MURRAY, Alexander (1736-95), of Murrayfield, Edinburgh, and Henderland, Peebles.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - Feb. 1783

Family and Education

b. 11 May 1736, 1st s. of Archibald Murray of Murrayfield, adv., by Jean, da. of Lord William Hay of Newhall; cos. of John, 4th Mq. of Tweeddale [S].  educ. Mundell’s sch. Edinburgh; Edinburgh Univ.; adv. 1758.  m. 15 Apr. 1773, Katherine, da. of Sir Alexander Lindsay, 3rd Bt., of Evelick, Perth, niece of Lord Mansfield and cos. of Lord Stormont, 2s. 1da. His sis. m. 1766 Ilay Campbell.  suc. fa. 1773.

Offices Held

Sheriff depute, Peebles 1761-75; one of commissaries of Edinburgh 1765; solicitor-gen. [S] May 1775-Feb. 1783; commr. for fisheries and manufactures 1777; raised to the bench as Lord Henderland 6 Mar. 1783; clerk of the pipe in Exchequer [S] 1786- d.


Through his father’s family, Murray was connected with the Duke of Queensberry to whom he owed his early legal preferment. Succeeding his father as sheriff of Peebles and commissary of Edinburgh, he was particularly commended to Lord Suffolk by Lord Justice Clerk Thomas Miller in 1773 for his conduct as deputy lord advocate on circuit,1 and in 1775 succeeded Henry Dundas as solicitor-general. Popular in society, he was admired by his schoolfriend James Boswell for his ‘ornate eloquence’, his abilities, and practical good sense. Although not a close personal friend of Henry Dundas, he was a loyal colleague, and, declining to join in Boswell’s diatribes against the Dundases as ‘bad people’, made ‘a very prudent observation’: ‘They never did me any harm. A bad man is one who is bad to me.’2 In May 1778, he showed less finesse than Dundas, when ‘in an unwise speech’ he told the general assembly of the Kirk of Scotland ‘that any opposition it could make to the Catholic relief bill would be treated with contempt’.3

Despite his influential connexions Murray was not particularly ambitious. ‘He owned that objects at the Scotch bar were limited ... But what can a man do better after he is once there.’4 He was returned in 1780 for Peeblesshire on the Queensberry interest, but seems to have spent more time in Scotland on his official duties than in Parliament. His only reported speech was made on 8 May 17815 when he strongly opposed the petition of the delegated counties for redress of grievances, urged the repression of associations as dangerous and unconstitutional and, as a parallel, unwisely suggested that had the Scottish Government in the 17th century repressed the Solemn League and Covenant delegated meetings, there might have been no civil war. Lord Maitland hotly attacked his argument as deserving ‘indignation and contempt’.

Absent through illness from the division on 20 Feb. 1782 on the censure of the Admiralty, Murray does not appear in any division list until 15 Mar. when he voted with Administration on Rous’s motion of no confidence. Promoted to the Scottish bench in February 1783, he also obtained the reversion of the office of clerk of the pipe,6 to which he succeeded in 1786.

Murray returned to the congenial life of Edinburgh, where he died of cholera 16 Mar. 1795.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1773-5, p. 54.
  • 2. Private Pprs. x. 84; xi. 78, 79; xii. 133.
  • 3. Ramsay of Ochtertyre, Scotland and Scotsmen, ii. 555; Scots Mag. 1778, p. 269.
  • 4. Boswell, Private Pprs. xii. 215; xv. 193-4.
  • 5. Debrett, ii. 238-41.
  • 6. T17/22/332.