Thursday, June 27, 2013

Robert Wallace Murray - Confederate Army veteran, Belfast entrepreneur and philanthropist & resident of Newcastle, County Down.

Robert Wallace Murray was born in Jerusalem, Virginia, on February 9th 1836 (in 1888 the town's name was changed to Courtland). He was educated at home by his father, Dr Robert Murray, who had been born somewhere in Ireland, and who had been a classical scholar. The family lived in a large historic building called Elm Grove which Dr Murray bought in 1832, where he set up a school for local children. One of the pupils was William Walter White (1842-1918) a minister's son who later joined the Confederate Army (see biography here).

On the outbreak of the American Civil War, aged 25, Robert Wallace Murray joined General Robert E. Lee's regiment of the Confederate Army and is said to have 'participated in the brilliant dashes which made the Southern Commander famous in the earlier stages of the war.' (The National Park Service website records a Private Robert W Murray who served in the G Company of the 6th Regiment of the Virginia Infantry which had been raised in Norfolk, Virginia in May 1861. One of the regiment's field officers was Colonel William Mahone who like Murray also came from Jerusalem).

After the War Murray moved to Warrington in Lancashire and then to Ulster. He married Marion Workman at St John's Presbyterian Church, Newtownbreda on 7 June 1866. Marion died of typhoid fever on Boxing Day 1882, aged 37. Murray married again, on 19 March 1884, to Elizabeth Murray at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church.

He prospered in his new homeland and became a J.P. for County Antrim, Chairman of the famous Belfast tobacco firm Murray, Sons & Co, Honorary Secretary of the Royal Victoria Hospital, a Director of the Belfast Ropeworks Co. Ltd. and a member of the Belfast Harbour Board. He stood as a Liberal candidate in the election of 1886 for the constituency of East Belfast.

He penned a number of works - 'Modern Hindrances to Faith', 'General Lee' and 'Eighteen Months in the Confederate Army' a lecture which was published in 1877.

His home was Enniskeen, on the Bryansford Road near Newcastle - the 1901 Census records that he was 65 years old and his wife Elizabeth was 64. They had 4 female servants. The house is now the Enniskeen Country House Hotel (website here, including this overview of the history of the house).


He died on Christmas Eve of December 1904, leaving half of his estate to the London Missionary Society, and large bequests to Forster Green Consumptive Hospital (£75,000), the Belfast Society for Providing Nurses for the Sick Poor, and Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

The former headquarters of Murray, Sons & Co. on Belfast's Sandy Row, has recently undergone a £5m refurbishment (shown below). I am sure someone out there can do further research into this fascinating man.




POSTSCRIPT 1 - The Virginian Pilot newspaper of Norfolk, Virginia reported on 20 May 1900 that Murray's brother was Rev James Murray, a noted Presbyterian minister and then pastor of Hampden-Sydney College. James was planning a trip to Belfast to visit Robert, after which he planned to go to the Paris Exposition. A third brother, Dr William W Murray was a pharmacist based in Suffolk, Virginia.

POSTSCRIPT 2 - This document contains the following details: '...In 1832 Oswin Ricks sold the property to Dr. Robert Murray, an Irish-born physician. Tradition states that Murray operated a school at Elm Grove at mid-century, a belief substantiated by the 1850 census which lists fourteen girls and two boys (in addition to the Murrays's own six children) residing at the house at that time. Murray sold the property to William W. Briggs in 1858. In 1887 Lucius Manry, father of the present owner, bought Elm Grove...'

Elm Grove is on the National Register of Historic Places and is shown below:

POSTSCRIPT 3 - before some looper froths at the mouth about the Confederates, and jumps to all sorts of bonkers conclusions, I am of course aware that there were men of Ulster descent on both sides of the Civil War / War Between the States / etc., including the Union Army's General Ulysses Simpson Grant whose ancestral home is near Ballygawley in County Tyrone. He went on to become US President. Grant visited the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast in January 1879. It's easy to imagine Gustav Wolff greeting the former President, with fellow directors of related companies. I wonder if R.W. Murray J.P. was with the welcoming party, and if he revealed to Grant that just 15 years earlier they had been wartime adversaries? Or if he stood at the back quietly whistling 'Dixie'?



Barry R McCain said...

excellent article. As a pipe smoker myself I found it particularly interesting and I have enjoyed many a bowl of Erinmore over the years. Nice to know it has a Confederate connection, it will make it even better.

Unknown said...

Adrian Slaney asks Was R W Murray a relative of John and George the original founders of the tobacco Company? Finding it difficult to tie up the family involvements.
Thanks Adrian PhD student

Mark Thompson said...

Hello Adrian – R.W.'s father Dr Robert Murray (1792–1868) is believed to have been a brother of the two founders of the company.