Artist: Commenced by Sir Henry Raeburn; completed by William Pickersgill, 1830. Oil on Canvas. Restored by Delville Smith. Location: Upper Foyer, Perth Town Hall
In 1979, the Lord Provost of Scotland loaned the early 19th-century portrait of Sir George Murray to the City of Perth to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Foundation of Perth.
Sir George Murray was one of the most important figures in the founding of the Swan River Colony and the Town of Perth; indeed, Perth was named in honour of Sir George’s family seat.
Known as “the greatest brain on the Peninsula after Wellington”, Sir George Murray was born at the family seat in Perthshire in 1772, and received his high school and university education in Edinburgh. After leaving university for a military career at seventeen, he rapidly rose through the ranks. During his time in the military, Murray served at many of the major British campaigns including encounters in France, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, the West Indies, Denmark, and Egypt.
In 1828 Murray resigned from the command of the army and became a statesman in the office of Privy Councillor, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies and Master General of the Ordnance. The colony of Western Australia was founded in Murray’s period of governance at the Colonial Office and it was Murray who instructed the Lieutenant Governor, Captain Stirling, in the duties and procedures to be followed on arrival in the new colony.
During the second half of 1828, plans were being formulated for the settlement of the Colony. Captain Stirling wrote to Sir George Murray, informing him that:
“…His Majesty’s right to that country has never been declared, and as it is reported that the French Government contemplates the formation of a settlement in New Holland, the apprehension is that an expedition proceeding there might find, on its arrival, the best positions occupied and its aim defeated, to the total ruin of the property…I take the liberty of suggesting that [the difficulties] may be obviated by dispatching at once a ship of war to that quarter. Possession might thus be taken of the country surveys commenced, and arrangements made for the reception of settlers. “
Stirling’s suggestion was acted upon and on 5 November 1828, Murray instructed the Admiralty to take formal possession of the territory.
Perth as a city begins when Stirling received a letter from Murray, which read:
“Amongst your earliest duties will be that of determining the most convenient site for a Town to be erected as the future seat of Government. You will be called upon to weigh maturely the advantages which may arise from placing it on so secure a situation as may be afforded on various points of the Swan River….”
Stirling was given a choice in locating the township site and decided that the Perth site below Mount Eliza was “decidedly preferable in building materials, streams of water, and facility of communication”.
Stirling called the new town Perth to comply with Sir George Murray’s command. Murray’s naming of the town was understandably sentimental, as he was both a Perthshire man and represented his birthplace in the House of Commons.
Perth was officially founded on 12 August 1829, in a civil ceremony where Mrs Helen Dance cut down a tree.
Sir George went on to hold Office in the House of Commons and had a long and distinguished career until his death in 1846 at seventy-four.
Henry Raeburn, the leading portrait painter in 19th Century Edinburgh was commissioned to paint Murray’s portrait in 1930. As part of the City’s commitment to restoring the Perth Town Hall, the City of Perth commissioned local craftsman Delville Smith to restore the work in commemoration of one of Perth’s founding statesmen.
The Portrait of Sir George Murray can be viewed in the First Floor Foyer of the Perth Town Hall.