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Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows

Originally prepared for publication as part of Bright Sparcs by the Australian Science Archives Project.

Patrick Desmond Fitzgerald Murray 1900-1967

By W.P. Rogers

Patrick Desmond Fitzgerald Murray was born in Dorchester, England, on 18 June, 1900. He was a member of a distinguished family. His grandfather, Sir Terence Murray, was a pastoralist and politician and, for a time, President of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. His father, Sir Hubert Murray, was Lieutenant-Governor of Papua from 1908 1940, and his uncle, Sir Gilbert Murray, was Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford University. Dr Murray had an elder brother who became a Brigadier-General in the British Army, and a sister, who is now Mrs Mary Pinney.

Early years

Mrs. Pinney writes:

Our mother was Sybil Jenkins, daughter of Dr Jenkins of Nepean Towers, Douglas Park, near Sydney (now St. Mary's Towers, and a monastery). Pat was the youngest child, Terence being ten years his senior, and I was that most irritating of creatures, a sister four years older than Pat, who knew everything and said so. Pat was born at Dorchester, England, where my mother had trekked from Australia with her two children, our father being then engaged with the Boer War.
1901 found Pat, aged one year and just starting to walk, in Brussels with his mother, Terence, and myself. The idea was to learn French. All I can remember of this period is a very nice tortoise and Belgian school children spitting at Terence on his way to school. From Brussels Pat was taken back to England and after a period spent settling Terence into school, to Australia. We then lived at various places in N.S.W., and finally at Manly, near Sydney. Here Pat began to impinge upon my memory as a small, quiet, but determined child, struggling gamely against the authority of a French governess. His interest in insects began to show itself, possibly because I was already keeping caterpillars that were dressed up in pink silk bows round their waists for visits to our maternal grandmother. We also had grasshoppers tethered to blades of grass on the lawn, and Pat thought these pets wonderful. He was a kind child and wept sadly with me when we found our pet hopper a frail skeleton, eaten by ants. We should never have been allowed to keep these unfortunates, but perhaps they were sacrifices on the altar of peace and quiet. Our father was Iiving with us at Manly and that was about the only period when I can remember a home with a father permanently in it. Terence was in England. This home was eventually abandoned and my mother, Pat, and I moved back to England. Pat then attended St. Johns College and later Beaumont College. In 1914 he was back in Australia at Riverview College, Sydney. He was educated as a Catholic, as we all were, but later left the Church.
Now 14 years old Pat was definitely dedicated. When older boys were playing cricket he would be discovered on hands and knees discoursing earnestly with ants, and all manner of strange beasts lived in his pockets. This aspect of his younger son's character was a disappointment to his father, whose tastes lay in the direction of sport, for which in his youth he collected a no. of medals, and the Marquess of Queensberry's Cup for Amateur Boxing. But in spite of these contrary interests Pat and his father were great friends and no influence was brought to bear on Pat to change his interests.
Pat was the best kind of brother. He did not interfere but his hand was always outstretched to help. He was quiet and rather shy, an easy person to have about the house, making no demands. At the same time he was capable of becoming the life of a party and he had a quiet humour and a wit that was never malicious. I cannot remember him ever being willingly unkind to man or beast.

Education and Scientific Achievement

Murray commenced his formal scientific education at the University of Sydney where he graduated with first class honours in botany and zoology in 1922. For this he gained the John Coutts Scholarship for distinction in science and a University Medal. At the University of Oxford he completed a postgraduate Bachelor of Science degree in 1924. About this time Murray started his work on experimental embryology and published several papers in collaboration with J.S. Huxley. This was at the beginning of a period of rapid development in experimental embryology to which Murray made several significant contributions.

In 1924 Murray returned to Sydney as Macleay Fellow of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, and in 1926 he was appointed Lecturer and Demonstrator in the Department of Zoology of the University of Sydney. His D.Sc. degree of this University, which was awarded in the same year, dealt largely with the development of limbs examined experimentally in chick embryos. In 1929 Murray was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship and continued his research at the Universities of Freiburg and Cambridge. In 1930 he was appointed Smithson Research Fellow at the Strangeways Laboratories, Cambridge, where he worked until 1936. During this period Murray continued his studies on the morphogenesis of bone, and he also examined some of the functional aspects of embryonic heart cells in tissue culture. This led to a series of papers (one in collaboration with Miss E. Watchorn) on the effect of ions on the fibrillation of embryonic heart in vitro.

In 1936 Murray's first book Bones, a study of development and structure of the vertebrate skeleton was published by the Cambridge University Press. This was an important book because it dealt with the determination of form, a topic which, for many biologists, still evoked an almost mystical aura so that it was difficult to refrain from endowing embryonic cells with potentialities that made further scientific investigation impossible. Murray's book was a straightforward account of the problems, experiments and results about the factors which determined the position and formation of bone. He was not only successful in summarizing this information; he was able to dispel much of the mystery, so that a reviewer (Nature, 131, 1637, 1937) concluded, 'The author modestly suggests that his book at least has the merit of raising more problems than it solves; the commentator may justly add that it has the merit of raising them in a form that at least makes the solution seem not impossible'.

After spending a short time as Demonstrator in Zoology at Bedford College for Women, London, Murray was appointed Reader in Biology and Comparative Anatomy at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School, University of London. He held this post from 1939 until 1949. During this time part of Murray's research was carried out in collaboration with Dr E. Kodicek, and was concerned with the effects of nutritional factors, especially vitamin C, on the development and repair of injury in bones. By this time Murray was well known not only for his work on the developmental aspects of bone and cartilage, but also for his work on their physiology. He reviewed this subject in 'The Physiology of Supporting Tissues' in theAnnual Review of Physiology, 9,103,1947.

While he was at St. Bartholomew's Medical School Murray wrotehis textbook Biology, an introduction to medical and other studies, which was published by Macmillan & Co. in 1950. This was one of the first satisfactory- texts in which biology was treated as an integrated subject rather than a loose mixture of botany and zoology. As a result, the book was popular as an elementary text, and it was reprinted in 1950,1952 and 1954.

In 1949 Murray was appointed Challis Professor of Zoology at the University of Sydney. This was a difficult time in all Australian universities. Undergraduate numbers, augmented by ex-servicemen, were increasing, expecially in the advanced classes. The universities were short of staff, equipment and laboratory space. Thus much of Murray's time was taken up with administration, and his research work evidently suffered for a while. He resigned his Chair in 1960, and shortly afterwards took up the post of Reader in Zoology at the University of New England. He held this post until 1966 when he was appointed Research Fellow of the University.

During this time Murray took up his research work with renewed vigour and published a no. of papers chiefly on experimental embryology. A notable contribution to his work at this time was an elegant demonstration that the change in morphogenetic direction of the germinal cells from osteogenesis to chondrogenesis is mechanically induced.

A no. of important honours came his way. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1954 and president of Section D of A.N.Z.A.A.S. in 1957.

Later years

I met Murray for the first time in 1950. He was a modest kindly person, scholarly, entertaining and charmingly inconsequential in manner and dress. He had an unworldliness which was sometimes misleading and he often surprised me by his penetrating and shrewd assessment of people.

Murray enjoyed teaching and he was keenly interested in his research work, but he found the burden of administration at the University of Sydney irksome. This, I believe, finally led him to resign from the Challis professorship. But other factors must have influenced this decision. He suffered a coronary attack in 1957 and, though his illness did not appear to affect his outlook, it may have sharpened his desire for a quieter life. Murray was no scholarly recluse, however. He liked people and he lived a full life. It was quite soon after his retirement from the University of New England that he and his wife set out for Cambridge where he proposed to continue his research work. He died on 17 May, 1967, while at sea soon after leaving Australia.

Murray was married twice, first to Marjorie Holland and then to Jascha Morgan who is now living in England. There were no children.


I wish to thank Mrs E. Pinney for permission to include in this article her account of Dr Murray's early life. I am also indebted to Professor A. Stock of the University of New England for much useful information.

William Percy Rogers, D.Sc., is Professor of Parasitology, University Adelaide. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 1954 and was on the Council, 1958-60.

This memoir was originally published in Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol. 1, no. 3, Canberra, Australia, 1968.

Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 1995
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (bsparcs@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
© Australian Academy of Science
Prepared by: Victoria Young
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 8 April 1998

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