Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Murray, Charles Augustus

MURRAY, Sir CHARLES AUGUSTUS (1806–1895), diplomatist and author, second son of George Murray, fifth earl of Dunmore (1762–1836), and Lady Susan Hamilton, daughter of Archibald, ninth, duke of Hamilton, was born on 22 Nov. 1806. He was educated at Eton and Oriel College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 21 May 1824, and graduated B.A. and was elected to a fellowship of All Souls' in 1827; he proceeded M.A. in 1832. While an undergraduate Murray had John Henry (afterwards cardinal) Newman [q. v.] as his tutor. 'He never inspired me,' wrote Murray, 'or my fellow-undergraduates with any interest, much less respect; on the contrary, we disliked, or rather distrusted, him. He walked with his head bent, abstracted, but every now and then looking out of the corners of his eyes quickly, as though suspicious. He had no influence then; it was only when he became vicar of St. Mary's that the long dormant power asserted itself, and his sermons attracted hundreds.' Murray's chief undergraduate friend was Sidney Herbert (afterwards Baron Herbert of Lea) [q. v.], but it was in company with Lord Edward Thynne, son of the second Marquis of Bath, that Murray, who was a great athlete, performed his most famous feat of endurance. Having been 'gated' for some minor offence, Murray made a bet that he would ride to London, sixty miles, and back in one day. Leaving Oxford shortly after 8 a.m. he and Thynne rode to London, changed their clothes, mounted two hacks and rode in the park, dined at a club, saw the first act of a play, and were back at the gate of Oriel three minutes before midnight. They had relays of horses at Henley and Maidenhead.

After taking his degree, Murray was admitted student of Lincoln's Inn in 1827 and read for the bar with Nassau Senior [q. v.] His mother's house was a favourite rendezvous of literary and political characters, and Murray, an exceedingly handsome and agreeable young man, with a strong taste for general literature, and an excellent classical scholar, formed many friendships with men distinguished in both fields. He became a frequent guest at Samuel Rogers's breakfast table, and has left abundant notes of scenes and incidents which he witnessed there. When travelling in Germany in 1830 he formed the acquaintance of Goethe, then minister of the grand duchy of Weimar.

In 1834 he sailed for America in a ship of 630 tons, which, encountering a series of gales, followed by a baffling calm, took fourteen weeks and two days to accomplish a voyage which a modern ocean liner would do in about six days. In the following year Murray joined a tribe of wandering Pawnees, and his sojourn of three months in the wilderness, involving a number of exciting adventures and narrow escapes, was afterwards described in his 'Travels in North America' (London, 1839), which passed through three editions. This work retains considerable interest at this day, containing minute and graphic pictures of people and scenes which have since undergone such rapid and sweeping change. During his stay in America, Murray became enamoured of Elise, daughter of James Wadsworth, a wealthy gentleman living near Niagara, who disapproved of their betrothal, and forbade all intercourse between the lovers. Fourteen years later, in 1849, Mr. Wadsworth died, and Murray married his daughter in 1850. The only intercourse which had passed between them in the interval was through the indirect means of a novel written by Murray, 'The Prairie Bird' (1844), in which he managed to convey the assurance of his unalterable constancy.

In 1838 Murray was appointed groom-in-waiting at the court of Queen Victoria, and, a few months later, master of the household, an office which he held till 1844, when he entered the diplomatic service as secretary of legation at Naples. In 1846 he became consul-general in Egypt during the viceroyalty of the famous Mohammed Ali, where he remained till 1853, when he was appointed to Berne as minister to the Swiss confederation. His wife died in 1851 in giving birth to a son, Charles James, M.P. for Coventry since 1895. Murray's official connection with Egypt was rendered notable to the British public by his success in securing, in 1849, for the Zoological Society the first hippopotamus that ever came to England. The animal was safely lodged in the gardens in May 1850, and lived there till its death in 1878.

In 1854 Lord Clarendon selected Murray to proceed as envoy and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Persia, which turned out an unfortunate mission for him. The shah was entirely under control of his grand vizier, Sadr Azim, an unscrupulous intriguer, who, suspecting Murray of interference with his ascendency, made odious charges against the British envoy, and rendered necessary Murray's withdrawal from Tehran to Bagdad. In 1856 an ultimatum was despatched to the shah's government demanding the recall of Persian troops from Herat and an apology for 'the offensive imputations upon the honour of her majesty's minister.' No notice having been vouchsafed to this missive, war was declared by Great Britain on 1 Nov. 1856 ; Bushire was bombarded on 17 Dec., and surrendered to General Stalker. General Outram having defeated the Persian army near Kooshab on 8 Feb. 1857, and again at Mohammerah on 24 March, peace was concluded at Bagdad on 2 May. Blame for the hostilities was most unjustly imputed to Murray in parliament and in the 'Times,' but Lord Clarendon and Lord Palmerston vigorously defended him in the two houses, and after the peace he resumed his duties at the Persian court. Murray himself attributed the disfavour he incurred from the shah's government to a novel policy initiated by the British cabinet, under which the custom of giving presents, an immemorial part of oriental diplomacy, was strictly prohibited, and the queen's representative had to go empty-handed before the shah and the sadr, while the French and Russian ministers came with their hands full of gifts.

In 1859 the Persian mission was transferred to the India office, and Murray, preferring to serve under the foreign office, was appointed minister at the court of Saxony. On 1 Nov. 1862 he married the Hon. Edythe Fitzpatrick, daughter of the first Baron Castletown, and in 1866 received the rank of K.C.B., having been a companion of the Bath since 1848, and was appointed minister at Copenhagen. The climate of Denmark proving too severe for Lady Murray, Sir Charles applied for and obtained the British legation at Lisbon, which he kept till his final retirement from the service in 1874. He was sworn of the privy council on 13 May 1875.

Murray's remaining years were spent in cultivated leisure. A charming manner, an immense and varied store of reminiscences, united to a handsome and striking appearance, rendered him a very well-known figure in society; but the associates he liked best were literary men, with whom he maintained constant intercourse, personal and epistolary. An excellent linguist, he devoted much study to oriental languages and philology, upon which, and upon theology, he left a quantity of notes and fragmentary treatises.

Sir Charles Murray resided during his later years at the Grange, Old Windsor, spending the winter months in the south of France. He died in Paris on 3 June 1895. There is a portrait of Murray by Willis Maddox at the Grange, Old Windsor. His intellectual gifts and singular versatility were such as might have raised him to greater eminence than he attained; no doubt they would have done so had less affluent circumstances compelled him to concentrate his energy upon a single object.

He published the following works:

  1. 'Travels in North America,' 2 vols. 1839; 2nd ed. 1843; 3rd ed. 1854.
  2. 'The Prairie Bird,' 1844, and many subsequent editions.
  3. 'Hassan; or, the Child of the Pyramid,' 1857.
  4. 'Nour-ed-dyn; or, the Light of the Faith,' 1883.
  5. 'A Short Memoir of Mohammed Ali,' 1898 (posthumous).

[Sir Charles Murray's MSS.; private information; Life by Sir Herbert Maxwell, 1898.]

H. E. M.