MURRAY, Sir George (1772-1846), of Bleaton, Perth. and 5 Belgrave Square, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



6 Apr. 1824 - 1832
5 May 1834 - 1834

Family and Education

b. 6 Feb. 1772, 2nd s. of Sir William Murray, 5th bt. (d. 1800), of Ochtertyre, Perth and Lady Augusta Mackenzie, da. of George, 3rd earl of Cromarty [S]; bro. of Sir Patrick Murray, 6th bt.† educ. privately; Edinburgh h.s. 1781-5; Edinburgh Univ. 1785; Geneva. m. 28 Apr. 1825,1 Lady Louisa Paget, da. of Henry, 1st earl of Uxbridge, estranged w. and wid. of Maj.-Gen. Sir James Erskine, 3rd bt., of Torriehouse, Fife, 1da. (b. 1822). KB 11 Sept. 1813; GCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCH 1816. d. 28 July 1846.

Offices Held

Ensign 71 Ft. Mar. 1789, 34 Ft. June 1789; ensign 3 Ft. Gds. 1790, lt. and capt. 1794, capt. and lt.-col. 1799; sen. asst. q.m.g. on Helder expedition 1799, Egyptian expedition 1800-2; adj.-gen. W.I. 1802-3; asst. q.m.g. at Horse Gds. 1803-4; dep. q.m.g. [I] 1804-12, q.m.g 1812-14; dep. q.m.g. Hanover expedition 1805; q.m.g. Baltic army 1807, Stockholm mission 1808, Portugal 1808-9; col. army 1809; q.m.g. Peninsula and France 1809-12, 1813-14; brig.-gen. 1811; maj.-gen. 1812; col. 60 Ft. 1813; adj.-gen. [I] 1814; gov. Canada 1814-15; chief of staff of Allied armies and q.m.g. of British contingent in France 1815-18; col. 72 Ft. 1817; col. 42 Ft. 1823; lt.-gen. 1825; c.-in-c. [I] 1825-8; gen. 1841; col. 1 Ft. 1843-d.

Lt.-gen. of ordnance Mar. 1824-Feb. 1825; sec. of state for war and colonies May 1828-Nov. 1830; PC 30 May 1828; master-gen. of ordnance Dec. 1834-May 1835, Sept. 1841-July 1846.

Gov. Edinburgh Castle 1818-19, RMC, Sandhurst 1819-24, Fort St. George, Inverness 1829-d.


Murray’s parents, setting him a fine example, were divorced in 1791 over his mother’s adultery with a Crieff physician. (They had an illegitimate son who was enrolled in the Indian army and died in 1831.)2 His elder brother Patrick Murray, who was trained as an advocate, succeeded their father to the baronetcy and the family’s Perthshire estate in 1800. Murray was carefully educated (becoming fluent in French) before being started on his distinguished army career by his maternal uncle Lord Macleod at the age of 17. As a subaltern in the Scots Guards he served in the Low Countries campaigns of 1793-5, was forced home from the West Indies by ill health in 1795 and was on the staff in Belfast during the Irish rebellion of 1798. His friends and comrades Robert Anstruther and Alexander Hope* (whose sister was married to Patrick) interested him in the quartermaster’s aspect of staff work and, following the Austrian and Prussian models, groomed him as one of the new ‘Scientifics’. In 1799 Anstruther took him as his senior assistant on the Helder expedition, but he was wounded in the ankle on the first day. Anstruther employed him again in Egypt, where he was present at all the actions, 1800-2. After five months’ study at the new Royal Military College in 1802 he was taken as adjutant-general to the West Indies by General Grinfield. He filled an assistant quartermaster’s post at Horse Guards, 1803-4, when General Brownrigg sent him to Ireland to remodel the quartermaster’s department. He was involved in the Baltic and Stockholm military ventures of 1807 and 1808. At Copenhagen he worked closely with and impressed Arthur Wellesley† (later the duke of Wellington) who sponsored his professional career thereafter. He was dispatched to Portugal as quartermaster-general to the army commanded by Generals Burrard and Dalrymple, served in the same capacity under Moore and lost both him and Anstruther at Corunna. In April 1809 he was made quartermaster-general under Wellesley in the Peninsula. After initial mutual doubts and reserve, they developed a close and confidential relationship. Murray aspired to the rank of brigadier-general, but felt he was being held back by the commander-in-chief, Sir David Dundas. He wrote to Hope, 14 May 1811, that he considered this request ‘no very exorbitant one’, as his ‘avocations ... embrace some of the most important branches of the service’ and he was ‘the first officer who has held that situation in the British army upon such an enlarged and permanent scale’. He was given the rank the following month, along with the governorship of Edinburgh Castle at £400 per annum. In late 1811 he broke his collar bone while hunting and got leave to return to Britain, where he discovered that he had been promoted to major-general, a rank incompatible with his Irish deputyship. He was made Irish quartermaster-general and, to Wellington’s chagrin, resigned his Peninsular army post. Wellington, unhappy with his replacement, James Willoughby Gordon*, enticed Murray to return to army headquarters in March 1813, and henceforth his reputation as the duke’s ‘very able’ right hand man was assured.3 In December 1814 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of the Upper Province of Canada, and he arrived in Quebec on 2 Mar 1815. News of the renewal of war in Europe brought him back, but he did not reach London until after Waterloo. In November 1815 he was made chief of staff of the Allied army of occupation and quartermaster-general of the British army. He served as such for three years, living in style in Paris and Cambrai. The mischievous radical Whig Thomas Creevey* was his dinner guest in the summer of 1818, when he described Murray as ‘all politeness and good manners’, but ‘feeble, though they say excellent in his department’.4 Wellington, master-general of the ordnance in Lord Liverpool’s administration from 1817, looked after Murray, who received regimental colonelcies in 1817 and 1823 and was made governor of the Royal Military College in August 1819. In February 1824 Wellington secured his appointment as lieutenant-general of the ordnance, with ‘a further provision to be made for ... [him] hereafter’. His request to be sworn of the privy council on the strength of his ‘previous services’ since 1809 was turned down.5 He was assured of a seat in the Commons for his native county, having obtained the backing of the dominant Atholl interest for the vacancy created by the impending restoration of the Tory sitting Member to a forfeited peerage. The Perthshire Whigs had no one to put up against him, and as one of them recalled in 1831, they were ‘glad to obtain’ him, even though he was ‘an opponent in politics’, for he was ‘supposed to be one of the most liberal of his party’ and, ‘though but a small proprietor in the county, had claims to the respect and gratitude of his countrymen by successful military services’. After his unopposed return, 6 Apr. 1824, Murray declared:

At a time when so many wild theories were abroad, when so many dangerous principles, with regard to remodelling or reforming constitutions, were agitating the minds of men and shaking nations to their foundation, he considered it incumbent upon him to avow his warm attachment to the glorious constitution of this country, to uphold which, in its purity, should always receive the most strenuous exertion of his heart and hand.6

He was in the ministerial majority against Brougham’s motion condemning the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824.

A fortnight later a murky aspect of Murray’s private life was exposed to public scrutiny when Lieutenant-General Sir James Erskine brought an action for £20,000 damages against him for crim. con. with his wife. The case for Erskine was that by forming a clandestine sexual liaison with Lady Erskine in Paris Murray had destroyed a happy marriage and betrayed a friend and fellow officer. The Erskines had separated, at the instigation of Sir James, in 1819, and thereafter Murray and Lady Erskine had lived together incognito at various locations in England. In April 1822 their bastard daughter Georgina had been born at Finchley, Middlesex. According to the prosecution, they had planned to procure a divorce for Lady Erskine under the Scottish law whereby a man who had not cohabited with his wife for four years could be sued for ‘adherence’ and ultimately divorce, but Erskine thwarted this scheme by taking his wife back under his roof. In Murray’s defence it was argued that he and Erskine had never been friends and that no criminal congress had occurred until after Erskine had abandoned his wife in 1819. The jury found for Erskine, but damages were set at only £3,500, which partially vindicated Murray’s honour. However, a clerical constituent was sorely troubled by these revelations and felt that he could not in conscience vote for Murray at the next election, when he was expected to have a Tory rival.7 Erskine brought divorce proceedings in late 1824, but he died before they were completed, 3 Mar. 1825, which left Murray and Lady Erskine free to marry (he at the age of 43) eight weeks later. The stigma of her conduct made Lady Louisa persona non grata in some respectable circles.8

On 25 Feb. 1825 Murray, who was described at this time as possessing a face notable for ‘a pleasing and happy combination of intelligence, sweetness and spirit, with regularity, beauty and a noble cast of features’, presented a Scottish distillers’ petition for reduction of the duty on spirits and voted for the third reading of the Irish unlawful societies bill.9 A week later Wellington had him moved from the ordnance to command of the forces in Ireland, but his successor Sir William Henry Clinton* was required to engage to vacate the ordnance for him should the impending divorce proceedings prove a serious embarrassment in Ireland.10 Murray spent much of the next three years there, but he was in the Commons to present a Perthshire agriculturists’ petition against any interference with the corn laws, 2 May 1825.11 On 17 June he bore testimony to the ‘military character and services’ of Sir Robert Wilson*, who had been dismissed from the army for his involvement in the disorder at the queen’s funeral in 1821, but endorsed the crown’s ‘full and entire possession of all its present authority over the officers of the army’. He divided for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 6 June 1825. He defended the grant to Kilmainham Hospital for army pensioners, 6 Mar., opposed the abolition of flogging in the army as ‘inconsistent with sound policy’, 10 Mar., and presented constituency petitions against interference with the Scottish banking system, 17, 21 Mar. 1826.12 At the general election that summer he was returned unopposed for Perthshire: he ‘disavowed being actuated by feelings of party spirit’, reiterated his support for the ‘purity’ of the existing constitution and promised to resist any unwarranted diminution of agricultural protection.13

When Wellington resigned from the command of the army on the formation of Canning’s ministry in April 1827 Murray assured him of his undiminished personal attachment. There was speculation in the summer that Canning might offer him the office of secretary at war or perhaps the army command. Canning did seriously consider the latter option, but it was not taken because it was feared that Murray’s appointment, for all his ‘good reputation’, would offend senior general officers.14 He congratulated Wellington on his resumption of the army command after Canning’s death, observing that the duke’s ‘being avowedly unconnected with the [Goderich] ministers is no disadvantage’ and that ‘the less of party politics there is supposed to be at any time in the commander-in-chief the better it will be ... for the public service’. The Goderich ministry was preparing to recall him from Ireland and restore him to the ordnance and give him ‘a government’ at the end of 1827, but their resignation in January 1828 meant that he remained in place when Wellington became prime minister.15 He did not go to London until 18 Apr. 1828.16 He presented petitions in favour of the Scottish salmon fisheries bill, 5 May, and for continued agricultural protection, 13 May. That day and on 22 May he warmly supported the grant of pensions to Canning’s family, observing that ‘we are not the deputies of a penurious and narrow-minded race’ but ‘sit here as the representatives of a magnanimous, a liberal and a generous nation’. When filling the vacancies occasioned by the resignation from the government of the Huskissonites in late May 1828, Wellington initially earmarked Murray, ‘as able and respectable a man as can be found in Parliament’, as he told Lord Dudley, for the war secretaryship, with a seat in cabinet, but in the end offered him the colonial secretaryship, which Murray was foolish or vain enough to accept.17 Some Whigs muttered about ‘military’ government, and the appointment received some criticism on this ground in the House, 30 May.18 Ministerialists, however, had high hopes of him. Mrs. Arbuthnot thought he would

make an excellent colonial secretary. He is very clever, an excellent man of business, a very good speaker and, from having been in Canada, knows that colony (which is now so important) well and, in short, is in every respect well qualified. He is also quite unpledged, a new man who has never mixed up in any party squabbles and who can do his duty without looking to one side or the other.

Lord Ellenborough, a member of the cabinet, believed that

a better man could not have been found. He is able; a good man of business; a good speaker (as far as he is known), and he brings a high established character into the service of the country. He is, besides, a Catholic. My expectation is that next session he will be the most efficient man in the ... Commons.

Lord Anglesey, the Irish viceroy, told Wellington that ‘you have a very superior man in ... Murray. I wish he had fallen to my lot here’.19 He was quietly re-elected for Perthshire without attending the formalities.20

It soon became clear that Murray was out of his depth. The colonial office senior clerk Henry Taylor recalled that his handsome ‘countenance and natural stateliness and simple dignity of demeanour were all that can be desired in a secretary of state, if to look the character were the one thing needful’, but that, conscious of his own unfitness for the post, he presided remotely over two ‘years of torpor’.21 Treated by Wellington, who took his expert advice from Lord Bathurst and Goulburn, as a barely competent senior clerk, he was soon overwhelmed by the mass of material which confronted him and left as much as possible to his under-secretaries. One of these told Greville two years later that ‘he had never met with any public officer so inefficient as he’.22 On 23 June 1828 Mrs. Arbuthnot noted that had had ‘not quite learnt his new duties’, for on the 20th he had taken his seat ‘dressed more a la militaire than the ... Commons quite liked, with a black stock, etc., and, having done so, he went off to dine with Esterhazy although his own business was coming on’. She reflected that he would ‘soon learn that the House takes precedence of dinners and do very well, I make no doubt’.23 In the event, Murray fell well short of expectations as a general debater, as Lord Palmerston*, one of the Huskissonites, predicted; ‘he makes an elegant speech upon preparation, and with practice would make a useful debater, but it is too late in life for him to take up this exercise with hopes of excelling in it’.24 On 1 July he secured leave to introduce a bill to continue the Slave Laws Consolidation Act for a year and explained it to Hume, who on the 4th flustered him by pressing for information on the cost of the crown colonies, which he did not have to hand. He justified the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance as important and useful. He opposed a call for abandonment of the Canadian military defences, 7 July, and next day defended the governor of New South Wales, Sir Ralph Darling, against a charge of ‘oppression and cruelty’. Ellenborough hoped Murray would blossom as a debater next session, but for the moment recorded the ‘uniform’ view that ‘he is pleasing, and will be popular, but he has no power as a speaker’.25 He gave an assurance that ministers had ‘every desire to allay the irritation subsisting in the Canadas’ and had no wish to ‘uphold defects in the existing system of government, or to shield misconduct in its administration’, 14 July. Next day he claimed to share the anxiety of Thomas Fowell Buxton that native South Africans should be properly treated, but observed that as the responsible minister he was obliged to consider the interests of all classes of that community. On 25 July 1828 he said that the cabinet was ‘fully pledged to adhere to the resolutions of 1823’ on the amelioration of West Indian slavery as the best means of doing justice to all parties concerned.

In early January 1829 Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote that Wellington now considered Murray ‘a failure because he is so indolent and allows his under-secretaries to do all the business and govern him’. She added, however, that he was ‘a gentlemanlike, honourable man, very desirous of serving the duke, and will, I dare say, improve’.26 In the House, 20 Feb., he argued that ‘any plan of economy, founded upon ... relinquishment’ of colonies would ‘materially deteriorate the station of Great Britain in the political scale of the world’: he insisted on the need for a large military force in the West Indies, said caution must prevail on slavery abolition and explained that ministers were eager to ‘secure the Canadas by making them dependent upon an extension of their own population’. He defended the Royal Military College against Hume’s carping, 20 Feb., and on the 23rd told him that while he was keen to be rid of Sierra Leone as soon as possible, it would be inhumane to abandon the colony precipitately. He announced that the Canadian legislature had resolved to make the evidence of slaves admissible in court, 4 Mar. 1829. In July 1828 he had expressed to Ellenborough his ‘fears’ that Catholic emancipation would be ‘delayed till the Catholics have gone so far as to make it impossible’. Ellenborough thought he ‘put several points on the Catholic question extremely well’ when he and Herries met him in the cabinet room, 20 Jan. 1829, and he made contributions to the cabinet’s discussions of the details of the relief bill and the accompanying disfranchisement measure.27 His speech in support of emancipation, 5 Mar., when he drew on his experiences in Ireland to argue that it was ‘the most certain means of confirming the tranquility, of increasing the prosperity, and of extending the power of the empire’, received praise from all sides. Ellenborough thought he ‘spoke admirably’ and Mrs. Arbuthnot ‘beautifully’, while the radical Whig Member John Cam Hobhouse reckoned that he had delivered ‘one of the most affecting and effective speeches ever heard’, containing some ‘finished eloquence of the highest character’. Greville found the Whigs at Brooks’s ‘in great admiration’ of his performance.28 He presented petitions in favour of emancipation, 16, 30 Mar., opposed an attempt to amend the bill, 24 Mar., and welcomed the Edinburgh pro-Catholic petition, 26 Mar. He of course voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. He defended various colonial grants and the Newfoundland fisheries bill, 6 Apr., and the Swan River settlement bill, 10 Apr., 1 May. On 14 May he asserted that Canada lacked an ‘aristocracy ... which in this country is so important for the support of the constitution’. He told Brougham that the government did not plan to legislate immediately to make slaves’ evidence admissible as this could be done more effectively as part of a general reform of colonial judicatures on the basis of the pending report of commissioners of inquiry, 25 May. He said ministers would ‘assist’ any practicable scheme of emigration, but could not ‘afford to go to any expense for this purpose’, 1 June. He assured Fowell Buxton, incorrectly, that the Mauritius slave trade had been suppressed, 3 June. On 5 June he met a motion for information on Canada with a general defence of ministerial policy, but admitted that plans to legislate in a ‘conciliatory’ spirit that session had been dished by the tardiness of the select committee in reporting. In mid-May the Whig Lord Althorp* heard that Murray was ‘giving great satisfaction in his colonial management’, at least as far as his associates Henry Labouchere* and Edward Smith Stanley* were concerned. In August the Irish Whig Thomas Spring Rice* thought he was ‘deserving of every confidence’ on the issue of the Mauritius slave trade, but five months later Fowell Buxton, after a series of meetings with him, was ‘heartily angry’ at his refusal to give ‘a final answer’ on the subject. Greville, while admitting that he knew ‘nothing’ of Murray personally, wrote that he was ‘popular in his office, but has neither the capacity nor the knowledge of [William] Huskisson*’, his predecessor.29 In September 1829 he was appointed governor of Fort St. George, Inverness, which brought him £141 a year until his death.30

Murray, who was reported to have said not a word during his and Wellington’s interview with aggrieved representatives of the West India interest in January 1830, was one of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s pall bearers on the 21st. He was ‘very quiet’ during a cabinet discussion on slavery in the crown colonies a few days later; Ellenborough thought that although he was ‘a very sensible man’, he was ‘overawed by the duke, having been under him so long’.31 According to Ellenborough, after a cabinet on 7 Feb. Murray ‘expressed his surprise the duke should cling to the hope of reclaiming the Ultra Tories’, alienated by Catholic emancipation, for he ‘would not get’ them and they ‘were not worth having’; and three weeks later Hobhouse was told that Murray and Wellington had said in private that ‘the wishes of most individuals in either House were of the most liberal tendency, but they felt they had obstacles at Windsor and from their partisans’.32 In the House, 19 Feb., he denied Labouchere’s assertion that the Canadas were being ‘governed upon a garrison system’ and opposed cuts in the army establishment. On 22 Feb. he claimed that ‘a system of reduction has been for some time in operation’ and that economies in colonial expenditure could go no further. Next day, having voted with his colleagues against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., he opposed the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, professing willingness to give ‘representatives to the great towns’ as disfranchisements occurred, but refusing to increase the numbers of the House for that purpose. He admitted that cost was a major stumbling block to implementing colonial judicial reforms, 4 Mar. He approved Wilmot Horton’s emigration scheme, 9 Mar., but insisted that government could not fund it. When the cabinet discussed Goulburn’s proposal for an income tax, 14 Mar., he ‘said nothing’ and was ‘understood to go with the [hostile] majority’.33 He denied that distress was widespread or severe in Scotland, 15 Mar. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He presented constituency petitions for the Perth navigation and Tay ferries bills, 26 Apr., 3 May. On 29 Apr. he obtained leave to introduce a bill to establish a fund for defraying the costs of the administration of justice in Canada, and on 4 May one to amend the law relating to the election of members of the legislative assembly of Lower Canada. The latter became law on 16 July 1830 (11 Geo. IV & 1 Gul. IV, c. 53), but the latter, after being committed for substantial alteration on 14 June, lapsed on 2 July 1830. He opposed Labouchere’s resolutions censuring ministerial policy on Canada, 25 May. He was against abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and in passing refuted Hume’s charge that the inhabitants of the colonies felt ‘degraded by being placed under a delegated authority’. That day he resisted and defeated by 82-29 a motion for inquiry into the state of Newfoundland. He said there was no ‘system of favouritism’ in the government of New South Wales, 21 May, defended the grant of £120,000 for that colony, 11 June, and said that Darling had no case to answer over the punishment of two soldiers, 17 June, 8, 9 July. He thought the establishment of a representative system at the Cape would be ‘extremely inexpedient’, 24 May, and opposed inquiries into Ceylon, 27 May, and Sierra Leone, 15 June. On 30 Apr. he had admitted to Fowell Buxton and Spring Rice in private that ‘slave trading to a vast extent had prevailed at Mauritius’, but opposed the appointment of a select committee as ‘unnecessary’.34 He stood by the 1823 amelioration resolutions when Brougham proposed the immediate abolition of slavery, 13 July, and on 20 July 1830 said that he could give no pledge for abolition of the African coastal slave trade because treaties with foreign powers were involved. A few days later it was reported that the new queen, Adelaide, was ‘very rude to ... Murray, who brought his little girl to be presented to her; saying afterwards that it was very painful but necessary’. It was ‘thought rather unfortunate’ that her husband’s bastard Miss Fitzclarence ‘should have been standing by her at the time’.35

Murray’s future at the colonial office became the subject of intense speculation during the 1830 session. In April Ellenborough was told by Sir Henry Hardinge* (whom he suspected of aspiring to that place) that Murray ‘does not do the business well’ and would ‘be very well satisfied to be master-general’ of the ordnance, though Ellenborough doubted this.36 Wellington was aware of Murray’s deficiencies in office and debate and would have liked to move him to a military post more suited to his talents; but he got angry with Mrs. Arbuthnot when she badgered him on the need to strengthen the ministry’s front bench team in the Commons. Ellenborough dismissed Lord Rosslyn’s notion that Murray would make ‘an excellent governor-general’ of India because he ‘would be too indolent’.37 Greville thought he was ‘silly’ to say that he wished the French king had made a fight of it in response to the July Revolution.38 He was returned unopposed and in absentia (pleading pressure of official business) for Perthshire at the general election of 1830.39 When Mrs. Arbuthnot again raised the issue of recruiting ‘speakers’ for the Commons, Wellington lost his temper, but admitted that ‘in the department, as a man of business’, Murray was ‘woeful’. By the end of September 1830 Wellington had decided to offer his office to the Palmerston and to compensate Murray with command of ‘the Blues and a promise of the first thing that falls vacant’, but the negotiations came to nothing.40

On the address, 3 Nov. 1830, Murray declared against repeal of the Irish Union and denied that the king’s speech held out the prospect of military interference against the revolting Belgians. (He told Hobhouse the same in private a few days later.)41 On reform, he said that he was ‘willing to listen ... to the propositions that may be brought forward respecting it by others’ and conceded that, while the ‘great principles’ of the constitution must remain inviolate, ‘any particular detached portion of our system’ might ‘from time to time undergo modification’. When his statement that he was ‘perfectly willing that reform should take place’ evoked opposition cheers, he reacted by saying that if Members thought he was going ‘further’ than he had intended, he was sure that ‘too great an extension of the franchise’ would be dangerous and that ‘a respectable and powerful aristocracy’ was essential to ‘secure this country against those changes and convulsions that have happened in other countries’. This speech, coming after Wellington’s uncompromising declaration against all reform in the Lords the previous evening, caused a stir and created an impression that ministers were divided on the issue. Mrs. Arbuthnot thought that Murray ‘did not mean’ to express any opposition to the duke’, but that ‘what he said was so ill-judged that it had the effect’, while Ellenborough and Goulburn, who attributed the lapse to Murray’s’ ‘want of habit of speaking’, believed that he ‘had done much injury’. A Scottish observer reported that while speaking he had ‘looked more as if a letter of his name had been transposed than ever’.42 Murray denied that Protestant soldiers serving abroad were compelled to attend Catholic religious services, 15 Nov. 1830, when he was in the ministerial minority on the civil list. He duly resigned with his colleagues and went into opposition as one of the more prominent members of the mainstream of the Tory party under Peel’s somewhat distant leadership.43 In the House, 13 Dec. 1830, he defended his and the late government’s record on slavery abolition, observing, without apparent irony, that he had ‘always supposed ... that to abstain from any extraordinary activity in the measures to be carried into effect with respect to the colonies was a merit rather than a defect’. He added that precipitate emancipation would ‘merely afford a sanction to the commission of murder ... plunder and devastation’.

Murray was named to the select committee on the Rideau canal, which he considered a project ‘of importance’, 10 Feb. 1831. He presented a petition of Perth merchants and manufacturers for repeal of the duty on printed calicoes, 16 Feb., and met deputations of ship owners and wine merchants disgruntled with other aspects of the Grey ministry’s incompetent budget.44 On 18 Feb. he said there was no significant difference between their proposed Canada bill and his own of 1830 and attacked them for creating unreasonable expectations of what they would achieve on retrenchment and reform: ‘It does not appear that they are as sanguine ... now, when in office, as they were when out of it’. He welcomed their bill to facilitate emigration for poor families, 22 Feb. He spoke briefly against the English reform bill, 18 Mar., and on the 22nd voted against its second reading after asserting that the Irish bill would ‘excite as much dislike in its details, as the Scottish bill has excited in Scotland’. On 25 Mar. he conceded that ‘a large proportion of the people of Scotland’ favoured the measure, but insisted that ‘the wealth and influence of the country’ were hostile, being particularly alarmed by the proposal to enfranchise tenants, which he said would damage the agricultural interest by encouraging landlords to shorten leases and lead to the creation of fictitious votes. He argued that the public salaries committee had shown a bias towards naval over army officers and defended the Cambridge University anti-reform petition, 30 Mar., maintaining that its signatories were ‘men possessing s great variety of knowledge, who, though not hostile to reform’, were ‘decidedly opposed to revolution’:

One of my chief objections to ... this measure is, that if it be carried into effect, and out of it a reformed Parliament should arise, all those who wish for still further changes will be enabled to put forward this strong argument, that the reform was effected in a House of Commons in which the people were not represented, many of the Members giving their votes under the influence of interested motives.

On 14 Apr. he presented but dissented from a petition from the presbytery of Dunblane for Scotttish clergymen to be allowed to vote. In passing, he stated his view, which became a recurrent theme of his, that the larger Scottish counties (including Perthshire) were entitled to two Members each and Scottish towns of over 22,000 inhabitants (including Perth) to separate representation. He also mooted the notion of enfranchising the Scottish universities to give the church a voice and objected to a ministerialist’s description of the Scottish counties under the present system as ‘rotten’. Before dividing for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr., he said that the effect of reform would be to ‘subject the people, to a dangerous degree, to the influence of those plausible harangues which have so often deceived and misled them’ and, mischievously, quoted Fox’s dictum that the ‘united wisdom’ of the ages would never be able to devise ‘even a tolerable constitution’. Next day (when he ‘seemed to think ministers would go out’)45 he claimed that the Scottish measure ‘as it now stands, has hardly any approver in Scotland’, where even its supporters found fault with details. At the ensuing general election he offered again for Perthshire as a man not averse to ‘prudent ameliorations of our political system’, but he did not specifically mention the reform bills. He was present at the Perthshire annual general meeting, 30 Apr. 1831, when nothing was said about reform. The Perthshire Whigs had no one to put up against him and he was returned unopposed, professing support for ‘prudent’ and ‘moderate’ reform, but hostility to disruptive change which threatened the beneficial ‘influence of property’. His lengthy speech of thanks, which was reproduced in The Times, ended with a fanciful and faintly ludicrous depiction of the ‘ship of state’, with ‘monarchy at the helm, to guide her in her course, with aristocracy ... as ballast, to keep her steady in a troubled sea, and with the favouring breath of the people to fill the sails’.46

On the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 5 July 1831, Murray, following Macaulay, denounced it as ‘a measure, the tendency of which is likely to give rise in this country to those dangerous and revolutionary convulsions with which we have seen other nations so much shaken’, and predicted the emergence of another Cromwell, an allusion to lord chancellor Brougham, who was supposed to be the author of a pamphlet advising the Lords to accept reform. Greville heard that Murray’s effort was considered ‘not bad’, while Ellenborough thought it was ‘capital’.47 Next day, when he voted against the bill, he paid tribute to the drowned Sir Joseph Yorke* in moving a new writ for Reigate and had an angry exchange with Brougham’s brother William over his Cromwell remark. He voted for use of the 1831 census to determine the borough disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and in minorities of 17, 38 and 29 to preserve existing voting rights, 27 Aug., retain the vote for non-resident freemen, 30 Aug, and allow freeholders of the four sluiced boroughs to continue voting there, 2 Sept. He argued that Clitheroe was entitled to keep both Members, 28 July, protested against the decision to proceed with the bill on Saturday, 30 July, and told Lord John Russell that the measure could not ‘be final, because it contains the seeds of its own destruction’, 5 Aug. Murray, who, according to Ellenborough, considered the vote to enfranchise Greenwich, 3 Aug., as ‘the worst sign of the times, and the clearest proof of the disgraceful slavery of the House of Commons’, endorsed the prayer of a Perth petition for the city to be given a Member of its own, 6 Aug., and reiterated his accusation that Scotland had been unfairly treated and its people ‘trampled upon and abandoned’ by ministers.48 He squabbled with Russell over the enfranchisement of Whitehaven and Huddersfield and denied that opposition Members were guilty of ‘impropriety’ in fighting the details of the bill. He claimed to represent 140,000 people, however small the Perthshire electorate might be, 10 Aug., when he complained of the proposed annexation of a detached portion of the county to the new combined constituency of Clackmannan and Kinross. He opposed the division of English counties and objected above all to the enfranchisement of the metropolitan districts as a step too far towards democracy, 11 Aug. He thought there was much merit in Hume’s proposal that Members should be allocated to the colonies, 16 Aug. After a shooting excursion to Peel’s Staffordshire home at the end of August,49 he pressed Althorp, the leader of the House, to act justly by the Scottish counties, 13 Sept. He divided against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept. 1831, of the English reform bill.

Murray explained on 25 July 1831 that as colonial secretary he had been reluctant to abandon Sierra Leone because he ‘looked upon it as the only chance of introducing civilization to Africa’, but he conceded that it had cost an enormous amount of money. He also justified his policy towards Canada and defended the Rideau canal scheme. He accused ministers of following a muddled policy on Belgium and demanded an assurance that British interests would be safeguarded, 12 Aug.; he ‘evaded the question’ when Russell asked him privately which of the fortresses he thought could be ‘spared’, 31 Aug.50 He was sure that Lescene and Escoffery deserved their grant of compensation for their expulsion from Jamaica, 22 Aug. He presented Perthshire petitions against the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 24 Aug., and said that during his time in Ireland the Dublin Castle under-secretary Gregory had been ‘strictly impartial’, 29 Aug. He voted for inquiry into the effects of renewal of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept. He denounced the Scottish reform bill on its second reading, 23 Sept., as even more ‘dangerous’ than the English: ‘I never was an enemy to all reform; and I have ... been ready to admit of the expediency of some modification in the Scottish system ... But I do object to the utter abandonment of the principle of representation which has ever existed in that country’. At the same time, he took up his theme that if Scotland was to have reform, it ought to receive fair treatment, with more Members and separate representation for the larger towns. He presented a petition from the freeholders of Ross-shire against its proposed amalgamation with Cromartyshire, 28 Sept. On 3 Oct. he said that this was just about acceptable, but he condemned the merger of Elginshire and Nairnshire and, in particular, the separation of the Culross area from Perthshire to form part of Clackmannan and Kinross, seemingly the product of ‘caprice’ rather than ‘sound judgement’. However, he welcomed the decision to give Perth a Member of its own. Next day he proposed that Perthshire and seven other Scottish counties with populations in excess of 100,000 should have two Members each, but was beaten by 113-61. Ellenborough found him ‘much elated’ by the defeat of the English reform bill in the Lords, and on 10 Oct. 1831 suggested him to Hardinge as a possible leader of the Commons in a putative ‘provisional government to carry reform’.51 Opposing Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion that day, he said the country was ‘in a situation of very considerable difficulty’ but not ‘in an awful crisis’. He accused ministers of having turned to reform to revive their declining popularity after their ruined budget and failure to implement significant cuts in expenditure, and their supporters of indulging in ‘inflammatory’ language.

Murray voted against the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and the principle of schedule A, 20 Jan. 1832, when he presented a Perthshire Tories’ petition against the Scottish measure. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July; he spoke at some length against the transaction, 20 July. He criticized the division of English counties, 27 Jan., and, still professing to be `a friend to reform’, said that the additional Members given to Scotland fell well short of her due entitlement. That day, at the request of Charles Grant*, president of the board of control, he accepted nomination to the renewed select committee on the East India Company, but he refused to have anything to do with the military subcommittee.52 He supported the prayer of a petition from Argyllshire against the transfer of the Cowal district to Buteshire, 3 Feb., and protested at the English bill’s effective disfranchisement of freemen who were on service away from their constituencies with the army or militia, 7 Feb. He supported the opposition motion for papers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the majority against Hunt’s motion for information on military punishments, 16 Feb. Next day he defended against Hume’s attack his own part in establishing the Swan River settlement and protested that it was not his fault that it had become ‘a convict colony’. He was credited with a vote in the majority against an attempt to limit the duration of small borough polls, 26 Feb., but on the 28th he divided against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets after condemning it as unnecessary and dangerous and avowing that ‘the power of the democracy overturned the constitution of Athens and destroyed the liberties of Rome ... and overthrew ... all order and civil government in France’. He presented and endorsed constituency petitions against the malt drawback bill and voted against it, 29 Feb., as he did again, 2 Apr., when he complained that it would penalize the small distillers of the Highlands for the benefit of Lowland and Irish producers of inferior whisky. He disapproved of the substitution of marines for regular troops in garrisons, 16 Mar. He voted against the third reading of the English reform bill, 22 Mar. He presented petitions from Perthshire ecclesiastical bodies against the government’s Irish education scheme, which he said infringed ‘the inalienable privilege of all Protestants to be ... instructed in the whole of the sacred volume’, 16 Apr. He spoke in the same sense, 8 June, but on 5 July 1832 welcomed the Irish secretary’s assurance that reading the Bible was not to be part of the scheme.

In the crisis of May 1832, when Wellington tried to form a ministry to carry a measure of reform, Murray remained loyal to the duke and, according to Ellenborough, was willing under duress to become leader of the Commons, although he was ‘very reluctant’ to do so.53 In the rowdy debate of 14 May, he denied that it would be ‘inconsistent’ in men such as himself to take office to carry reform and accused Russell of having in the past ‘expressed himself hostile to those very principles upon which he had since framed his reform bill’. He argued that ‘the only line which it became the House to follow was to support the crown’. The Whig Denis Le Marchant† thought his speech was ‘feeble’, and Murray himself perceived that the ‘effect of the debate ... was fatal to the formation of a government’.54 He attacked the Scottish reform bill in his usual terms, 21 May, but applauded the decision not to separate Cowal from Argyllshire. On reform in general, he said that ‘the people have been deluded into the expectations of blessings which no reasonable man anticipates can result’ and ‘have been industriously kept in a state of violent excitement’. He admitted that the Perthshire pro-reform petition of December 1831, only now brought up by the lord advocate, 23 May, was respectably and numerously signed, but contended that it did not express intelligent county opinion. He supported the government’s temporizing amendment to Fowell Buxton’s motion for slavery abolition, 24 May, and was named to the select committee on the issue, 30 May. He was appointed to that on Irish outrages next day. He divided against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. His renewed proposal to give the eight most populous Scottish counties two Members each was defeated by 168-61, 1 June. He supported Hume’s motion to preserve the rights of superiority holders for their lives, 4 June, but it was not pressed. He derided the unification of Orkney and Shetland for electoral purposes, 6 June, but admitted that he had changed his mind on the issue of excluding Scottish clergymen from the franchise, largely because he had found them generally indifferent to the matter. He presented Perthshire petitions against the hypothec bill and for a reduction in the duty on fire insurances, 14 June. Next day he failed by 54-24 to prevent the ‘dismemberment’ of Perthshire and supported unsuccessful amendments against the junctions of Ross-shire with Cromartyshire and Elginshire with Nairnshire and for the removal of Kilmarnock from the Ayr district. On 27 June he welcomed the abandonment of the proposed property qualification for Scottish burgh Members and helped to persuade ministers to drop the county qualification also. He still believed that it was ridiculous to link Orkney and Shetland, but he could not support Traill’s amendment against it because it involved the loss of a burgh seat. He supported the grants for Sierra Leone and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 23 July. Next day he again opposed the abolition of corporal punishment in the army as ‘unsafe’. He dismissed De Lacy Evans’s motion for a reduction of the army to the level of 25 Jan. 1831 as idiotic, 26 July. He gave his ‘cordial concurrence’ to the vote of thanks to Manners Sutton on his retirement as Speaker, 30 July 1832.

Murray stood for Perthshire at the 1832 general election but was beaten by a Liberal peer’s son. He regained the seat at a by-election in May 1834, was appointed master-general of the ordnance in Peel’s first ministry, but lost his seat at the 1835 general election a month later.55 He stood unsuccessfully for Westminster in 1837 and Manchester in 1839 and 1841, when he was again placed at the ordnance by Peel. Sir James Robert George Graham* observed of his performance on the hustings in 1839 that he was ‘better suited to the Horse Guards than to popular assemblies; for when pressed he makes dangerous concessions to political adversaries, and wants that high courage of resistance in the conflict of opinion, which so eminently distinguishes him in the field’.56 Widowed in 1842, and ravaged by ‘a lengthened illness’, he died three weeks after resigning with Peel in July 1846. By his will of 5 Jan. 1846 he settled £26,000 and his Belgrave Square house on his daughter, now the wife of Lieutenant Henry George Boyce.57

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


See S.G.P. Ward, ‘Gen. Sir George Murray’, Jnl. of Soc. for Army Hist. Research, lviii (1980), 191-208.

  • 1. Oxford DNB, from par. reg. of Sunninghill, Berks.
  • 2. Ward, ‘Murray’, 191.
  • 3. Ibid. 192-202; S.G.P. Ward, Wellington’s Headquarters, 25, 29, 41-49, 52-55, 57, 60-62, 64, 106, 109-11, 118, 120-1, 125, 140, 142-52, 155-8, 163, 165, 166, 188-9; Holland, Further Mems. 180.
  • 4. Ward, ‘Murray’, 202-3; Creevey Pprs. i. 279.
  • 5. Wellington mss WP1/785/13, 17; 786/20, 21; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3438.
  • 6. Perthshire Courier, 19, 26 Mar., 9 Apr. 1824; Add. 51836, Glenorchy to Holland, 1 Aug. 1831.
  • 7. Ward, ‘Murray’, 203; The Times, 24, 27 July 1824; NAS GD51/1/198/21/71, 72.
  • 8. The Times, 10 Feb. 1825; Ward, ‘Murray’, 203-4.
  • 9. Ward, ‘Murray’, 206; The Times, 26 Feb. 1825.
  • 10. Wellington mss WP1/815/1; Ward, ‘Murray’, 204.
  • 11. The Times, 3 May 1825.
  • 12. Ibid. 7, 18, 22 Mar. 1826
  • 13. Perthshire Courier, 22 June 1826.
  • 14. Wellington mss WP1/889/5; 908/13; Canning’s Ministry, 331, 343, 363, 394; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 128-9.
  • 15. Wellington mss WP1/895/47; 899/9; 920/28.
  • 16. Perthshire Courier, 24 Apr. 1828.
  • 17. Wellington mss WP1/933/11, 14; 935/49.
  • 18. Lady Holland to Son, 86; Russell Letters, i. 67-68, 89; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 273
  • 19. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 188-9, 191; Ellenborough Diary, i. 122, 123, 133, 134; Wellington mss WP1/934/29.
  • 20. Perthshire Courier, 19 June 1828.
  • 21. Taylor Autobiog. i. 117.
  • 22. D.M. Young, Colonial Office, 110-15; P.J. Jupp, British Politics on Eve of Reform, 80, 82, 85-86, 119; Greville Mems. ii. 11. For Murray’s correspondence with Wellington on colonial subjects see Wellington Despatches, iv. 570-1, 629-30, 638, 642; v. 70-71, 79-80, 603-9; vi. 41, 48-50, 156-7, 206-10, 444-5; Wellington mss WP1/948/11, 38; 950/2; 978/6; 1022/23; 1034/11; 1035/60; 1044/20; 1045/4; 1050/2; 1135/6.
  • 23. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 195.
  • 24. Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GC/TE/201.
  • 25. Ellenborough Diary, i. 156, 159.
  • 26. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 229.
  • 27. Ellenborough Diary, i. 176, 295, 305, 347, 375, 377.
  • 28. Ibid. i. 381; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 250; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 309; Greville Mems. i. 265.
  • 29. Althorp Letters, 142; Buxton Mems. 226, 228; Greville Mems. i. 304.
  • 30. Perthshire Courier, 1 Oct. 1829; Extraordinary Black Bk.(1832), 556.
  • 31. Greville Mems. i. 362.; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 176.
  • 32. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 187; Broughton, iv. 11.
  • 33. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 212.
  • 34. Buxton Mems. 228-9.
  • 35. Howard Sisters, 128.
  • 36. Croker Pprs. ii. 58; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 220-1.
  • 37. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 365-6, 372-3; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 290, 297; Greville Mems. ii. 11.
  • 38. Greville Mems. ii. 24.
  • 39. Perthshire Courier, 15, 29 July, 19, 26 Aug. 1830.
  • 40. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 381, 389, 396; Lieven Letters, 249, 254.
  • 41. Broughton, iv. 57.
  • 42. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 396; Lieven Letters, 264; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 414, 416; Baring Jnls. i. 68; Parker, Peel, ii. 167; Greville Mems. ii. 54; NAS GD157/25508/1-3.
  • 43. Three Diaries, 23, 41, 46, 50, 54, 55, 58; N. Gash, Sir Robert Peel, 7.
  • 44. Three Diaries, 55, 58.
  • 45. Ibid. 81.
  • 46. Perthshire Courier, 28 Apr., 5, 12 May; Add. 51836, Glenorchy to Holland, 1 Aug.; The Times, 19 May 1831.
  • 47. Broughton, iv. 120; Greville Mems. ii. 159; Three Diaries, 100.
  • 48. Three Diaries, 114.
  • 49. Parker, Peel, ii. 188.
  • 50. Three Diaries, 126-7.
  • 51. Ibid. 145, 148-9.
  • 52. Ibid. 187, 189.
  • 53. Ibid. 250-1; Croker Pprs. ii. 163; Ward, ‘Murray’, 205; Wellington mss WP1/1224/2; Wellington Despatches, viii.306.
  • 54. Three Diaries, 255-6.
  • 55. Creevey’s Life and Times, 403.
  • 56. Arbuthnot Corresp. 212.
  • 57. Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 424-6, 660.