MURRAY, Sir George John Robert (1863-1942)


MURRAY, Sir George John Robert (1863-1942)
chief justice of South Australia
was the son of Alexander Borthwick Murray, a pioneer sheep-breeder, who sat in both the house of assembly and the legislative council of South Australia. He was born at Murray Park, Magill, near Adelaide, on 27 September 1863, and was educated at St Peter's College, Adelaide, where he won the Prankerd, Wyatt, Christchurch and Farrell scholarships. At the university of Adelaide he won the John Howard Clark scholarship for English literature in 1882, qualified for the B.A. degree in 1883, and won a South Australian scholarship. Proceeding to Cambridge university he took his B.A. and LL.B. degrees, being bracketed senior in the law tripos in 1887. He was called to the bar at the inner temple in 1888, returned to South Australia and was associate to Sir Samuel Way (q.v.) until 1891, when he began practising as a barrister. He was quickly successful, and in 1906 became a K.C., the first Adelaide graduate to obtain this distinction. In 1909 he paid a visit to England and took his LL.M. degree, and in 1912 he was appointed a judge of the supreme court. He had been on the council of the university since 1891, and in 1915 was appointed vice-chancellor. In 1916 he succeeded Sir Samuel Way (q.v.) as chief justice of South Australia and in the same year became chancellor of the university. His interest in educational problems and the university was shown in many ways, and his benefactions included £1000 for the building fund of the university in 1920, £2000 for general purposes in 1931, and £10,000 for a men's union building in 1936. He also renounced his life interest in the estate of his sister the value of which was estimated at £45,000. This was left to the university in 1936. He visited Europe again in 1935, and died at Adelaide following an operation for appendicitis on 18 February 1942. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1917. He was unmarried.
Murray was quiet and reserved in manner, sometimes giving the impression that he was cold and narrow in his outlook. This was not the case as he was in reality warm-hearted, broad-minded, and generous, always anxious to assist deserving causes so long as it could be done without ostentation. As chancellor of the university for 25 years, he was held in honour and affection by both the teaching staff and the students. As a counsel he was not a dramatic pleader, but was clear and systematic in his presentation of technical cases, and masterly in the marshalling of his arguments. He excelled in equity cases. As a judge he showed himself to be an able lawyer with a wide knowledge of human nature, encouraging timid witnesses, and dealing firmly with those of a prevaricating or shifty character. His outlook at times may have seemed severe, but this came from his determination to carry out the law, and he was always diligent and painstaking. He was much esteemed by the legal profession. He was lieutenant-governor of South Australia for practically the whole period of his chief justiceship, on many occasions administered the government, and his experience was always available to incoming governors. He sought neither praise nor public approval, but at the time of his death he was the most distinguished South Australian of his period.
The Advertiser, Adelaide, 19 February 1912; The Argus, Melbourne, 19 February 1942; The Bulletin, 4 March 1942; Burke's Peerage, etc., 1937; Calendar of the University of Adelaide, 1940.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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