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Hugh Murray – Ex ‘Thames City’

June 15, 2013

Hugh Murray portraitHugh Murray arrived in British Columbia in April 1859,  after a voyage  around Cape Horn on board the Thames City, the vessel that  brought out a detachment of the Royal Engineers and their families. 

Born September 4, 1856, he was just two years old when he arrived in the Camp at Queenborough.  He had spent almost half of his third year of life getting here.

Murray spent his last years in rustic tranquility, on a farm across the river at Brownsville, not far from the Fraser River Bridge.

1866 proposal - Murray boatways - Leviathan pier - Brunette RiverHugh Murray was the son of John Murray, RE. The family had stayed on, living at the Camp, when the detachment disbanded in 1863. John Murray initially worked as a boat-builder on the bank of the Brunette River where it flows into the Fraser. The Governor’s little steam yacht Leviathan was moored next to Murray’s boat-ways.

Hugh Murray had just one year of school and learned life as it came. In times of gold excitement he followed the trail, and in slow times engaged in any job he could find, both on the lower Fraser and the Interior.
He drove a stage on the old Cariboo highway and on one occasion drove a herd of cattle all the way to Calgary, a trip of three months.

  “We made money in those days, but living was high. I recall paying 75 cents each for eggs at Barkerville and $1.50 for a pie. It’d cost you as high as $100 just for one dance with a girl”

"In 1868 I made a trip over the Hope Mountain trail. There were only four persons living in the Similkameen when I went through."
(Presumably, "only four persons" means colonials.)


Murray went over to Gastown in 1871 and is said to have driven the first stage on the road from New Westminster.

  "I left the Lower Mainland in 1872, and did not come back until the railway came along in 1884. I went all over everywhere in the Cariboo, and was in the Peace River when there was no one there at all, and then came back, and among other things was working for George Black, the butcher, at Hastings."

"I have driven cattle over the False Creek Road lots of times; we used to drive cattle all night so as not to meet anyone; we used to start at one a.m. in the morning, and reach Granville about six a.m. . . "


After the arrival of the trains at Port Moody, Murray used to pick up the mail and deliver the bags to the Postmaster at New Westminster.

Hugh Murray was married to North Carolina-born Margaret Matilda Moose, 15 years his junior,  on New Year’s Day 1889.

They lived in Victoria for a time, before finally settling on the farm at Brownsville.

  Hugh Murray - Margaret Murray   "I’ve seen depressions come and I’ve seen ’em go," said Murray.
"Maybe we never had such a bad depression as this last one [1930s], but there was never any ‘relief’ in the old days. We had to rustle for ourselves."
Hugh Murray’s last formal job was working at the Timberland Mill in 1919.


On the last day of 1933, the Murray’s were visited by JS Mathews, Vancouver city archivist, who recorded his impressions of the couple.

  "[Murray]  is a well preserved man of 78 years, grey, almost white hair and moustache, talks vivaciously, enjoys a smoke, and is most active for his age.
Mrs Murray, a tall, gracious lady of vigour, lesser age, possesses those more practical charms so common in our pioneer women.
I was most graciously welcomed."

Mathews did not record anything about Murray’s time at Brownsville, but he would surely have some stories of this place too.
Hugh Murray was not the only pioneer living locally. Old Cariboo hand Mike Barry was bar-tending at the Brownsville hotel until his death. Till Herring was also around at this time, and others.
Till Herring’s mother and father had served home-made fruit wine to Reverend Edward White on his first visitation to this side of the river in 1860.   It is fitting that the tradition lived on and Mathews should experience the same warm glow of south-side hospitality as the last hours of 1933 slipped away.

  "Before leaving, Mrs. Murray treated me to a glass of her own exquisite home made blackberry wine, and, as it was New Year’s Eve, the cordial felicitations of Mr and Mrs Murray sent me on my way with those happy recollections of their generous hospitality, so commonly found among our real pioneers."  


Margaret - Mrs Hugh MurrayHugh Murray died December 21, 1944.

Margaret Murray,  shown at right,  appears to be  on the family farm, close to the Fraser River Bridge, with the tall poles of the BC Electric power line behind.

Mrs Murray passed away January 10, 1955.


The main source of Murray quotations is JS Mathews’ interview in 1933, with others from the Vancouver Sun and Daily News Herald. First photo is from British Columbia Illustrated and the next two from the Vancouver Archives.

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