James Arthur Murray was born on 25th May 1790 at Tidmarsh, Berkshire, the only son of Lord William Murray and his wife Mary Anne, and the grandson of John Murray 3rd Duke of Atholl. His early childhood would have been very difficult as his father was wildly impecunious, resulting in imprisonment in debtor’s prison from 1791 until 1796, where he died. Nothing further is known of James Arthur, until, at age 13 he joined the Royal Navy on 27th June 1803 as a First Class Volunteer on board La Chiffone, a 36 gun frigate. First Class Volunteer was a Royal Navy entry rank for young sailors aspiring to be Midshipmen. La Chiffone spent some months blockading French ships off the coast of Norway, and in March 1805 James Arthur was promoted to Midshipman. La Chiffone, in company with other ships, successfully drove on shore a flotilla of French ships, under the batteries of Fécamp, on 10th June 1805. In September 1805 he transferred to the 38 gun Resistance, and was present when the Royal Navy accepted the surrender, on 13 March 1806, of the Marengo, the flagship of French Rear Admiral Linois, off Cape Verde. During 1808 James Arthur was engaged in escorting a large body of general officers to the coast of Portugal, in embarking the wounded at the battle of Vimiera, and in conveying the French troops to Rochefort after the Convention of Cintra, In early 1809 he sailed to the West Indies in the Fylla of 20 guns under Captain Edward Rodney.
In March 1809, he joined the Neptune, of 98 guns, and in April that year he was present at the capture of the Saintes Islands and the 74 gun French ship L’Haupoult. On 25th September 1809 James Arthur was promoted to Lieutenant and joined the St Christopher of 12 guns, and was subsequently appointed, with that rank on 16th May 1810, to the Unicorn of 32 guns. The surgeon of this frigate was sentenced by a court martial to imprisonment in the Marshalsea for assaulting James Arthur at the officers mess table. This ship was stationed off the north coast of Spain and captured a number of enemy vessels. After three months on half pay (while on a shore posting), he then joined the America of 74 guns on 16th May 1810, a ship that was involved in the blockade of Toulon, in transporting the troops from Tarragona in June 1811, and in the unsuccessful attack upon Leghorn. On 28th December 1813 he transferred to the Swallow, of 18 guns.
James Arthur was provisionally promoted to Captain on 6th December 1813, assuming command of the Scout of 18 guns in February 1814. This ship served in the Mediterranean station, and in the Channel, until paid off on 22nd September 1815. His next appointment (16th May 1816) was to the Griffon, of 16 guns, at St Helena. While still at St Helena he was nominated Acting Captain of the Spey of 20 guns on 20th September 1816. He was confirmed Captain on 15th November 1816, and served in the Spey until it was put out of commission on 21st November 1817. In March 1818 James Arthur Murray was tried by a court martial, at the insistance of Rear Admiral Plampin, for neglecting to supply the island of Ascension and HM sloop Julia with necessary stores. The charges against him were not proved and he was consequently acquitted. He actively served in the Royal Navy for the whole of the Napoleonic Wars that lasted from 1803 to 1815, and was also based on the St Helena station for 2 years while Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned there.
The ships of the Royal Navy were constructed of oak, and the large increase in the fleet during the Napoleonic Wars severely depleted the surviving oak forests of Britain. This oak shortage was anticipated by John Murray 4th Duke of Atholl (James Arthur’s uncle) who suggested to the Royal Navy in 1807 that larch could be a suitable alternative to oak in shipbuilding. The Royal Navy agreed that a ship should be constructed of larch (and another of fir) to test the suitability of these timbers in ship construction. Consequently in January 1817 a new sloop was ordered to be constructed in the docks of Woolwich from larch grown on the Duke of Atholl’s land, to be named after him. In 1820 HMS Atholl was launched, and commissioned in 1821.
Britain entered the African slave trade in 1660, and by the 1780s it had shipped over 330,000 slaves to the new world, and the British economy relied heavily upon the trade. Through the late eighteenth century opposition to the trade grew, and a wave of abolitionist fervour swept the country led in Parliament by William Wilberforce. The Society of the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in 1787, but it was not until 1807 that it achieved its aim with the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. This only ended British transportation of slaves and not the end of slavery itself, as it was still legal to own slaves. With the Abolition Act passed, the Royal Navy formed the West Africa Squadron (or Preventative Squadron) to patrol along the West African coast to suppress British involvement in slaving.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars all signatories to the Congress of Vienna declared against slavery, and agreed to the eventual abolition of the trade. In 1814, France agreed to cease all trading, and in 1817 Spain agreed to cease trading North of the equator, adding to the mandate of the Squadron. Britain entered into treaties with other countries to ban slave trading, and the Preventative Squadron enforced these bans. In order to prosecute captured vessels and thereby allow the Navy to claim these as prizes, a series of courts were established along the African Coast. In 1817, several Mixed Commission Courts were established which included officials from both Britain and foreign powers, with Anglo-Portuguese, Anglo-Spanish, and Anglo-Dutch courts being established in Sierra Leone.
In order to fully test the larch construction, and to reinforce the Preventative Squadron, HMS Atholl was dispatched to West Africa in1824, with James Arthur Murray in command. Over the next two years HMS Atholl intercepted 6 slavers, and liberated over 1000 slaves, actions deemed legal by the relevant courts. Under a treaty with Portugal, slavers were still free to capture slaves south of ‘the line’ (the equator) and transport them to South America. The British Navy could impound any slaver north of the line, and chase slavers south of the line if the slaves had been captured north of it. This was the apparent situation when HMS Atholl impounded the Brazilian slaver Activo in February 1826. The master of the slaver argued in court, however, that the slaves had been captured south of the line, and that his ship had drifted north, before being chased south by HMS Atholl. Despite conflicting evidence the court found in his favour, and Captain James Arthur Murray became personally liable to the slaver for £61 5s, the value of the 166 liberated slaves.
HMS Atholl, with James Arthur in command, then sailed to the East Indies where it arrived in Rangoon in 1826 at the conclusion of the Burmese War. While stationed in the East Indies to further test the larch timbers, HMS Atholl supressed piracy in the Persian Gulf and on the East coast of Africa and visited Bombay, Madras, Ceylon and Penang. James Arthur then sailed home to Portsmouth, and paid off HMS Atholl on 19th October 1827. He accepted a shore posting, and never commanded another ship. Larch proved to be an excellent shipbuilding timber (HMS Atholl was finally scrapped in 1862), but ships were by now being constructed of iron, and the need for timber had passed. Captain James Arthur Murray retired from the Royal Navy on 1st October 1846. In retirement he was promoted to Rear Admiral on 16th June 1851 and to Vice Admiral on 30th July 1857.
James Arthur married Harriet Coupland, the daughter of William Coupland and his wife Sarah, in Shrewsbury on 19th December 1821. They had four children, but two (William Atholl Murray, born 1823 and Mary Anne Caroline Murray, born 1824) died in infancy. Harriet Coupland Murray was born in April 1828 at Shrewsbury, possibly so that Harriet was near her mother Sarah. Harriet Coupland Murray married Harvey Winson Fellows on 7th October 1852. James Murray was christened on the 3rd of July 1829 in Surrey, and died at the Battle of Sebastopol in 1855. James Arthur’s wife did not long survive giving birth to James, and was buried on 5th August 1829. The family lived in Surrey, but James Arthur commanded HMS Atholl abroad for 3 years out of their 8 year marriage.
An unmarried life did not suit James Arthur, and he married again. On 3rd May 1838 he married Julia Delmé, the daughter of John Delmé and his wife Frances, at Fareham, Hampshire. The family moved to a residence on the Kings Road in Reading in Berkshire, and had eight children. Julia Frances Delmé Murray was christened on 29th April 1839, Henry Delmé Murray on 15th March 1841, Mary Anne Murray on 13th June 1842, Margaret Amelia Murray on 20th September 1843, William Frederick Murray on 2nd February 1845, and Louisa Mary Murray on 16th June 1846. The final two children were Henry Yorke Murray, christened on 14th November 1849 and George Delmé Murray, christened on 4th November 1854 when James Arthur was 64 years old. All these children were born in Reading. The Kings Road home could not accommodate the enlarged family, and sometime prior to 1851 they moved into a new home on Eldon Square in Reading, even today the best address in town. The 1851 British census recorded 12 persons residing with James Arthur including 6 of his children, his wife, his sister Mary Anne Murray (who never married),67 and 4 servants. Missing were children Henry Delmé Murray and Henry York Murray who had both died in infancy. James Arthur’s sister Mary Anne was also residing with him in 1841, so it is possible she came to her brother’s assistance after his first wife died.
James Arthur Murray died at Moorcroft House mental hospital, Hillingdon, Middlesex, on 6th March 1860. It is not known when he was admitted to this hospital, or what his terminal illness was. His body was returned to Reading, and he was buried in the grounds of St Giles church on 16th March 1860.
Captain James Arthur Murray circa 1840