Generation: C

William Murray, "China Bill"

Born: 1841 Died: 1915
Father: John Murray, III
Mother: Jean Watt

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Banker from Hong Kong and Shanghai. Died without a will, so that under Scots law his money went to his full cousins on his fathers side. All these (33) were listed by his executor. See Lord Ormidale's Judgment.

William Murray. "China Bill". 30 June 1841 - 11 April 1915

A Murray "Loner". (Not the only one!)


John Murray I and Ann Sutherland. John Murray II (Ian mor) and Ann Matheson. John Murray III and Jean Watt of Cardross. William Murray. Irreverently named "China Bill" in the family.

My father never met this cousin of his, nor did I ever meet anyone who knew him. What was his secret? If any. To get down to hard facts I therefore begin by quoting the Opinion of Lord Ormidale in about 1917/18, about him. Ormidale, a MacFarlane of Edinburgh, was a Judge of the Court of Session there, and should therefore have known what constituted a Scot.

Here follow extracts from Lord Ormidale's judgment in the matter of the estate of William Murray.

"William Murray was born of Scottish parents at Dalquhurn in the Parish of Cardross and County of Dumbarton on 30th June 1841. He died unmarried at the Portland Hotel, London on 11th April 1915.

The question to be determined is whether at the date of his death he retained his Scottish domicile of origin or had abandoned it and acquired a domicile of choice in England. If the former, then his estate will be divided according to the Scottish Law of Succession (i.e. intestate succession). If the latter, then according to English Law. Mr. Murray's first cousins in the paternal line at the date of his death were 33, and in the maternal line 6. It is not disputed that by the Scottish Law the paternal line is preferred to the maternal, and that by the English Law there is no such preference. The estate amounted to about 46,000 in 1916.

Mr. Murray's father died in 1852. Mr. Murray then went to live for a short time with a Mrs. MacLachlan, a sister of his father (i.e. neé Margaret Murray. RLM). His life with her and her family appears not to have been very comfortable or happy, and while still a boy he left them and took up his residence with an uncle, Donald Murray, a brother of his father who was agent for the City of Glasgow Bank, and afterwards of the Commercial Bank of Scotland at Rutherglen. He there became an intimate friend of the banker's son, Robert Simpson Murray, who was about a year younger than himself, and this friendship continued down to the end of his life.

Mr. R.S. Murray who succeeded his father and continued to be the agent of the Bank at Rutherglen down to 1912 was appointed executor dative of the deceased Mr. William Murray, and is the pursuer and real raiser of the present action.

The deceased had no sisters. He had only one brother who was drowned at sea while still a young man.

In July 1864, Mr. Murray went to China as a clerk in the Chartered Bank of India, China and Australia. Shortly afterwards he obtained an appointment with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and acted as the Bank's Accountant at Shanghai until 1871 when he left to come home. Much if not most of his leave appears to have been spent in Scotland. He left again for the East in 1872 to take up an appointment as Agent for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank at Calcutta, an appointment which he held for little more than a year. He finally returned to this country in 1874 or 1875 when he was about 33 or 34 years of age.

His health does not appear to have been much impaired by his residence in the East, but after his return he began to suffer from bronchitis and asthma, and he was not infrequently prostrated by these troubles right down to the date of his death in 1915. There can be no doubt that in consequence of his delicate health he had to seek milder climates than those of England or Scotland for the greater part of the year.

It is on the residence of Mr. Murray in London that the claimants Watt and others mainly rely as instructing a domicile of choice.

But while undoubtedly, taking one year with another during a long period - nearly 40 years - of Mr. Murray's life after his return from the East, he was more in London than in any other place, he was by no means constantly resident there. On the contrary, it is clearly proved that in every year he was absent from it, and as a rule for a considerable part of the year. The reason for that was two-fold: first his health and second his fondness for travel. Not only did he leave London - he left England. He visited many watering places in England and he also visited Australia, America, Mexico, Egypt, Palestine, Germany, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, the South of France and Paris. He was also a constant visitor to Scotland. His residence in London was not in any sense fixed or permanent, although his address for a time could always be found there at one of the clubs of which he was for the time a member. He did not even take a lease of a house. He lived in lodgings or hotels.

It was suggested that he did acquire a domicile as tenant of a house at Ealing for the six years 1904-1910, but I am satisfied that that was not the case. He lodged there with a Mrs. Mitchell off and on during that period. It was she who was the tenant of the house and was responsible to the landlord for the rent. Mrs. Mitchell was a friend of long standing at it was truly in her interest and for her benefit that the arrangement was made by Mr. Murray who had a warm heart and was prone to doing little acts of kindness. But he tired of his residence at Ealing just as he tired of his lodgings at other places.

It is said that he always left his belongings in London when he himself was absent from it. But then it appears that any belongings so left by him were of no great value, that apart from what he took about with him on his travels he had very little else and that much of that little consisted of books. He had no business which tied him to London.

Passages written in letters from Shanghai to Mr. R.S. Murray at Rutherglen were referred to: "I like China very well. I would not go back home for a good deal. I fancy in the course of a few more years if spared I shall be a thorough Easterner and have little desire to return to Scotland." 4th January 1868. "I think in a few more years I shall have forgotten everybody except yourself and a few more such friends. I care little more now for home." 19th November 1868 after referring to his success in the East, "I know you are too good a fellow to have any jealous feelings towards me but I daresay all my relations who were accustomed to look upon me as a frightful duffer would be glad to receive me back into their arms again. However, should I be spared to return to Scotland I shall avoid every relation I have except yourself. The feeling is too deep ever to be eradicated." (Which relations?)

He was then a young man in vigorous health (Age 27). As Mr. R.S. Murray says in his evidence: "That was a pretty common expression with him before he died. He liked places when he went to them but very quickly got unsettled again."

No doubt he had no great liking for the bulk of his relatives, and it seems to have been the case that he was not intimate with them. For R.S. Murray he had a great affection. R.S. Murray says "I know he was very kind and sent presents to many of them. He was very sensitive and quick to take offence. If anybody asked anything of him he was very displeased, but left alone he was very kind. Any feeling of anger or resentment quickly passed". This is well illustrated by the annoyance he felt and expressed at an enquiry for his health made by Mrs. Mackay, and the ready and kindly way in which he offered his apologies to the family shortly afterwards. (I think that could only have been Ben Reay's wife, Annie MacLachlan Mackay, a cousin. RLM). The Mackays were relatives for whom he seems to have had much regard.

Mr. Burnett's evidence is of more importance - he was a very old and intimate friend of Mr. Murray and frequently met him in London. He speaks of Mr. Murray's fondness for club life, his reticence about his private lodgings and his generous nature. "His place of living was London and his mode of life was reading. He said that although he was born in Scotland he could not live there. The climate was too severe. And he did not care for Scottish cookery. "London suits me better than any other place in the West. Whenever I am abroad I always want to come back to London. I look upon it as my home". His idea and mine were very different. His idea of home was where he could hang about his clubs." Question: "Was Mr. Murray proud of having been born a Scotchman?" Mr. Burnett answered "Yes". Murray would say "I'm never tired of walking about the streets of London and looking at the shop windows."

Taking Mr. Burnett's evidence as it is given it is in my opinion very far from sufficient to prove that Mr. Murray's fixed and settled purpose was to settle permanently in London and acquire an English domicile.

But Mr. Murray never deserted Scotland. Nearly every year saw him in Scotland, and some years for a considerable length of time. He had many friends in Scotland, including his life-long friend, Mr. R.S. Murray. His visits were chiefly to the West, but sometimes he went to the North, and for many years frequently to the South. These visits were referred to by Counsel as merely holiday visits. In a sense that was so, but then the last 40 years of Mr. Murray's life was one long holiday! He had no business ties to bind him to any place, and what chiefly determined his movements were matters of health.

In little things he showed himself a Scot. He was fond of Scottish articles of diet. He took great pleasure in making gifts of them to his friends. Though he did not wear it, he carefully preserved a Highland Costume. These are very small matters, but then Mr. Murray's interests in life were of a trivial character. Twenty years before he died he appears to have erected a tombstone over the grave of his grandparents (John Murray and Ann Matheson) at Rogart. He liked to hear about Scotland and to get Scottish news. The Glasgow Herald was sent to him even when abroad.

Mr. Murray had no property in Scotland, but in 1877 he became tenant of a small shooting lodge at Drumore, near Stranraer, and remained tenant partly under leases until 1892. To these shootings he went every year in September and October and stayed until December. Sometimes after being away he would return in January.

In 1877 in connection with a mortgage he described himself as of Drumore in the County of Wigton. Again, much later, in 1903, when a candidate for the Oriental Club he gave as his 'usual home address' Drumore, near Stranraer.

Another incident which marked his interest in Scotland was his establishment in 1898 of a small library in the village of Kirkmaiden for the use of pupils at the school, that he was sending a further parcel of books. To another society in Kirkmaiden he also made a large gift of books.

In 1888 he writes that he was thinking of settling down in Australia or New Zealand. In August 1910 he writes from Achen in Germany to Mrs. Mitchell in Ealing: "I hope you will take care of what you have received as I am going to live abroad and in Scotland hereafter".

On the whole I am satisfied that Mr. Murray's domicile at the date of his death was SCOTLAND."

Thus far with Lord Ormidale's dispassionate judgement, and his assessment of this lonely bachelor's qualities!

I have for years felt I would like to lean more about William. Here is some additional documentation, and some observations.

From the Librarian, The Times, London. August 4, 1970. The only reference to William Murray in the Times is the following announcement in the Personal Column of April 15, 1915:

"MURRAY: On the 11th inst., at London, William Murray, late of Hong Kong and Rutherglen, near Glasgow".

A very cheap informal notice this! There apparently was no biographical material in the other part of the newspaper. No indication of whether death was sudden of not. No place of death. (Portland Hotel, Queen's Gate, still exists) and no notice of the funeral.

From the Superintendent, Golders Green Crematorium, 17th August 1970:

"Our records show that Mr. William Murray was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on the 16th April 1915. His ashes were dispersed on the Garden of Rest here on the instructions of the applicant whose name and address was given as Colonel Simpson Murray, Commercial Bank, Rutherglen, Glasgow".

Colonel Robert Simpson Murray was then 75 years old, (perhaps considered then a very great age!) so it is probably that he did not proceed to London for the funeral, some 400 miles away, but made arrangements by letter and telephone.

From the secretary of the Oriental Club, Stratford Place, London, 5th August, 1970:

"I find that Mr. William Murray was elected a member in December 1903. His occupation was stated to be NIL. He lived at Drumore, near Stranraer and was proposed by J. McLintock and seconded by Tarbett Fleming."

McLintock was Murray's friend who sent the Glasgow Herald when Murray was abroad. He gave evidence before Lord Ormidale on the question of Murray's domicile, and nil else.

From Norman Kennedy, Headmaster of Drumore School, Stranraer, 7th June 1970 and 13th January 1971:

"There is no trace of any of the gifts you mentioned in the present building which is the same one as stood in 1895. I have made several enquiries within the parish but have not been able to trace anyone who can recall anything about the books. I enclose an extract from the school log covering the first gift, but have been unable to find a reference to the second gift received in Mr. Davidson's time. In this respect I read the log from 1910 to 1917, written by Mr. Parker: "22 (Tuesday) December 1896, William Murray, Esq. of Grosvenor Club, Bond Street, London [an error for Bourne St. or was it bombed out and had to move? RLM], having sent a number of choice books - in all seventy nine volumes - to found a "lending library" for the school the books were today distributed among the scholars with the request that they be returned in a fortnight for re-distribution among other pupils."

The second gift was in 1914. A generous type of letter. And the books were "choice".

16/3/1971. Secretary of Grosvenor Club, Bourne St. SW1 could not trace William Murray. This club was previously in Buckingham Palace Road, never in Bond street.

26/3/1971. The records in London and Hong Kong don't go further back than 1890 so no trace of his banking career.

We now pass from a well documented phase of William Murray's life to another aspect, part documented, part speculative, part dependent on an old lady's memory of her mother's memory.

Firstly, his lineage.

William's father was John Murray, born at Cregnachlachul, a croft of which the foundations are still visible, some 200 yards north of Easdale at Bonar Bridge. John Murray was himself the son of John Murray II (Iain mor) and Ann Matheson, and his birthday was 19th December 1812. John's parents had not very long before returned from their unhappy migration to Glasgow, preferring their Highland hills to the irreligious atmosphere of that city. [Error. They went to Glasgow 1818-20. RLM 26/9/72]. John was either the third of fourth child in what became a family of ten children. There is some disparity between the bible entries and the baptismal records in the family.

Very soon after leaving the school above Bonar, John must have been attracted to the Vale of Leven by letters home from his elder brother Donald (born 1805) who was working there. He entered into the developing Turkey Red industry, and appears to have remained in it throughout his life.

On 22nd December, 1838, when he was 26 he married Jean Watt, of Cardross Parish, and not long afterwards, namely on 8th May 1939, their first child, also a John was born. All that we know about this child is that he became a sailor and was lost at sea. Nothing more. China Bill advertised from time to time for information about his lost elder brother, but no news ever came back. Then on 30th June 1841, "China Bill" was born. Later there was a third child, Helen, born 6th August 1842 at Renton, "but she died young". Then somewhere between 1842 and 1852 "China Bill" lost his mother, Jean Watt. To complete their cup of woe the children then lost their father, John, in a works accident in the factory or dyeworks at Dalquhurn, beside Renton, in 1852. China Bill's father, mother, elder brother and younger sister now disappear from our records entirely.

My wife, Margaret and I looked carefully into the cemeteries at Cardross and Bonhill Parish Church to see if there was a Murray or Watt memorial stone there, but we found none. We wondered if in later life William Murray had erected one to his parents. It was too much to expect perhaps.

The census return for 1851 (probably June) for the inhabitants of Aisdale, above Bonar Bridge shows the following:

John Murray (Iain mor), age 73. 8 acres. Born at Blarich. Ann M. Murray, age 63. Born at Rearchar. Ann Ross. grand-daughter, age 12. Servant. Born at Inver House, Ross-shire. [error for Rose?] William Murray, grandson, age 9 (i.e. China Bill) Born at Dalquhurn.

and at the adjacent croft, perhaps some 20 to 40 yards away is one occupied by:

William Mackay, age 24. 4 acres. Born at Achuan. Janet Murray Mackay, age 23. Born at Astle (Easdale) Margaret, age 1 (Later Mrs. Black) Born at Astle.

Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh, showed that William Murray, (China Bill) was born on 30th June 1841, at Cardross, Co. Dumbarton, and baptised on 18th July 1841, lawful son of John Murray and Jane Watt.

The only authority for the date of death of John Murray in the works accident in Vale of Leven, as 1852, is Lord Ormidale's judgement in the intestacy case, which would be decided around 1917/1918. It was a date unimportant to the issue of the case, and its correctness must now be questioned in view of the census reports above quoted. We must allow for honest errors of memory about distant events for the witnesses of 1917/1918, and for errors or variations in spelling of names, both of families and of places in the Highlands. And further for complete uncertainty in a grandparent about the ages of his grandchildren, especially if he has many.

All this suggests that John Murray was killed in the works accident at a date before the 1851 census. "China Bill" and his elder brother, aged about 10 and 12 respectively, (and the younger sister, if alive, aged 9 or so) would be distributed among relatives, for they were completely orphaned.

The census return of June 1851 therefore shows that the grandparents, John Murray II and Ann Matheson, had taken over William into their own household. He had not gone to Bonar Bridge for a holiday, but on a more permanent basis. His older brother would have gone to the Watts, and, as soon as he was old enough, had taken to the sea. William must have missed him greatly indeed. For company at Aisdale (Astle) he had only his cousin, Ann Rose, some 2 or 3 years older than himself, and the infant Margaret Mackay (later Mrs. Black) age 1 year, in the croft next door.

For a few years therefore William must have gone to school at Bonar, as did many cousins also in the years following.

Now for recollections: My cousin, Miss Helen Buchanan, with her remarkable memory, (she was born about 1889) has written to me two years ago, saying that Grandmother Mackay (i.e. Janet Murray Mackay), with her father, John Murray II (then aged about 73, my guess. RLM) went down to Invergordon to meet the boat bringing young William Murray, aged about 9 or 10, to the North. Janet got so tired in the long waiting period that "she gauted" (i.e. yawned) so much that she dislocated her jaw! The boat would be a coasting steamer from Leith, probably, rather than a pure sailing ship, and so could run approximately to a timetable of sorts. From Invergordon to Aisdale was only 24 miles, and they would travel by horse and cart without doubt. A dramatic incident in the family's story-telling nights, as recalled by Helen's grandmother, Janet, to her descendents.

Another recollection of Helen's runs thus: "Later, William pushed her eldest (enfant terrible) the unspeakable Margaret (later Mrs. Black) into the well - from which, partly in jest, Granny Janet declared it was a "gey pity" Maggie had ever been fished out!" So all this suggests that William was at Bonar Bridge for a few years and probably completed his schooling there.

Schooling over, Janet Murray Mackay then persuaded her elder and already married sister, Margaret Murray MacLachlan in Glasgow to take over the temporary care of young William. This was not a success, according to the Ormidale story. Thereafter, according to a letter of Helen Buchanan to me, William may have gone to live with a minister, whose wife then had no children. But some children arrived and William finally ended up with his uncle Donald Murray (born 1805) now a bank agent in Rutherglen, an able, ambitious, active, kindly man. In this household William made his first friendship with a boy his own age, namely Robert Simpson Murray, born 1840. This friendship was to be a sheet anchor through his life, helped on by the banker's interest in William's future career. To the banker's lasting credit, he must have added William, and another young cousin, Donald Murray Mackay, born 1843, to his own family of four, aided throughout by his generous wife, Isabel Simpson, a native of around Rutherglen. Of these six boys, Donald trained four in banking, and each did well therein, and gave the remaining two good enough education for one to succeed as a farmer-teacher, and the other as a teacher-farmer, both in New Zealand.

So now we give three cheers for old Iain mor, Ann Matheson, Janet Murray, Donald and Isabel Simpson Murray for their interest and help to young William Murray.

If all William Murray's parental cousins had lived and survived to 11th April 1915 there would have been 55 persons to share alike in his estate. But only 33 had this good fortune, each receiving about 1200 or so. It brought happiness and indeed relief to many who were not in circumstances of affluence or comfort. But even last year, 1970, some of the descendents of the 22 first cousins who died before China Bill have expressed regret that the estate was not more widely shared.

Of William's early playmates, Ann Rose, born about 1837, and living as a servant at Iain mor's house or croft, Easdale, was drowned in youth. Margaret Mackay became Mrs. Black, then Mrs. Welch and died at Lonachuan in the awful winter of 1915/1916. There is quite a biography about her.


One of the poems which fascinated me in early youth, and still does, greatly too, is "Waring" by Robert Browning.

All those of you who are students in the "behavioural sciences" (the latest 1970 name for a course in Sociology, itself replacing philosophy, moral and natural, and psychology, etc, etc) must know it.

"What's become of Waring Since he gave us all the slip, Chose land-travel or sea-faring, Boots and chest or staff and script, Rather than pace up and down Any longer London town?

Where scarcely twenty knew his name Why not, then have earlier spoken Written, bustled...."

William kept a diary for some years. His cousin and friend, Colonel Robert Simpson Murray probably produced it to Lord Ormidale in 1917. Where is it now? Could the cousin's grandson, also a Colonel Robert Simpson Murray, now retiring to Roxburgshire from Belfast, find it in some forgotten trunk of letter from his father's firm? I've written to three members of the Rutherglen descent without result.

The tombstone at Rogart, set up by China Bill to commemorate his grandparents so very long ago, is a fine one, and in splendid condition today.

I have not sought for his death certificate. He had suffered from bronchitis and asthma. Did he smoke too much? Doubtless he died from right heart failure. He was 74. It could have been cancer of the lung. Does it matter now? The only untouched source for further data would be the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation's librarian. That would not be of much use now.

I've told you all, without reserve.

All sorts of questions spring to mind:

A photo of him? Alas, none! Was he ever in love? There's no answer to that question. Why did he leave no will? Why no special gift to his cousin Robert Simpson Murray? Was death sudden and unexpected? How did he amass his fortune and retire at age 33 or 34? Was it from banking? Opium trade? The stock market? Gambling? Why did he not do something creative after he retired? Was he interested in the arts? We know about the shop windows. Was he Presbyterian like some of the cousins with whom he studied the profession of banking? Did he visit his relatives who had preceded him to New Zealand? If so, is there any record? Or did he become a heretic? Yet remaining kindly, generous, thoughtful. The orphan boy, well trained by his parents at Dalquhurn for his first 9 years, then by his grandparents and aunt at Bonar Bridge, and lastly by his uncle at Rutherglen becomes a banker, makes a fortune and retires at 34 years of age. "The last 40 years of Mr. Murray's life was one long holiday" said Ormidale. More questions?

Who are we to pass judgement?

R.L Mackay February 1971

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