Chosen by Richard Plowman and Barry Aldridge on behalf of The Murray Club
Lord Nelson sent a letter to the then Captain George Murray on 13 April 1803 telling him he was ‘fixed as fate’ his first Captain, with the original intention that Murray should be Captain of the Victory. In the event Murray sailed as Nelson’s Captain of the Fleet from 20 May for the next two years until August 1805.
The warmth of their relationship since the Battle of Copenhagen in April 1801 was further underlined when Nelson congratulated Murray on the birth of his son on 2 April 1803, and suggested he be called ‘Baltic’. The Murrays did not agree. The bond between the two men could not have been stronger, and even after two or more years at sea Nelson still wanted Murray to continue as his Captain of the Fleet for the Battle of Trafalgar. When Murray had important family reasons for declining the invitation, Nelson declared it was ‘Murray or None’ and he sailed into battle with no replacement as Captain of the Fleet.
The collection of such letters to Murray now held by the WSRO includes others from Nelson, and from well-known heroes in Nelson’s navy such as Collingwood, Troubridge, Hardy and St Vincent. The letters between personal friends spare no feelings when describing the casualties and battle damage to the men and their ships. Most of the letters were written to Murray, but very few were available written by Murray. Transcripts of those we have obtained have provided interesting insights into oft-quoted but hitherto unattributed accounts, such as Murray’s letters to Thomas Troubridge in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Copenhagen. Direct quotations have appeared in well-known books on the Battle with no attribution that Murray was the author.
From these letters a detailed picture of Murray and his career present a superb legacy for the people of Chichester. The letters have been catalogued by the RO, with copies readily accessible for study purposes; they are also transcribed on the web site of the Murray Club. They have been deposited by the Murray family together with other artefacts such as the St Vincent gold Medal of 1797, a gold sabre presented by the Dey of Algiers in 1798, and a silver tray dated 1803 from St Vincent as a Christening gift on the birth of Murray’s son. These artefacts, currently in the Novium, will be transferred to the City for safe keeping and permanent display when the Murray exhibition closes.
The Murray Club was formed in 2012 by a handful of enthusiasts with the prime aims of promoting the image and achievements of Sir George, and the gradual transfer of the family-owned letters and artefacts to a permanent home in Chichester. The Club’s activities have included a book ‘My Dear Murray’ by Barry Aldridge, and a complete video diary of the book and all subsequent events, including the year-long Exhibition which opened in the Novium of 15 December 2015. These can be found on YouTube under Admiral Sir George Murray. Books can still be bought from the Novium, the WSRO, and the City Council.
Funding for many of the events, including the Exhibition, was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund against an agreed programme. Anyone who has not yet seen the Exhibition in the Novium, has until the end of December when it must close. In a small room there is a great deal of information available.
The book, the videos and the exhibition all provide insights into Murray’s activities other than on naval duties, both as a Trustee of St John’s Chapel in 1812, as Mayor in 1815, and his social life until his death on 28 February 1819. It was a life of surprises, with three shipwrecks, fierce hostilities and bombardment, from the West Indies, Europe and the Mediterranean, to the Indian Ocean. He drew plaudits to the end for his calmness under fire, and dedication to his duties, both naval and civic.