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 Linnean Society in 1819 (named after Carl von Linné aka Linnaeus), 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.

Besides lecturing and doing experimental research, he traveled extensively to do first-hand geological and archeological fieldwork. Additionally, he was a prolofic writer, publishing 28 books and at least 60 articles in scientific journals. His journal articles and books addressed many diverse subjects in chemistry, physics, medicine, geology, natural history, and manufacturing. He also wrote a passionate pamphlet calling for the end of slavery in the colonies, a book of minor poems, and a scientific/historical travel memoir of his three month journey around Switzerland in 1825.

Most important to me were his two books directly related to geology and the Bible. The Truth of Revelation was published in 1831, with a greatly revised and expanded second edition appearing in 1840. In this book Murray endeavored to demonstrate the truth and inspiration of the Bible by an appeal to the existing monuments, sculptures, gems, coins and medals from ancient peoples of the Near East and elsewhere. His Portrait of Geology appeared in 1838. This book was written to give geological evidence of divine design, and to defend what for him was the clear truth of Scripture in the face of the challenges from old-earth geological theories.

Murray demonstrated an up-to-date knowledge of the writings of leading British and European geologists. But as he stated, ‘careful examination of geological phenomena, and observation of the facts consequent on the study of geology for many years’ took him to many places all over the UK and Europe. In addition to collecting his own rock specimens and fossils, he personally examined private and museum fossil collections both in England and in France. On a number of occasions he explored both extinct and active volcanoes, even at the risk of suffocation. Murray also had a more than superficial knowledge of conchology (the study of shell creatures), a subject so important for identifying and correlating rock strata. He read widely and in several languages: Latin, Italian, French, German and some Hebrew and was conversant with the writings of leading eighteenth and nineteenth century philologists, physicians, philosophers, explorers and travelers, antiquaries and Bible scholars.

Though he traveled extensively, he made Hull his primary residence from about 1824 until 1850, when he moved back to Stranraer. Shortly after establishing residence there with his life-long wife, severe illness reduced him to a helpless invalid. He died on June 18, 1851. The Stranraer magistrates attended the funeral, the shops in the whole town closed, church bells tolled and the streets of the procession were lined with spectators. Having been a royal member of the church of Scotland and a strong Calvinist all his life, the local paper said of him at this time: ‘His benevolent heart was a stranger to bigotry and sectarianism. He loved all who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. In the hours of sickness and of death he manifested the same meek, patient and amiable spirit which had characterized his deportment through life.’ He was truly one of the great scientists of his day, who had well informed reasons for believing that Genesis and the rocks teach a recent 6-day creation followed by an earth-changing global flood.

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