Murray was born in Sydney, the son of Irish-born Sir Terence Aubrey Murray (1810–73), and his second wife Agnes Ann, née Edwards; he was named after Terence Murray's friend John Hubert Plunkett. Hubert Murray was educated at a non-denominational school in Sydney, then attended a preparatory school in Melbourne in 1871. From 1872-1877 Murray attended Sydney Grammar School where he won several sporting prizes and was school captain in 1877. Murray then moved to England in 1878 and attended Brighton College (which expelled him after he punched a master) and Oxford (B.A., 1886).
In 1892 Murray became a legal draftsmen for the Parliament of New South Wales but described his time there as "living death in Macquarie Street" and left in 1896 to lead a more adventurous life. He took an interest in the volunteer movement, and in 1898 was in command of the New South Wales Irish rifles. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel with the Australian Forces mounted infantry brigade in the Boer War. Murray held the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Australian forces and of major in the Imperial service.
In 1904, Murray was appointed as a judge in what was still British New Guinea. He was appointed Acting Administrator in 1907 and Lieutenant-Governor in 1908, a position he held until his death at Samarai in 1940. When Murray first went to Papua there were 64 white residents. There were 90,000 square miles (230,000 km2) of territory, much of it unexplored jungle land, with many native tribes of whom some were cannibals and head-hunters.
He set himself to understand the native mind, and found that an appeal to vanity was often more effective than punishment. Murray eventually wiped out cannibalism and head-hunting, largely by ridiculing tribes that followed those practices, and praising those that did not.
In 1912 Murray published Papua or British New Guinea, in which the chapters on "The Native Population" and "The Administration of justice" give good descriptions of the many problems he had to deal with. In 1925 his Papua of Today appeared, which showed the progress that had been made in carrying out his ideas. Portions of this book included material from pamphlets published by Murray in 1919 and 1920 on the Australian Administration in Papua, and Recent Exploration in Papua.
His sympathetic understanding of the native mind continued to be the strongest influence in his government. His policy had become more defined but its basis was always the "preservation of the native races, even of those weaker peoples who are not yet able to stand by themselves. The well-being and development of these peoples is declared by the League of Nations to form a sacred trust of civilization, and this declaration is entirely in accord with all the best traditions of British administration".
Murray held too that each native was an individual entitled to his own life, his own family, and his own village. He recognised that natives had their own codes of behaviour, and if these came into conflict with European codes no good could come from what he called the "swift injustice" of punitive expeditions.
He preferred to lead his people into better ways and he persuaded them to keep their villages clean, because only inferior races preferred dirt; to pay taxes, because a man who did not do so was a social defaulter; to be vaccinated, because that was a sign of government approval. He trained suitable men to be policemen, and he had Sydney University opened to others to be trained in first aid and rudimentary medicine to fit them to be assistants to white doctors. In some of these things Murray was only carrying on or extending what his predecessor Sir William MacGregor had begun, but it is an additional merit in an administrator to recognise the value of earlier men's work.
Murray was the leader of the Australasian delegates to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress held at Tokyo in 1926, and president of the meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science in 1932. He went steadily on with his work until he died at Samarai, Papua, on 27 February 1940.
The story is one of continued progress. Education of the natives had increased, a beginning had been made with native industrial enterprises, the natives had begun to understand European modes of conducting business, and not a few of them had banking accounts. This had been accomplished with as little breaking down as possible of native customs. Murray was succeeded as administrator by his nephew, Hubert Leonard Murray (1886-1963), who had been Official Secretary since 1916.
In 1889 Murray married Miss Sybil Maud Jenkins ( - 1929). They had three children:
- Mary, later married to Capt. Charles Robert Pinney, (1883 - 1945) Administrator of Norfolk Island from 1932 to 1937.
- Mary and Charles had two children, Maura and Peter Pinney (1922 - 1992) noted travel writer.
- Peter married Alice Brown (1933 - 1995) and they had a daughter Sava Pinney (1959 -). Peter married for a second time to Estelle Runcie.
- Major Terence Murray, D.S.O., M.C.
- Terence married Philippa Kitchener, niece of the first Lord Kitchener and they had three daughters, Molly, Sybil and Sheila.
- Molly married Anthony Stallard, and they had two daughters, Carola Leonard and Serena Wallace. Carola married economist Michael Leonard, they had one daughter, photographer Crista Leonard. Serena married Australian Stephen Wallace and they had two sons, Matthew Wallace and Ollie Wallace.
- Patrick Desmond Fitzgerald Murray D.Sc.(1900-1967), professor of Zoology at Sydney University
- Patrick married Margery Holland.
- Murray's brother Gilbert married Mary Howard, and they had a daughter Rosalind who married Arnold Toynbee. They had two sons, Philip and Lawrence.
On 20 February 1930 Hubert Murray married an Irish widow Mrs Mildred Blanche Vernon née Trench (1875 - 1960). They were later separated.
- In Port Moresby the PNG Army barracks (called Murray Barracks), the leading "international" primary school (called The Ela Murray International School), the Hubert Murray Stadium and the main highway are all named after him.
- The Official Papuan Collection, National Museum of Australia, over 3,000 items collected by Sir Hubert Murray for the Australian Territory of Papua, between 1907 and 1933, held in the National Museum of Australia.
Papua or British New Guinea, T. Fisher Unwin, London 1912 Papua Of To-Day or An Australian Colony in the Making, P.S. King and Son, London 1925
- H. N. Nelson, 'Murray, Sir John Hubert Plunkett (1861 - 1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, Melbourne University Press, 1986, pp 645-648. Retrieved 2009-10-29
- Papua or British New Guinea / by J.H.P. Murray ; with an introduction by Sir William MacGregor National Library of Australia
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Murray, John Hubert Plunkett". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- The Australia Year Book 1931 has an article on the early history of the Canberra district, including the Murray family connection with it.
- Lewis Lett, Sir Hubert Murray of Papua: Statesman and Empire Builder, Collins, Sydney, 1949
- Francis West, Hubert Murray: The Australian Pro-Consul, Oxford Uni. Press Melbourne, 1968
- Francis West, Selected Letters Of Hubert Murray, Oxford University Press Melbourne 1970
- Australian National Museum Audio on Demand: Australia’s Official Papuan collection: Sir Hubert Murray and the how and why of a colonial collection, Sylvia Schaffarczyk, Australian National University, 21 March 2006
Francis Rickman Barton, acting
|Lieutenant-Governor of Papua
Hubert Leonard Murray, acting