John Murray (oceanographer)

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John Murray
An old bearded man drawing or measuring with a compass.
Sir John Murray, 1902
Born (1841-03-03)3 March 1841
Cobourg, Canada West
Died 16 March 1914(1914-03-16) (aged 73)
Kirkliston, Midlothian, Scotland
Citizenship United Kingdom
Nationality Scottish
Fields oceanography
Institutions Naturalist with the Challenger Expedition Commission (1872)
Director of the Challenger Expedition Commission (1882)
Established marine laboratories at Granton and Millport
Bathymetric Survey of the Freshwater Lochs of Scotland (1897–1909)
Alma mater Edinburgh University
Notable awards Makdougall-Brisbane Prize (1884–86)
Neill Prize (1877–80)
Cullum Geographical Medal (1899)
Clarke Medal (1900)
Author abbrev. (botany) J.Murray
Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1876)
Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1896)
President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (1898–1904)
President of the Scottish Natural History Society
Member of the Scottish Meteorological Society

Sir John Murray KCB FRS FRSE FRSGS (3 March 1841 – 16 March 1914) was a pioneering Scottish oceanographer, marine biologist and limnologist.[1]

Sir John Murray's grave, Dean Cemetery

Early life[edit]

Murray was born at Cobourg, Canada West, to Scottish parents – Robert Murray, accountant, and Elizabeth Macfarlane – who had emigrated seven years earlier. He returned to Scotland as a child, and was educated at Stirling High School and the University of Edinburgh (1864–65), but soon left to join a whaling expedition to Spitsbergen as ships' surgeon in 1868.

He returned to Edinburgh to complete his studies (1868–72) in geology under Sir Archibald Geikie and natural philosophy under Peter Guthrie Tait.

Challenger Expedition[edit]

Tait introduced Murray to Charles Wyville Thomson, who had been appointed to lead the Challenger Expedition. In 1872, Murray joined Wyville Thomson as his assistant on this four-year expedition to explore the deep oceans of the globe. After Wyville Thompson succumbed to the stress of publishing the reports of the Challenger Expedition, Murray took over, and edited and published over 50 volumes of reports, which were completed in 1896.

In 1884,[2] Murray set up the Marine Laboratory at Granton, Edinburgh, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. In 1894, this laboratory was moved to Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, on the Firth of Clyde, and became the University Marine Biological Station, Millport, the forerunner of today's Scottish Association for Marine Science at Dunstaffnage, near Oban, Argyll and Bute.

In 1909, Murray wrote to the Norwegian government that if they would lend the Michael Sars vessel to him for a four-month research cruise, under Johan Hjort's scientific command, then Murray would pay all expenses. After a winter of preparation, this resulted in by that time the most ambitious oceanographic research cruise ever. The 1912 Murray and Hjort book The Depths of the Ocean quickly became a classic for marine naturalists and oceanographers.

He was the first to note the existence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and of oceanic trenches. He also noted the presence of deposits derived from the Saharan desert in deep ocean sediments and published a vast number of papers on his findings. His last major contribution to science was co-ordinating a bathymetric survey of 562 of Scotland's freshwater lochs in 1897, involving over 60,000 individual depth soundings, which were published in six volumes in 1910. He was president of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society from 1898 to 1904, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1896,[3] having been awarded their Royal Medal the previous year.


Murray was killed when his car overturned near his home on 16 March 1914 at Kirkliston near Edinburgh. He is buried in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh on the central path of the north section in the original cemetery.


He was invested as a KCB in 1898. He was awarded the Clarke Medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1900. His name is remembered in the 'John Murray Laboratories' at the University of Edinburgh, the John Murray Society at the University of Newcastle, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency research vessel, the S.V. Sir John Murray. In addition, the Cirrothauma murrayi octopus, which lives at depths from 1500 to 4500 m and lacks object recognition abilities, is named after Murray, as are the Murrayonida sea sponges.

Sir John was the recipient of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's Livingstone Medal for 1910.[4]

In 1911, he founded the Alexander Agassiz Medal, awarded by the National Academy of Sciences, in memory of his friend Alexander Agassiz (1835–1910).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002: Biographical Index II. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. Archived from the original on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Overview of Dunstaffnage ik Marine Laboratory
  3. ^ "Library and Archive catalogue". The Royal Society. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  4. ^ RSGS memorial to recipients of Livingstone Medal
  5. ^ "Author Query for 'J. Murray'". International Plant Names Index. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Augustus Gregory
Clarke Medal
Succeeded by
Edward John Eyre