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Why a Murray-Prior history?

In December 1838, TLM-P travelled to Gravesend, at the mouth of the Thames River, and boarded the Roxburgh Castle to sail from England to Australia. He had turned 19 only a month previously and, not unusually, the trip involved a lethal outbreak of disease and a near shipwreck. It took five months to arrive in New South Wales, a penal colony where the land was being brutally wrested from its Aboriginal inhabitants. TLM-P had limited money; no family in the colony; and knew no-one other than an 'old friend', Dr Charles Scott, his cabin-mate on board ship.1) What motivated him to take such a dangerous journey? Why would any parents risk their son in a venture that meant they may never see him again? How did he survive, and thrive, largely on his own at such a young age?

tlmp.jpg Photo: Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior 1819-92 (referred to as TLM-P in this history) in a photo designed to project confidence and prosperity. 2)

This family history helps answer the above questions. In doing so, it records fascinating characters and great stories, and provides an intriguing window on the past. We try to give as much context as is needed to understand the family history, but equally hope that the individual lives help us understand the past. TLM-P is its focus point as he was the founder of the largest (but not the only) branch of the Murray-Prior family in Australia. There is considerable information about him and the family, but it is scattered and some of it is misleading. So, on the initiative of Tom A. and M. Therese M-P,3) we are integrating this information, matching it up and verifying it when we can. It is written by Judith Godden4) with web know-how supplied by John Cameron. It first looks at the family in England and Ireland, then in Australia. It aims to be comprehensive, but does not need to be read linearly - you can pick your own starting point and click on as many links as you want for further information - or none at all.

For TLM-P and at least one son and two grandsons, a core of their family identity was the belief that they were descended from powerful kings. We can't understand TLM-P without knowing about this belief, and its flaws. The first part of the section on "Air castles" examines the belief but, sorry, we provide no basis for a claim on Buckingham Palace!

The next part traces the Prior part of the Murray-Prior family from the 13th to the 18th century. It is short on royalty, but big on drama. There are land grabs, winner-takes-all politics, riotous living, elopement, murder, blackmail, assassination, illegitimate babies, high-minded defence of Ireland, bankruptcy, religious conflict, key battles of the British army…. At the end of this period, on the initiative of the great Tom Prior, the Priors and Murrays combined to become the Murray-Priors, and soon after begin the long tradition of naming the first-born son Thomas. After that we move to Australia with TLM-P's life and that of his descendants.

We welcome input from anyone e.g. making suggestions to improve the site; checking information, offering travel and other photos to illustrate the history, etc. It is a living document, so that illustrations/information can be added or corrected. As we aim to be evidence-based, we give the sources of information and as much detail as practical so you can assess their reliability and check with original documents (if they have survived). If you check something or find alternative/additional information, please let us know via the Feedback page so we can confirm or change this history, acknowledging your input.

One thing to remember is that multiple secondary sources don’t necessarily increase reliability as often one source is copied from the other without further checking with original sources (such as births, deaths and marriage registers, letters written at the time, photographs etc).5) For the older sections, much of the information derives from Burke’s various books about lines of descent of families from royalty, the aristocracy, and the gentry. Noble descent was a serious matter at a time when hereditary titles had huge social, economic and political benefits. Certainly TLM-P had a copy of John & John B. Burke's A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland: M to Z, London: Henry Colburn Publisher, 1846. (with its entry ‘Prior of Essex, and of Rathdowney, Queen’s County'), adding his children by hand.6) He also prided himself on his ('Murray-Prior of Maroon') entry in Burke's Colonial Gentry even though many considered 'colonial' and 'gentry' a contradiction and that book's accuracy was, in historian Christine Wright's words,'much maligned then and since'.7) Given all of Burke's books are fallible, please let us know if you find errors after checking with original records. A challenge to us all is to find out more, and see how much we can verify. The fun and interest lie in more than the bare details of people's lives, and this is where our sources are more unreliable – and some stories recorded by step-cousins Robert M-P and Thomas Bertram M-P, might be better called gossip. On the other hand, both were conservative men who took their family descent very seriously, and it is likely they wrote in good faith.

Yes this history is inherently patriarchal. We are tracing a family name primarily passed on through the eldest son (along with inheritance of land through primogeniture - which was the legal principle for land inheritance in NSW until 1862.8) Even when the inheritance jumps to the female line (from the Priors to the more sober Murrays), it goes to the oldest son. There is also markedly less information about the women, especially the further back we go, but we do all we can to do them justice.

One feature of note is how many of the men married twice, with their first wife dying relatively young. We don't know if they all died due to childbirth, but we do know that childbirth before the mid-1900s was extremely dangerous, e.g. in England and Wales in the mid-1850s, for every 200 births, 1 mother died.9)

Another largely missing factor, particularly the further back we go, is the death of children. When the record gives the number of children, it usually refers just to surviving children - and sometimes, just the sons. Early childhood was even more dangerous than childbirth – e.g. in 1840s England, 1 in every 5 children died before their 5th birthday.10) This history, as with other family histories, is haunted by the ghosts of innumerable child deaths, grieved for but unrecorded.

The quality of the photographs vary, largely depending on the original. Don't forget that you can click on any of them to enlarge. And if you have other photographs that help illustrate the family story, please send them to us.

We are lucky to have so much information about the Murray-Prior family, so let’s see what results when it’s gathered together.

It's because you are alive, so that's the good news! We haven't given details of living people or their parents due to the possibility of identity thief. We have written a considerable amount about these latest generations which is available to the immediate family.

A glance at the sidebar of this family history reveals one of the most remarkable aspects of this line of the Murray-Priors: the tradition of naming the eldest son Thomas. It started with the Prior family, with the first known Thomas Prior living in the early 1300s, as described in priors_in_england. Some 300 years later, another Thomas Prior moved to Ireland and, with his son Thomas, established the family there - see priors_in_ireland_1636-c.1803. The most famous in the family, another Thomas (Tom) Prior , left a will which ensured the surname became Murray Prior/Murray-Prior. After that, there was a John and an Andrew Murray-Prior, then Thomas Murray-Prior, born in 1773.

Since that Thomas Murray-Prior was born in 1773, there has been an unbroken line of elder surviving sons called Thomas. Perhaps as remarkable, given the past's high infant mortality, is that all those Thomases survived to reach adulthood and become a parent. It is a tradition that has resulted in nine generations of an unbroken line of Thomas Murray-Priors.


1)
TLM-P, Draft memoirs of a voyage from London to Sydney on the 'Roxburgh Castle' [c.1879], MLMSS6576 (copied from Praed papers, Oxley Library.
2)
Provenance: J. Godden.
3)
Tom is a descendant of TLM-P and his first wife. When we list T.A & M.T. M-P under provenances of an item, it has come down the family line to succeeding Thomas M-Ps, or been acquired by Tom A. and M. Therese M-P.
4)
Judith is a descendant of TLM-P and his second wife Nora. When Judith is listed under an item's provenance, it has generally come down the line from Nora M-P to her children Robert and/or Ruth, then from her father to Judith.
5)
My impression is that the more recent family information/stories were taken from TLM-P's jottings; these appear the basis for his son Robert's pamphlet which in turn appears the basis for Thomas B. M-Ps.
6)
Provenance: Judith Godden
7)
Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry,Melbourne: E.A. Petherick, 1891-1895; Christine Wright, Wellington's Men in Australia: Peninsula war and the making of empire c.1820-40, Houndsmills, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp.48-49.
8)
Rutherford, Jennifer, 'The After Silence of the Son/g', The Australian Feminist Law Journal, Vol. 33, December 201, pp.3-18.
9)
Irvine Loudon, 'Maternal Mortality 1880–1950. Some Regional and International Comparisons' Social History of Medicine, 1:2, August 1988, pp.183–228, https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/1.2.183
10)
David Wright, Sick Kids. The History of the Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto Press, 2016, p.9.
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  • Last modified: 2020/12/29 12:15
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