MURRAY, Sir John Hubert Plunkett (1861-1940)


MURRAY, Sir John Hubert Plunkett (1861-1940)
administrator
was born at Sydney on 29 December 1861. His father, Sir Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-73), son of Captain Terence Murray, a paymaster in the British army, was born at Limerick, Ireland, in 1810, came to Sydney in 1827, and worked for a time on his father's station at Lake George. He was made a magistrate in 1833 and 10 years later was elected a member of the New South Wales legislative council. In 1856 he was elected for Argyle in the legislative assembly. He was secretary for land and works for a few weeks in 1856, again in September 1857, and in January 1860 was elected speaker. He was appointed a member of the legislative council in 1862 and in the same year became its president. He was knighted in 1869 and died on 22 June 1873. He left a family of sons and daughters of whom the second son, Hubert, and the third, Gilbert, became very distinguished. Hubert was educated at the Sydney Grammar School, in England and in Germany, went on to Magdalen College Oxford, where he qualified for the degree of B.A. in 1885 with first-class honours in Literae Humaniores. He returned to Sydney, practised as a barrister, and was appointed a crown prosecutor. On more than one occasion he acted as a district court judge. He took an interest in the volunteer movement, and in 1898 was in command of the New South Wales Irish rifles. He enlisted for service in the South African war and returned a major in the Imperial army. He was then appointed by the Commonwealth government to make an investigation into Papuan affairs, and in 1904 was appointed Papua's chief judicial officer. He was acting administrator in 1907, and in 1908 was appointed lieutenant-governor and chief judicial officer. He held these positions for the remainder of his life.
When Murray first went to Papua there were 64 white residents. There were 90,000 square miles of territory, much of it unexplored jungle land, with many native tribes of whom some were cannibals and head-hunters. He set himself to understand the native mind, and found that an appeal to vanity was often more effective than punishment. He eventually wiped out cannibalism and head-hunting, largely by ridiculing the tribes which followed those practices, and praising those which did not. In 1912 he published his interesting Papua or British New Guinea, in which the chapters on "The Native Population" and "The Administration of justice" give good descriptions of the many problems with which he had to deal. In 1925 his Papua of Today appeared, which showed the progress that had been made in carrying out his ideas. Portions of this book included material from pamphlets published by Murray in 1919 and 1920 on the Australian Administration in Papua, and Recent Exploration in Papua. His sympathetic understanding of the native mind continued to be the strongest influence in his government. His policy had become more defined but its basis was always the "preservation of the native races, even of those weaker peoples who are not yet able to stand by themselves. The well-being and development of these peoples is declared by the league of nations to form a sacred trust of civilization, and this declaration is entirely in accord with all the best traditions of British administration". Murray held too that each native was an individual entitled to his own life, his own family, and his own village. He recognized that natives had their own codes of behaviour, and if these came into conflict with European codes no good could come from what he called the "swift injustice" of punitive expeditions. He preferred to lead his people into better ways and he persuaded them to keep their villages clean, because only inferior races preferred dirt; to pay taxes, because a man who did not do so was a social defaulter; to be vaccinated, because that was a sign of government approval. He trained suitable men to be policemen, and he had Sydney university opened to others to be trained in first aid and rudimentary medicine to fit them to be assistants to white doctors. In some of these things Murray was only carrying on or extending what his great predecessor Sir William MacGregor (q.v.) had begun, but it is an additional merit in an administrator to recognize the value of earlier men's work.
Murray was the leader of the Australasian delegates to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress held at Tokyo in 1926, and president of the meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science in 1932. He went steadily on with his work until he died at Samarai, Papua, on 27 February 1940, still in harness. The story is one of continued progress. Education of the natives had increased, a beginning had been made with native industrial enterprises, the natives had begun to understand European modes of conducting business, and not a few of them had banking accounts. This had been accomplished with as little breaking down as possible of native customs. Murray married (1) in 1889 Miss S. M. Jenkins who died in 1929 and (2) Mrs M. B. Vernon who survived him with three children of the first marriage, two sons, Major Terence Murray, D.S.O., M.C., and Patrick D. F. Murray, D.Sc., and a daughter. He was also survived by his younger brother, the distinguished classical scholar, Professor Gilbert Murray, who was created C.M.G. in 1914, K.C.M.G. in 1929, and was given the Order of Merit in 1941.
Murray was six feet three inches in height and in his youth was amateur champion heavy-weight boxer of England. He was quiet and pleasant voiced, a good scholar with a fine brain, a sincere Christian who as a Roman Catholic could say, "As an administrator I draw no distinction between the different churches; they are all working for the same general end, and all deserve government sympathy and support." He was for the last 30 years of his life a teetotaller, he had a sense of humour, he had patience, self-control and determination, qualities of great value to a man liable at any time to be faced with official discouragement. But most important of all were the qualities that especially made him a great administrator, his sense of justice and his sympathetic understanding of native problems. When the governor-general (Lord Gowrie) made an official visit to Port Moresby, the Europeans gave him an address of welcome, but the Papuans presented the following address to Murray:
"During all these years we have seen your good works and all the helpful things you have done. When we have come to speak to you, you have not closed your ears, nor have you frowned on us, but have received us, and listened to us and taken action for us. We have seen all the good things you have done, and our happiness is great because of you. Therefore we all beg of you not to leave us, but stay here as our governor for years to come. For we know you and how you have led us into the ways of your laws, treating white people and ourselves just the same. We know that you love us well, and we are full of love for you our governor."
It was the good fortune of Papua to have as an administrator for 30 years a man worthy of this address.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 1873 and 28 February, 1940; The Argus and The Herald, Melbourne, 28 February 1940; Murray's two books; Mr Justice Nicholas, The Australian Quarterly, June 1940; The Bulletin, Sydney, 22 July 1936.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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