MURRAY, John (1726-1800), of Philiphaugh, Selkirk.

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



Family and Education

b. 4 Apr. 1726, 1st surv. s. of John Murray, M.P., of Philiphaugh by Eleanor, da. of Lord Basil Hamilton and gd.-da. of William, 3rd Duke of Hamilton [S].  educ. Glasgow Univ. 1742; adv. 1748.  m. c.1765, Miss Thomson, 3s. 4da.  suc. fa. 2 July 1753.

Offices Held


Murray, the 18th of his line, was head of a celebrated Border family, owning great estates in Ettrick and Yarrow. Through his mother he was related to the Dukes of Hamilton and Douglas, and the Earls of Selkirk, Dundonald, and March, and on his father’s side to the leading freeholders of Selkirkshire. Although by the death of his brother in 1747 John became his father’s heir, he did not abandon his career at the Scottish bar, but received no preferment, despite his father’s applications on his behalf.1

Early in 1753 Murray senior, who had represented the Burghs 1725-34 and Selkirkshire continuously thereafter, informed Newcastle and Pelham that he intended to stand down at the general election in favour of his son, and received their assurances of neutrality in the event of a contest with Gilbert Elliot. But when his father died in July 1753 Murray found himself faced by opposition from another quarter. He wrote to Newcastle, 2 Sept. 1753:2

The Duke of Argyll ... I believe will use all his interest here against me by laying his orders upon my own cousin german Mr. Andrew Pringle, sheriff of the county, to join in support of Mr. Elliot against me, contrary to his own intention and inclination.

As the interest of the Pringles of Haining was a decisive factor, Murray asked that his cousin be allowed a free choice. Argyll’s influence, however, prevailed, and at the by-election on 13 Dec. 1753 Elliot was returned. Bitterly mortified at losing the county, Murray stood in 1754 for Linlithgow Burghs against Lawrence Dundas, and was returned with the assistance of his cousin Pringle, his kinsman and boon companion Lord March, and eventually of Lord Hyndford and Argyll, after their first choice, Pryse Campbell, had declined.3

Listed ‘pro’ by Dupplin, Murray was not counted among Argyll’s adherents, but through Hyndford attached himself to Newcastle and the ‘English’ ministers. In March 1755 he was mentioned among the Scots who, in deference to Newcastle, were prepared to absent themselves on the Mitchell election petition. But he was less interested in a parliamentary career than in his family prestige in Selkirkshire. When Andrew Pringle was promoted solicitor-general in Scotland, Murray recommended to Newcastle another relative for the vacant sheriffship: ‘As an inhabitant of that county where my whole fortune lies I may be allowed to have some small concern in a proper person’s being appointed.’4 When Gilbert Elliot’s candidate, backed by Argyll, secured the nomination, Murray’s dissatisfaction increased. His election had cost him approximately £8000; by the autumn of 1755 he was ready to recoup himself by transferring his burghs to Robert Haldane. Newcastle wrote to Argyll, 17 Oct. 1755:

[George] Haldane tells me Mr. Murray of Philiphaugh would willingly quit his seat in Parliament for an employment ... I know nothing of Mr. Murray’s inclinations and less where such an employment can be found ... If you approve the scheme and an employment can be found, I love peace so well that I shall very readily come into it.

Argyll replied: ‘As to the Haldanes’ project about Mr. Murray of Philiphaugh ... it is of such a nature as to require a good deal of cookery.’ A conference in London between Argyll and Newcastle produced no results, and Murray retained his seat to the end of the Parliament.5 Popular, generous, and recklessly extravagant, he belonged to the racing and gambling set led by his kinsman March;6 but of his parliamentary conduct little is known. During the negotiations for a new ministry which might exclude Argyll, he was counted by Newcastle among those ‘not to be relied on at present, to be treated with’.7 A supporter of the Scottish militia bill, he was subsequently thanked for his vote by the Selkirkshire freeholders.8

In 1761 Murray declined the costly burghs contest and declared himself a candidate for the county against Gilbert Elliot. When Andrew Pringle was once more induced out of deference to Argyll to give his interest to Elliot, Murray withdrew but again challenged Elliot in 1762 at his re-election on appointment to office. When Bute intervened on Elliot’s behalf, Murray withdrew once more. Elliot wrote to Bute, 9 June 1762:9

What has happened will, I hope, for the future prevent that teasing opposition which Mr. Murray has always held out, without ever venturing to stand the trial of his strength.

Murray’s attempts on Selkirkshire ceased when in 1765 Elliot transferred to Roxburghshire and was succeeded by John Pringle, Murray’s cousin.

At the general election of 1768 he stood for the Burghs against John Lockhart Ross, who was returned both for the Burghs and Lanarkshire, but chose to sit for the county. At the ensuing by-election in the burghs, the Hamilton interest proposed a coalition with Murray and his friends, upon condition that they would assist the Hamiltons if ‘during the seven years Mr. Murray is provided for, or quits Parliament’. Murray was also approached by Lord Elibank with an offer to buy his interest in the burghs, but admitted he had little to sell.10

Murray seems eventually to have abandoned the contest. He was in acute financial distress, caused partly by his own extravagance, and partly by a series of disasters. In April 1768 his magnificent house at Hangingshaw was burned to the ground; he was engaged in land speculation in East Florida and the Isle of St. John, in association with his cousin John Rutherford, receiver general of quit-rents in North Carolina, to whom he had given a bond for £7000.11 When Rutherford’s schemes failed, his creditors pressed Murray for payment. Murray’s sister, Lady Don, wrote to an American cousin, 13 Dec. 1769:

My brother, my eldest brother, his affairs are in such a situation that he must sell his whole estate. Think, dear Madam, how severe a stroke this is on us all. My father’s family that were so respected and respectable entirely ruined, and, good God, to think by whom ... by John Rutherford, his friend, in whom he had the utmost confidence ... My brother sailed last month ... to go to North Carolina ... Poor unhappy man, at his time of life obliged to fly his country.12

In America Murray succeeded in recovering a portion of his debt and tried, without success, to obtain an appointment abroad through his cousin John Pringle, who acted as his financial adviser. Forced by his creditors to sell a considerable part of his estates to John Johnstone of Alva, Murray with his wife and family remained in America for some years and as a loyalist suffered further losses. He was back in Scotland by 1784 when Selkirk town council recorded:13

The magistrates and council ... out of consideration for the great losses sustained by John Murray esquire of Philiphaugh ... and more particularly his late sufferings in America ... and being animated with the strongest motives of esteem and gratitude to that gentleman, with whose family this burgh for some centuries past has always been on the strictest terms of friendship, and they being anxiously concerned to have his misfortunes ... alleviated ... agree to apply to his Grace the Duke of Hamilton and also to Captain Moore, their representative in Parliament, to use every interest with his Majesty’s ministers of state to provide for Mr. Murray and his family in such a way as to them seems meet.

Murray replied from Edinburgh on 4 Jan. 1785, thanking them for their offer, for which however there was now no occasion as he intended to go abroad. He settled with his wife and daughters in Jamaica where he died on 28 Feb. 1800.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 32714, f. 109; 32723, f. 426; 32731, f. 63.
  • 2. Add. 32732, f. 599.
  • 3. HMC Hamilton, ii. 177-8; T. Craig Brown, Hist. Selkirkshire, ii. 116.
  • 4. Add. 32736, f. 369; 32853, f. 44; 32854, f. 351.
  • 5. Add. 32860, ff. 78, 262, 486.
  • 6. Hist. Selkirkshire, ii. 347.
  • 7. Add. 32995, f. 383.
  • 8. Scots Mag. 1760, p. 501.
  • 9. Bute mss.
  • 10. Hist. Selkirkshire, ii. 119; Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), pp. 94, 147-8; Jesse, G. Selwyn his Contemporaries, ii. 60; Elibank to James Murray, n.d. 1768, Elibank mss.
  • 11. Jnl. of a Lady of Quality, ed. E. W. C. M. Andrews; APC Col. 1766-83, pp. 63, 589.
  • 12. Eliz. Smith (Murray) to Dorothy Forbes, 22 June 1769, Robbins mss (Mass. Hist. Soc.).
  • 13. Hist. Selkirkshire, ii. 123.