John Murray (1786?–1851)

In about 1786 John Murray was born in Stranraer, Scotland, to Grace and James Murray, a sea-captain, and from an early age John demonstrated a great interest in science. Though he eventually attained M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, it was said by contemporaries who knew him that ‘he was literally self-taught’ and therefore was a great example to young people placed in disadvantageous circumstances. In 1815, at the age of 29, he published his first work, The Elements of Chemical Science. After that and for many years, he became well-known all over England for his chemistry lectures (which generally included experimental demonstrations). These presentations led one prominent contemporary nobleman to describe Murray as ‘one of the best lecturers in the world.’

With great industry he developed an impressive breadth of knowledge in many subject areas of both science and literature, although his greatest contributions were to chemistry and mining. He had priority of discovery in four different areas of research: a cure for tuberculosis, successful growth of New Zealand flax in Scotland, a mining safety lamp, and fusing a diamond. He also made nearly 20 inventions which came into practical use. His knowledge and experience qualified him to become a Fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1819, the Society of Antiquities in 1822, the London Geological Society in 1823 (a membership he continued until his death), the London Horticultural Society in 1824, and in 1837 he was an annual member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a member of many regional scientific societies. Probably the greatest commendation that Murray received in his lifetime for his scientific work came in the form of over 100 personal testimonials by prominent scientists, laymen and clergy in support of his (ultimately unsuccessful) nomination in 1831 for the honorable chemistry chair at King’s College in London….

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