Select Murdoch Miscellany

Here are some Murdoch stories and accounts over the years:

Norse Origins for Murdoch

In the ninth century much of Scotland (as well as other parts of Europe) were under attack from Viking raiders.  Parts of Scotland became part of Norway at this time, notably the Highlands and Galloway in the southwest.  Many Norse settled there, intermarrying with the Gaels and in Galloway becoming the so-called "Gallgaels."   

Those among these societies who had Norse ancestry may well have been known as murchadh, "sea warriors," particualrly as the statistical evidence shows that the largest incidence of Murdochs has been in Galloway and Moray where there has been notable Norse settlement.

There is no positive proof of a Norse connection and so some think that the surname Murdoch may simply have arisen to describe someone whose trade was associated with the sea.

The Murdochs of Cumloden in Galloway

These Murdochs are said to trace their descent from one Murdoch, who rendered yeoman service to Robert the Bruce in his hour of need.  In the spring of 1307, the King of the Scots was hiding in the Galloway hill country with a few hundred followers while King Edward's troops beset all the passes. 

Bruce caused his men to separate into small companies so as to make subsistence easier.  But he appointed a day when they were all to muster at the hill now called Craigencallie on the eastern shore of Loch Dee. Here, in a solitary cabin, dwelt a widow, the mother of three sons, each by a different husband, and named Murdoch, Mackie and MacLurg.

The King arrived first and alone at the rendezvous.  Weary and half-famished, he asked the widow for some food and she gave him some as it had been promised.

"From whom may that have been," asked the King.

"None other than Robert the Bruce, "quoth the goodwife, "rightful lord of this land, wha e'er gainsays it.  He's hard pressed just now, but he'll come through, sure enough."

This was good news to the King who made himself known at once and was taken into the house and sat down to the best meal he had eaten in days.  The three sons then returned and their mother straightway made them do obeisance to their liege lord.  They declared their readiness to enter his service at once.  The King, however, would put their prowess as marksmen to the test before engaging them.  Two ravens sat together on a crag a bowshott off and the eldest son Murdoch let fly at them and transfixed both with one arrow.  Mackie next shot a raven flying overhead and brought it to the ground and the King was satisfied, although poor MacLurg missed his mark altogether.

Many years later, when the widow's words had been fulfilled by Bruce coming to his own and being acknowledged King of the Scots, he sent for the widow and asked her to name the reward she had earned by her timely hospitality.

"Just gie me," she said, " you wee bit hassock o' land atween Palnure and Penklin (two streams flowing into Wigtown Bay)."

The King granted her request.   The "bit hassock," being about five miles long and three broad, was divided between the three sons, from whom descended the Murdochs of Cumloden, the Mackies of Larg, and the MacLurgs of Kiruchtrie.

Murdochs in Scotland

The table below shows the current distribution of the Murdoch name in Scotland, according to telephone entries.

Telephone Entries
Per 10,000
Clyde coast
Clyde valley


The southwest coastline of Scotland, including Galloway, still has the highest concentration of Murdochs. 

George Murdoch in the Canadian West

George Murdoch had learnt his trade as a saddle and harness maker in Chicago but had been forced to vacate that city after the Great Fire.  By 1883 he was in Winnipeg.  He purchased there an ox and wagon and set out for Fort Calgary, reaching the fort after ten days' trundling through hostile Indian territory.

He wrote in his diary that night:

"The view of the Rockies is beautiful tonight. They seem about ten miles off, but are forty five." 

The next day he built a shack outside the Mounties' stronghold and hung a business sign: "Harness Maker."  His customers were the Mounted Police.  By living among the Blackfoot Indians, he taught himself their language.  They called him "Leather Man."

George circulated the petition and raised the $100 that got the town of Calgary incorporated.  The election that followed had more fistfights than speeches.  When the dust settled, George was the first mayor and they carried him shoulder high around the town in a torchlight parade.

William Murdoch on the Titanic

William Murdoch was the officer in charge on the bridge when an iceberg was spotted at 11:39pm on 14 April 1912.  Murdoch is generally believed to have responded by ordering "Hard a'starboard" and setting the telegraph used to communicate orders to the engine room to "Full Astern".  To no avail, because 37 seconds after the iceberg was sighted, it was struck by RMS Titanic.

When the order was later given to abandon ship, Murdoch was in charge of the starboard evacuation and was last seen attempting to launch one of the collapsible lifeboats.  It is not certain what became of him, though by one account he was washed into the sea during the ship's final moments afloat.  Some of the many film and TV depictions of the sinking of the Titanic have shown Murdoch committing suicide as the ship sank, although there is no evidence that he did so. 

There is a memorial in his honor in his home of Dalbeattie in Galloway.

A William Murdock from Belfast was also on the Titanic and he by some fortune did survive.  He claimed that he survived the sinking by jumping into the water and then being "picked up" by a collapsible boat that he had helped lower.  But this was not thought possible and there must have been some other chain of events which ended with him in a surviving lifeboat.

Reader Feedback - Murdochs from Scotland to South Australia

My great grandfather Scotsman James Murdoch migrated to South Australia on the ship Trevelyan in 1875 with his wife Emily and three daughters Emily 8, Lucy 3, and Alice a babe in arms.  Seven other children were born there in South Australia.  

James next appeared in the 1880's in Maitland on the Yorke Peninsula with a business as a blacksmith and wheelwright.  He then sold everything and took up farming, which he did for the rest of his life. 

James's father Colin was likely born at Gartincaber in Perthshire.  I've traced James's ancestors back to a Patrick Campbell of Dunderave and Inverchaggernay.  Patrick's daughter Beatrix married a Murdoch.  

Kind regards  
Anne Tichborne (

A Broadside from Keith Murdoch

Sir Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's father, was a prominent Australian journalist who started the Murdoch newspaper empire.  He had been in London at the onset of World War One and became irate at British treatment of him and his compatriots.  This broadside found its way to the desk of the Australian Prime Minister of his day:

"The conceit and self-complacency of the red feathered men are equalled only by their incapacity. Along the line of communications, especially at Moudros, are countless high offficers and conceited young cubs who are plainly only playing at war.  What can you expect of men who have never worked seriously, who have lived for their appearance and for social distinction and self satisfaction, and who are now called on to conduct a gigantic war? 

Kitchener now has a terrible task in getting pure work out of these men whose motives can never be pure for they are unchangeably selfish.  Appointments to the general staff are made from motives of friendship and social influence.  Australians now loathe and detest any Englishman wearing red."   

PC Murdoch

To many Scots PC (Police Constable) Murdoch, the fictional character in the comic strip Our Wullie, is "as weel kent as ony Murdoch!"  Our Wullie first saw light of day as a cartoon in The Sunday Post in 1936.  PC Murdoch has been keeping an eye on the wee rascal all these years.  

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