evangelist, Westminster, on 15 September 1795, Ann (1763–1859), daughter of Colonel Christopher Teesdale; two weeks later he was back at sea.
After a year in the Formidable (90 guns) Murray commanded the Colossus (74 guns) off Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797, but damage to her foreyards put her out of action early in the battle. In May 1798 Lord St Vincent sent the Colossus to join Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson in the Mediterranean as 'Murray is too good a fellow to be left there [Lisbon] when so much is to be done' (Dispatches and Letters, 3.15). The ship's condition, however, was such that in December she had to return home to refit, but on the way she was wrecked on the Scillies in a gale. One man was killed and many of Sir William Hamilton's less valuable treasures which she was bringing home were lost. Murray was 'fully acquitted' at the subsequent court martial, blame being attributed to the 'badness of the weather and the rotten state of the best bower cabel though it had never been used' (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/5348).
After two years in the Achille (84 guns) in the channel, Murray moved in March 1801 to the Edgar (74 guns). Because of Murray's knowledge of the difficult navigation the Edgar led the fleet into action at Copenhagen on 2 April, receiving heavy fire from four Danish ships before anchoring opposite the Jylland, whom she engaged for four hours until the truce. The Edgar's 'running rigging was entirely shot to pieces, the masts and yards very much wounded, the sails shot through in various places and rendered unserviceable'; 31 men were killed and 104 wounded (TNA: PRO, ADM 51/1371, Edgar's log, 2 April). Murray 'set a noble example of intrepidity', wrote Nelson to Sir Hyde Parker on 3 April (Dispatches and Letters, 4.315). He continued in the Baltic in command of a squadron watching the Swedish fleet at Karlskrona until August 1801 when he transferred to the London (90 guns) and paid her off at the peace.
On the renewal of war Nelson selected Murray as his first captain (or chief of staff) in the Victory, a testing post which he held during the long watch off Toulon (1803–5) and the chase to the West Indies in 1805. Murray hesitated to accept the appointment, one which sometimes led to disagreements between admiral and first captain, who both feared that professional confrontations would damage their friendship. Nelson, however, assured him 'that even should everything go contrary to his wishes, he would waive the rank of Admiral, and explain or expostulate with him as his friend Murray' (Naval Chronicle, 1807, 189).
Murray was promoted rear-admiral on 23 April 1804 but the death of his father-in-law, to whom he was executor, prevented his accompanying Nelson on his last voyage and he remained ashore until 1806. That November he was appointed commander-in-chief of the naval operations against Buenos Aires: 'George Murray is the flag officer, of all others, I wish should succeed Rear-Admiral Stirling', wrote St Vincent to Admiral John Markham on 26 June 1806 (Selections from the Correspondence of … Markham, 56). He arrived only to witness the failure of General John Whitelocke's assault on Buenos Aires in July 1807, the navy's task being limited to convoying and landing the troops in June and embarking them again from Buenos Aires and Montevideo after the repulse. Murray returned home in January 1808.
Though not again employed, Murray was promoted vice-admiral on 25 October 1809 and created KCB on 2 January 1815. He was an alderman of Chichester for many years and mayor in 1815; he died suddenly on 28 February 1819, aged fifty-nine, at North Street, Chichester, and was buried on 8 March in the precincts of Chichester Cathedral. His memorial there depicts the Edgar leading the fleet at Copenhagen. His eldest son was born on the second anniversary of that battle: 'if one of his names is not Baltic', wrote Nelson, 'I shall be very angry with you indeed—he can be called nothing else'. Murray went better and baptized him George Saint Vincent Thomas Nelson (Thomas for Troubridge; NMM, MS 84/174/20, 13 April 1803). Murray was much liked in the navy; St Vincent, for example, in a letter to the second Earl Spencer, 12 November 1798, called him 'a most valuable officer and amiable man' (Private Papers of George, second Earl Spencer, 486). His widow died in Boulogne in 1859, aged ninety-five.
- admiralty documents, TNA: PRO, ADM 1/5348; 51/1371 [Edgar's log, 2 April 1801]
- admiralty documents, TNA: PRO, ADM 34, ADM 36, ADM 107/7
- ‘Biographical memoir’ of Murray, Naval Chronicle, 18 (1807), 176–91
- NMM, Murray MSS, MS 84/174 and HSR/C/2–4
- The dispatches and letters of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, ed. N. H. Nicolas, 7 vols. (1844–6)
- BL, Murray MSS, Egerton MS 3265
- J. H. Owen, Notes for an unwritten biography of Admiral Murray, 1963, W. Sussex RO, MP873
- Selections from the correspondence of Admiral John Markham, ed. C. Markham, Navy RS, 28 (1904)
- J. D. Grainger, ed., The Royal Navy in the River Plate, 1806–1807, Navy RS, 135 (1996)
- Private papers of George, second Earl Spencer, ed. J. S. Corbett and H. W. Richmond, 4 vols., Navy RS, 46, 48, 58–9 (1913–24)
- monumental inscription, Chichester Cathedral
- BL, letter-book, Egerton MS 3265
- BL, orders, Add. MS 34970
- NMM, MSS, MS 84/174 and HSR/C/2–4
- H. R. Cook, stipple, pubd 1807, NPG
- W. Say, mezzotint, pubd 1819 (after C. Woolcott), BM
- C. Woolcott, oils, 1819, repro. in C. Beresford, Nelson and his times (1897)
- J. Parker, engraving (after R. Smirke), repro. in Commemoration of four great naval victories (1803)
Wealth at Death
£20,000: TNA: PRO, death duty registers, IR 26/791/573, 14 July 1819