Monday, 9 November 2015

1879 Donald Murray's Tragic End

Donald Murray was born at Rhemusaig, Rogart, in 1828, fifth child of William Murray, miller, and Catherine (Kate) Grant.
There is a fascinating story told in Rogart of Donald, as a young man, sitting on the parapet by the bridge at Pittentrail with two other young men one Sabbath evening. James Matheson ("Holy James") passed on his way to Rogart Free Church. The young men mocked him and he rebuked them telling them that "they would be sealed over water and would die by water". The young men laughed!

Donald did indeed by by water.  He was a victim of the Tay Bridge Disaster on the 28th December 1879.  For many years I tried hard to prove that Donald was actually on the train but eventually I found proof and with the help of the Dundee Police Archives and subsequently the local heritage group I was able to write that Donald Murray, Rhemusaig, Rogart, sadly lost his life on that terrible night in Dundee. For Donald and all the other victims there would be a very long wait for a memorial to be erected but finally this has happened.

On the day of 28th December 2013 the new memorial was unveiled.  Situated at both ends of the new bridge are three granite pillars.  A very proud and sad tribute to those folks who lost their lives on what was then the longest railway bridge in the world. 
In 1855 Donald married Mary Bell on 27 December at Rogart. Mary was born in Lairg, daughter of James Bell, shepherd, and Margaret Mackay.  In 1856 their son William was born on 18th August in Dornoch and in 1858 daughter Margaret was born in Rogart. Sadly in 1859 Mary died at Pittentrail, Rogart, aged 29 years, mother of two children.
The 1861 census shows Donald, a widower, working as a post runner in Golspie village. His children William and Margaret were at Rhemusaig, Rogart with their recently widowed paternal grandmother, Kate Murray. Donald worked for the Postal Service as a mail guard/sorter on the coach by which the railway mails were conveyed to Wick and Thurso before the extension of the railway network.
In 1866 Donald remarried on 28th February in Golspie to Elizabeth Mackay, who was born in Old Kilpatrick, Dunbarton, daughter of Donald Mackay and Margaret Grant. in 1869 their son Donald John was born in Thurso, Caithness.  In 1871 they were living in Thurso. Donald’s elder son, William was with them. His daughter Margaret remained at Rhemusaig, Rogart, with her grandmother, Kate Grant, Mrs Murray. In 1872 Donald and Elizabeth’s second son, Walter Hugh was born also in Thurso. 
In 1878 Donald and Elizabeth moved again, this time to Dundee where they are shown in the Dundee Street Directory living at 13 South Ellen Street. Donald continued to work on the railways and was now a mail sorter and mail guard. South Ellen Street was situated about a ten minute walk from the railway station.

In 1879 on the morning of Sunday, 28th December, Donald and Elizabeth were preparing to go to church when a colleague arrived to say they were short-staffed that day and requested that Donald work an extra shift. Donald changed from his church suit into his uniform. As the weather was particularly bad on this Sunday he wore two pairs of 'drawers', one cotton and one of plaiding; trousers of a yellow colour and a blue pilot jacket. On his head he wore the uniform cap with its gold lace and as always, his large watch on a silver chain. In his pocket he put his pass book and his keys. He said goodbye to his wife and children and left for work.
His duties took him on the stretch of line between Dundee and Ladybank which lies midway between Cupar and Glenrothes in the heart of Fife. His journey to Ladybank was smooth and uneventful although the weather continued to deteriorate. The train on which he was to return to Dundee left Edinburgh at 4.15pm and headed for Granton where the passengers boarded the ferry for Burntisland (the Forth rail bridge was not built until 1890). The ferry then connected with the 5.27pm train from Burntisland to Dundee. As the train pulled out of Burntisland in the cold darkness there was a strong south-westerly wind. The train reached Ladybank on time and Donald boarded the train. The weather was worsening.
Shortly after seven o'clock the train reached St Fort, a small station about two miles from the south end of the Tay Bridge, where the tickets were checked as usual. The ticket collector, William Friend, was an old friend of Donald. There were about 75 people on the train, including staff, at this point. As they were now only a few minutes from Dundee I imagine Donald had completed his work and was looking forward to home, supper and a warm fire. The weather was still dreadful and if anything had worsened since morning. A newspaper report later described it so - "Dundee was visited by one of the most fearful hurricanes which has ever been experienced in this neighbourhood."
 The train slowed down for its approach on to the Tay Bridge. The wind had reached hurricane speeds and the river below was one sheet of white seething foam. The train was seen to reach the high girders of the bridge. A few seconds later a gust of wind, more violent than any that had preceded it, was experienced and simultaneously spectators saw several flashes of fire descend from the bridge and disappear into the water. In one terrible moment columns, girders and train went down to the foaming river with not the faintest chance of survival for the victims.
Donald's body was never recovered. An article in the Dundee Advertiser of 31st December 1879 stated "........ in the north especially, where he [Donald] was a great favourite, his sad death will be heard of with much regret ......." It is interesting to note that not only did Donald die by water but I am assured that his two companions 'cursed' by the old man in Rogart, also died by water!

Elizabeth continued to live in 13 South Ellen Street, Dundee. She was recorded there in 1881 with her sons Donald and Walter. She also had two lodgers. In 1884 Margaret Murray, Donald’s daughter Margaret, by his first wife, married at Elizabeth’s house.

This photograph shows my cousin John Thomson, my father's sister's son.  John lives in Dundee and was able to be at the unveiling of the monuments.  He and his wife took the photographs.This family are very pleased to finally see a monument on the bridge and thank all those involved with achieving this.
The children he left behind
Donald’s eldest son William, who later adopted a middle name Bell in memory of his mother,  was by 1881 in lodgings at Stafford, England, as a 2nd Corporal in the Royal Engineers, along with another R.E. colleague. The two soldiers were working in the area as mapping surveyors for the Ordnance Survey Board, a War Office organization. Clearly, William Bell Murray had by 1881 acquired sufficient skills and rank to be doing quite a responsible job.
Later in 1881 Corporal William Bell Murray married Mary Jane Seaman at St Mark’s Church, Lakenham, Norfolk, on August 16th.  Mary Jane was then just 20, and William was two days short of his 25th birthday. In 1901 he and his wife were living at College Road, Norwich, together with 6 children – 4 boys and 2 girls. William had left the Army in the early 1890s after serving about 20 years. After that he took on several different jobs.  In 1936 William died.  His wife had died around 1928.  
 Donald’s daughter Margaret had by the time of her father’s death moved to Dumbarton where she met her future husband, George Matheson, whose parents were both natives of Rogart. In 1884 Margaret and George married in Dundee at the home of her stepmother Elizabeth Mackay, widow of Donald.  Margaret and her husband settled in Renton, Dumbartonshire where they had a family of nine children. One of her sons, George, kept close ties throughout his life with Rogart. Margaret died at Renton in 1928 aged 70 years.
 Donald’s third child, Donald John is shown on the census records in 1871 with his parents, in 1881 with his widowed mother and in 1891 as a commercial clerk, still living with his mother. 
Donald’s fourth child,  Walter Hugh, married Catherine Williamson in 1897 in Dundee. Walter, a mercantile clerk, and Catherine had three children Donald, Constance and Ella. In the 1901 census the family were living at Commercial Street, Dundee. Donald died at Johnston Avenue, Dundee in 1941.
updated 01/03/2016

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