General Sir George Murray, GCB GCH FRS


The unfinished watercolour portrait of George Murray is by Thomas Heaphy (1775-1835), an artist who was skilled at capturing the likeness of his sitters. It was painted in 1814 when Major-General Sir George Murray had reached the height of his powers and achieved all the praise and respect from his army colleagues that a general could expect. He held the post of Wellington's QMG in the Peninsula and was the Duke's right-hand man. He had unlimited access to Wellington and it was generally accepted that if the Duke wasn't around when decisions were needed, then George Murray was the next best thing.

Murray was born on 6 Feb 1772 in the old house of Ochtertyre near Crieff, Perthshire. He was the second son of Sir William Murray, 5th Baronet of Ochtertyre, by his wife Lady Augusta Mackenzie, youngest daughter of the 3rd Earl of Cromarty. The Murrays, a branch of the Atoll Murrays, were an old and much respected Perthshire family, settled on their estates in Strath Earn since the 16th century. Lady Augusta had an affair with Robert Harrup, an English doctor of Crieff. They had a son called William, referred to as 'our young friend', sent out to India in 1810 and died in 1831. George's parents divorced as a result of the affair. George and his elder brother were very well educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh. He later went to Geneva to learn French which he mastered fluently.

His family were not noted for their military connections but his uncle was Norman Macleod of Macleod who offered George a commission in the 71st, but they were in India and it was thought that his health was not up to it. He exchanged at first to the 34th and then the Scots Guards, serving in the Low Countries in Feb 1793. He saw action at Saint-Amand and Valenciennes where he rescued two wounded men from a ditch. He was also at Linselles, Dunkirk and Lannoy. His service in the West Indies had to be aborted because of sickness. In 1799 he joined the Quartermaster General's staff, inspired by fellow Guards officer Lt-Col Robert Anstruther, and Col the Hon Alexander Hope. These two had seen service under the Archduke Charles of Austria in 1796 and learned how military science consultants had been of great assistance to the commanders. They were keen to introduce military scientists into the British Army and were influential in the establishment of the Royal Military College at High Wycombe. Murray was one of the officers groomed as a 'scientific' and studied at Wycombe in the spring of 1802.

In November 1804 he was Deputy QMG in Ireland and won the confidence of the C-in-C there with his new methods. There were a few false starts to his overseas service in this field but his first great success was in the expedition to Rugen and Copenhagen in 1807. He produced a plan of action which was adopted and he worked closely with Major-General the Hon Sir Arthur Wellesley. This led to Murray's appointment as QMG in Portugal. He worked at first with Sir John Moore who was advised by Hope and Anstruther, but at Corunna both Moore and Anstruther died. His second spell in the Peninsula in 1809 was potentially promising, but Wellesley was at first not willing to accept the ideas of the scientifics. By the following year Murray and the Duke of Wellington, as he now was, began to work together. Murray had not liked the Duke's reliance on the Lines of Torres-Vedras but he offered his ideas in the retreat from Massena's advance. Murray was given considerable latitude in drawing up strategies and these were successful. He hoped to achieve promotion with his work but that was still subject to seniority. The old-fashioned staff at Horse Guards proved to be a stumbling block for the scientifics.

The flowering of Murray's talents came in the Peninsula in 1813 when Wellington gave Murray his head and the first result was the victory at Vitoria. He issued elaborate instructions based on the Duke's sketched ideas and these were instrumental in bringing about success at the Bidassoa and the Nivelle. Ward's article says this: "Some idea of the magnitude of the work involved may be gathered from the Memoir annexed to an Atlas of the war, where Murray's arrangements are printed from an edited text. It is impossible to come away from the original documents without a profound admiration for the speed and incredible accuracy of his business methods."

In 1813 he was the recipient of several decorations for his work. The Red Ribband of the Bath was gazetted on 11 Sep and he had accepted a knighthood in the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword. He had the officer's gold medal for Corunna and Talavera, and the Peninsula Gold Cross inscribed with Corunna Talavera Buzaco and Fuentes de Onor, later receiving clasps for Vitoria Pyrenees Nivelle Nive Orthez and Toulouse. In late 1814 he went to Canada and was given command of Upper Canada but on 30 May he heard of Napoleon's return and he hurried back to Europe. He reached London on 17 July, too late for Waterloo, but he was appointed Chief-of-Staff to Wellington in the Army of Occupation, with the local rank of lieutenant-general. The army was made up of Prussian, Russian, Austrian, Danish and troops from other German states, most of whom showered Murray with honours and medals. He lived in great splendour in Paris and Cambrai with 11 servants and a well stocked library.

The army remained in place until Nov 1818 so George had plenty of time to enjoy his position. In this period he fell in love with a married woman, Lady Louisa Erskine, sister of the Marquess of Anglesey and wife of Lt-General Sir James Erskine Bt of Torrie. Sir James and Louisa split up and from 1820 George and Louisa lived together. They had a daughter in 1822 who was the subject of a painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence called Miss Murray, or Child with Flowers. Although divorce proceedings were under way the situation was resolved suddenly when Sir James Erskine died on 3 March 1825. The couple were able to marry and this took place on 28 April 1825 at Sunninghill. The affair and marriage, however, was a stumbling block to Sir George and Louisa's social life. Queen Adelaide snubbed them on 23 July 1830, a month after William IV came to the throne, and other notable people closed their doors to them. He and Louisa lived at 5 Belgrave Square and they remained there for the rest of their lives.

During this time he held a number of appointments, including Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, and was more involved with politics, being Tory MP for Perth, and he was given the job of Secretary of State for the Colonies on 25 May 1828. He wasn't an effective politician or minister but he was under the protection of the Duke of Wellington. The legacy of the Colonial office was the naming of Perth WA, the Murray River and Mount Murray in Australia, Murray House in Hong Kong, and the Duke of York's Column in London which was Murray's brainchild. As Master General of the Ordnance he had a Cabinet seat in Sir Robert Peel's Government in 1834-5 but when he was once more MGO from 1841 to 46 he did not have this privilege.

Also in this time he was Colonel of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, from 6 Sep 1823 until 29 Dec 1843 when he was appointed Colonel of the 1st Royal Scots. As Colonel of the Black Watch he took enough interest in the regiment to introduce the Long Land Tower musket exclusively to them in 1825, just before they were stationed in Gibraltar for 6 years. Then in 1840 he ensured that they were the first regiment to receive the percussion musket.

Murray had literary aspirations but did not write a history of the Peninsular War as he intended. He had his Peninsular surveys prepared by one of his draughtsmen, Sir Thomas Mitchell and published as 'Atlas' and 'Memoir' (1841). The surveys were the cause of a public quarrel with Charles Napier which had the result that Murray's contribution to the Army's success in Spain and Portugal failed to be recognised as they should have been. In his old age, Murray gained great satisfaction from editing 28 manuscript books of Marlborough's letters. These were only discovered in 1842 and published in 5 volumes in 1845. His substantial papers and maps were given to the National Library of Scotland by a great-niece in 1913.

Sir George Murray died on 28 July 1846, at his house in Belgrave Square. He was buried on 5 Aug in Kensal Green Cemetery, beside his wife Lady Louisa who died a few year earlier, on 23 Jan 1842. Their only daughter, Louisa Augusta Anne married Lieutenant Henry Boyce of the 2nd Life Guards on 14 Sep 1843, but he died in June 1848 and she lived, childless, until she died at Bordighera on 25 Feb 1891.

In appearance Murray was described in 1832 as 'a tall, rather thin elderly gentleman' with 'a highly cultivated air, a mild expression and altogether a very winning countenance with manners entirely devoid of affectation.' An army surgeon, belonging to a profession not normally given to rhapsodising, who knew Murray in Dublin in 1825 says he 'never saw a finer face than his. Indeed, such a pleasing and happy combination of intelligence, sweetness and spirit, with regularity, beauty and a noble cast of features, is rarely to be found in human physiognomies.'

The painting of Murray and the information is based on an article by S G P Ward MA B Litt that was published in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research Vol LVIII no.236 published in the winter of 1980.

1772 Born in Perth. 6 Feb
1785 Attended at Edinburgh University
1789 Ensign in 71st Regiment, 12 Mar
1789 Ensign in 34th, 5 June
1790 Ensign 3rd Foot Guards, 7 July
1793 Service in the Low Countries
1794 Captain, 16 Jan
1794 Adjutant, 26 July
1795 Service in West Indies
1799 Lieutenant-Colonel, 5 Aug
1802 Studied Military Science at Wycombe, March-July
1804 Deputy QMG in Ireland, Nov
1807 Raid on Copenhagen
1808 Quartermaster General in Peninsula up to 1811
1809 Colonel, 9 Mar
1810 QMG in Ireland
1811 Brigadier-General, 4 June
1813 Major-General, QMG in Peninsula again
1813 Order of the Bath. Gazette 11 Sep
1813 Colonel of 7th Btn 60th Rifles 9 Aug 1813 - 24 June 1817
1814 Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, up to May 1815
1815 Arrived too late for Waterloo
1815 Chief of Staff, Army of Occupation
1817 Colonel of 72nd Regiment 24 Feb 1817 - 5 Sep 1823
1819 Governor of RMC Sandhurst, up to 1824
1820 Honorary Degree at Oxford
1823 Colonel of 42nd Highland Regiment 6 Sep 1823 - 14 Jan 1844
1824 Fellow of the Royal Society
1824 Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance, 6 Mar
1824 Tory MP for Perth, March, until 1832
1825 Married Lady Louisa Erskine, 28 April
1825 C-in-C Ireland until 25 May 1828
1825 Lieutenant-General, 27 May
1828 Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, up to 1830
1829 Governor of Fort George, 7 Sep
1833 President of the Royal Geographical Society, up to 1835
1834 Master-General of the Ordnance, up to 1835
1834 Tory MP for Perth until 1835
1841 General, 23 Nov
1841 Master-General of the Ordnance again, up to 1846
1843 Colonel of 1st Royal Scots 29 Dec 1843 - 28 July 1846
1846 Died on 28 July aged 74


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