Local Historian Alan Green on George Murray’s life, and plans for a commissioned sculpture in the cit.
There can be few living in Chichester who have not now heard of Admiral Sir George Murray following the “Murrayfest” held in 2015 and the recent newspaper publicity about the proposed statue of Murray and Nelson by Chichester sculptor Vincent Gray. Admiral Murray’s importance to the country as a whole as the naval officer of whom Nelson famously said “Murray or none”, is well known, but why is he so important to Chichester as to justify his own statue?
To sea aged eleven
George was the middle one of three surviving sons of George and Ann Murray all of whom went on to become prominent citizens, much involved with the life of their native city following the example of their father who was an alderman.1 George was born in January 1759 and baptised at St Peter the Great on 16 April that year.2
In 1770, at the tender age of eleven, George Murray joined the Royal Navy, rising swiftly through the ranks. He served under Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 when the two men became very close friends. He was then sent to the Mediterranean serving as Captain of the Fleet under Nelson, and on 23 April 1804 he was promoted to rear admiral.
Naturally Murray spent most of his active service at sea but missed the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 as he had to remain ashore to sort out the estate of his late father in law; had Murray been at Trafalgar perhaps he, rather than Hardy could have been alongside Nelson when he died.
Life as a civilian
Admiral Murray made a significant impact on Chichester with the building of his grand new house on the corner of North Street and Guildhall Street (now The Ship, also known as the Harbour Hotel) between 1804 and 18063 John Marsh, that great Georgian diarist, obviously thought it rather pretentious when he recorded his first visit to the house on 7 February 1807:
On the next day we fix’d our first visit to Mrs G Murray at ye Admiral’s new House in North Street, term’d whilst it was building the Admiralty . There we met a large company in two rooms of six card tables, one of them a Commerce party of 13.4
After 1808 Admiral Murray did not go back to sea but instead became fully involved in the social life of his native city. John Marsh records several events at the house including the entertaining of royalty; the Prince and Princess of Hesse Hombourg no less (she the third daughter of George III) visited Chichester on 18 June 1818 and Marsh records that “[after] 2 & 3 o’clock… they went to breakfast at Sir G Murray’s”.5
He was also a member of the Book Society whose meetings were held at The Admiralty.
George also followed his father in serving on the Corporation, but prior to this he was awarded the Freedom of the Merchants’ Guild by the Mayor in September 1800. In October 1802, he was nominated for the office of Portreeve and in September 1815 he was elected Mayor.6
Admiral Murray was clearly a man of great wealth whose income enabled him to live a lifestyle commensurate with the scale of his new house: he amassed a considerable wine cellar which was put up for auction on 27 July 1819 after his death and realised £672 15s 6d – equivalent to £47094 at today’s prices7. Not only that, he sent his son George to be educated at Winchester College which cost him some £45 per term in fees.8
George Murray died at his North Street home in Chichester on 28 February 1819 aged 60. John Marsh lamented the loss of his friend, recording with genuine feeling in his journal:
Besides the loss to the Corporation and our Book Society, a valuable member of each, the society in general of Chichester and its vicinity had a great loss, there being no-one who was more universally liked or esteemed.9
Whilst the funeral services of his two brothers were held in the church of St Peter the Great, which at that time was still in the north transept of the Cathedral, that of George, on 8 March 1819, took place in the Cathedral proper, after which he was buried in the Close in the area bound by the cloisters known as Paradise. 10
A fine monument to George, and his wife Ann who died in 1859, can be seen in the Sailors’ Chapel in the Cathedral. In 2013 a blue plaque to him was installed on the front of The Ship bearing those immortal words None but Murray will do.
Vincent Gray’s statue of Nelson and Murray will stand opposite The Admiralty in the front garden of 40 North Street (now Jack Wills); appropriately, this was the house of George Murray’s elder brother Richard.
- WSRO St Peter the Great, Chichester, Parish Records
- WSRO St Peter the Great, Chichester, Parish Records
- For a detailed history of the house see The Ship Hotel, Chichester built as the house of Admiral Sir George Mur – ray by Alan H J Green. New Chichester Paper No 6, Chich- ester Local History Society & The University of Chichester 2014
- John Marsh History of my Private Life. John Marsh was a wealthy barrister who moved to Chichester in 1787. Every day he wrote about three pages in his journal giving us an authentic – if at times somewhat acerbic – picture of life in a Georgian cathedral city
- John Marsh– op cit
- WSRO C/3 Chichester Common Council minute book 1783- 1826
- Ian Murray collection. A copy of the sale catalogue marked-up with the prices
- Ian Murray collection – a statement of Admiral Murray’s account with the college. £45 is equivalent to £3,150 today
- John March op cit 10. WSRO Cathedral Close burial register
- WSRO Cathedral Close burial register
(This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of the Society’s Newsletter)