Murdoch


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The name Murdoch comes from the old Gaelic words mur meaning "sea" and murchadh, "sea warrior," and is thought by some to indicate Norse origins

The "ch" sound is not present in English.  When Murdochs migrated to northern Ireland at the time of the Scottish plantations "Murdoch" would often become "Murdock."

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Scotland.  The largest presence of the Murdoch name in Scotland has been in Galloway in the southwest and, to a lesser extent, Moray in the northeast.

Galloway.  The Murdochs of Cumloden in Galloway received their land, it is said, as a grant from Robert the Bruce for services the family rendered.  The land stayed with the Murdochs until 1738 when it was sold to pay off debts (a branch later established themselves at Gartincaber in Perthshire).  Their family history is recounted in T.M.Fallow's 1904 book, A Short History of the Family of Murdoch in Cumloden

A Murdoch family from Dalbeattie in Galloway, starting with James and following with Samuel, were sea captains in the 19th century.  As death was a constant risk at sea, it became a family rule that at least one of the men should take a trade ashore.  The last of these mariners was William Murdoch, First Officer of the Titanic, who perished with his ship in 1912.

Morayshire  Murdoch roots are also in Morayshire on the northeast coastline.  The Murdoch name was to be found in the 18th century at Elgin and in villages along the Spey river.  Alexander Murdoch was a farmer at Kean farm in Duffus at that time and Peter Murdoch a customs house officer at Fochsbers (his family later moved south to England).

Ireland.  There may have been some Irish Murdochs from Murtagh before the Scottish intrusions in the 17th century.  But most Murdochs (and Murdocks) in Ireland came from Galloway in Scotland and arrived at the time of the Protestant plantations in Ulster. 

One family line in Forkhill, Armagh traces itself back to these times.  Other Murdocks were to be found in Belfast.  And one farming family near Dublin produced the novelist Iris Murdoch.  Today there are roughly as many Murdocks as Murdochs in Ireland. 

America.  The early Murdochs in America came mostly from Ireland and therefore had lost an "h" and gained a "k" in their travels:
  • one Murdock family started with John Murdock in Pennsylvania in the 1740's and later moved onto North Carolina. 
  • William Murdock from Belfast, who fought in the Revolutionary War, died in Pennsylvania in 1791. 
  • meanwhile Hamilton Murdock and his family from Ireland had arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1768.
There were some Scottish Murdochs.  James Murdoch was recorded as building a house near Kingston in upstate New York in 1771.  Thomas Murdoch was a prominent bookbinder in Philadelphia in the early 1800's (his son became the well-known actor James Murdoch).  And William Murdoch, a cabinet maker, came to New Orleans with his family in 1846. 

These Murdochs in America often became Murdocks, and combined with the Murdock Irish arrivals, the Murdock name became the predominant one in America. 

Canada.  Both Murdocks and Murdochs settled in Canada, the Murdochs here somewhat outnumbering the Murdocks.  Among the Murdock arrivals were:
  • James, John and Ellen Murdock from county Mayo in Ireland to Ottawa in the mid 1830's.
  • Michael Murdock and his family from Derry to Dundas county, Ontario in the late 1830's.
The first Murdoch arrival in Canada was in fact a ship, the Murdoch, which brought 100 German immigrants to Nova Scotia in 1751. 

Just over one hundred years later (in 1854), two Murdochs arrived in St. John, New Brunswick from Paisley in Scotland, William Murdoch, aged 31, and George Murdoch (with his parents), aged just four:
  • William was put in charge of a gas works but later made his mark in New Brunswick as a poet. 
  • George set off west in his thirties and arrived in Calgary just as the railroad was arriving.  He became the first mayor of the new town of Calgary.      
Australia.  The Murdoch family in Australia began with the Rev. James Murdoch, minister at Rosehearty near Aberdeen in Scotland.  Two of his sons, Walter and Patrick, migrated to Australia.  Walter arrived in Melbourne in 1884 and later settled in Perth where he became founding Professor of English and the Chancellor of the University of Western Australia.

"In 1970, the Prime Minister, on announcing the new university name in Western Australia as Murdoch University said: 'He is a distinguished scholar and a man of letters.  His name gives dignity to our new university.'  A few weeks later, at the age of 96, Sir Walter Murdoch died."

His elder brother Patrick was a Presbyterian minister in Melbourne.  His son was Keith Murdoch, who founded the Murdoch newspaper empire, and his son Rupert Murdoch, the international media mogul.

They were not the only Murdochs who came to Australia.  Others were:
  • Dr. James Murdoch from Craigow near Edinburgh, who arrived in Tasmania with his family in 1822 and was followed by three of his brothers.  He was one of its early medical practitioners.
  • Gilbert Murdoch from Scotland, who came to the Victorian goldfields in the 1850's.  His son Billy Murdoch became a well-known Australian cricketer.
  • James and Sarah Murdoch, who came via Derry to Victoria, also in the 1850's.
  • James Murdoch, who arrived from Aberdeen in 1881 but didn't stay long.  Nine years later, he moved to Japan as an advisor there and devoted the rest of his life to studying that country's history.
  • and John Smith Murdoch, who arrived from Glasgow in 1884.  He became chief arhitect for the Commonwealth of Australia in 1919.
Two Murdoch families from Glasgow came to Sydney in the 1830's and 1840's.  John and his wife arrived on the Portland in 1838.  John's life ended prematurely when he drowned near Delegate, NSW in 1868, aged 48.   His brother George came with his wife Agnes ten years later, in 1848 on the Castle Eden.   They first settled in the Hunter Valley but later moved onto Cundle Plains.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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William Murdoch
was a Scottish engineer and the inventor of gas lighting in the 1790's.
James Murdoch, born in Philadelphia, was one of the foremost actors in America in the 19th century.
Sir Walter Murdoch was a prominent Australian acadamic and writer after whom Murdoch University in Western Australia is named.
Dame Iris Murdoch, from a Irish farming family, was one of the foremost English novelists of the 20th century.
Rupert Murdoch is the media tycoon and head of the global media corporation, the News Corp.

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  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania).
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).



PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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