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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John Murray

Other: Dr. John Murray 
Dates:  1809, November - 1898, 27 July
Born:  Great Britain
Died:  England, Sherringham
Active:  India
Architectural and landscape views of the vicinity of Agra in India using waxed paper negatives. He traveled widely in India and is probably the most important photographer of nineteenth century India.

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Approved biography for John Murray
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Born in northern Scotland, Murray received his M.D. from Edinburgh University in 1831. He then studied in Paris and toured the Continent. Murray accepted a medical posting with the East India Company and sailed to Calcutta in 1833. He remained in India for the next four decades, serving in a number of positions and leading the fight against cholera. Shortly after his promotion to surgeon in 1849, Murray took up amateur photography and soon formed a friendship with another doctor, John McCosh. By 1853 Murray was producing highly accomplished 13 x 17 inch waxed-paper negatives of Agra in great quantity. He began participating in the Photographic Society of Bengal in 1856. In 1857, during a visit to Britain, he took along a portfolio of four hundred of his negatives. By September of that year, the London publisher J. Hogarth was offering prints from them, individually or in sets of thirty. The introduction was written by his old friend J. Middleton, who also contributed at least one of the plates. On his return to India Murray experimented briefly with dry collodion and with stereo photography, but his favorite continued to be large waxed-paper negatives. His last exhibition at the Bengal society was in 1862, when it refused to give him a medal for his most recent calotypes. Although the society admitted that they were “very superior examples of the art,” it noted that “the process itself cannot compete with the results of more recent discoveries in clearness, sharpness, and artistic effect.” Murray ignored their rejection and continued to do some of his finest work. His last known photographs were taken in 1865, and he retired in 1870. Some of Murray’s photographic work was done on commission and is preserved in public archives. Fortunately, the family until recently retained an extensive group of his works. Now his glorious waxed-paper negatives are distributed widely in both private and public collections. Most appear to be as fresh as the day they were made, and collectively they serve as a fitting testimony not only to Murray’s passion and artistic talent but also to the suitability of the waxed-paper negative for use in India. 
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

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John Murray
Double-portrait of Dr. John Murray and Loveday Marian Murray, Simla 
Family history 
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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, India
MA, Mareschal College, Aberdeen, 1828; MD, Edinburgh, 1831; Surgeon’s mate, Repulse, 1830-1; Indian Medical Service (Bengal), 1832-71; Civil Surgeon, Agra in 1850s and Deputy Inspector-General, 1858; Inspector-General, 1865. Served First Sikh or Sutlej War, 1845-6, Field Surgeon at Battle of Aliwal.
Author: Topography of Meerut (1839); Topography of Fatehpur Sikri (1853); Treatment of epidemic cholera (1869); Pathology and treatment of cholera (1874).
One of the most important early photographers of India, specializing in architectural subjects on large paper negatives. Published a portfolio of large landscape and topographical views Agra and its vicinity (1858). A short review appears in the Art Journal for 1857 (p. 386, not yet checked). His photographs also appear in J.T. Boileau, Picturesque views in N.W. Provinces of India (1859).
Extract from the report of the meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal, held in the C.E. College Library and published in The Englishman of 31 March 1859:
‘Read. - The following extract of a letter from Dr. Murray on a new printing process.
“I have been printing from a process taken from the Journal of the London Society, which answers wonderfully well, and is very simple. I prepare my own albumenised paper with 5 grains of common salt and 5 of nitrate of ammonia to the ounce. Giving the paper a second coating is an advantage, but not a necessity. Sensitize on a 60 grain solution of common salt, wash and put in the following toning bath:-
Chloride of Gold 2 oz.
Borax 1 dr.
Water 1 pint.
This bath will soon give the purple gold tint; wash and immerse in the ordinary type fixing bath.” Dr. Murray enclosed a specimen which was most satisfactory, the tone being rich and pleasing.’
Government of India, Home Department, Public Branch Consultations
22nd January 1858
No. 66 Read the following letter from J. MURRAY, Esquire, M.D., to C. BEADON, Esquire, Secretary to the Government of India, dated Calcutta, the 4th [?14] January 1858.
I have the honor to report that I returned to India on the 12th November, after six months leave of absence. In consequence of the disturbed state of the North-West Provinces, I have hitherto been unable to rejoin my appointment of Civil Surgeon of Agra; but after our recent victories, I anticipate the road will be open, and I am anxious to proceed to Agra.
2. The most noble the Governor General requested me to take some Photographic views, at Benares, Allahabad, Cawnpore, Agra, and Delhi, and I have fitted up the requisite apparatus.
3. I beg I may be furnished with definite instructions as to the duty required, and the allowances I will receive when employed on this duty.
4. The apparatus and baggage will weight four hundred pounds; for which, with myself and servant, Carriage will be required.
5. It would be convenient, if I were permitted to draw on the Treasury, on this account, to the extent of two thousand Rupees.
No. 67. Read also the following letter from H.B. RIDDEL, Esquire, Director General of the Post Office of India, to C. BEADON, Esquire, Secretary to the Government of India, No. 2206, dated the 9th January 1858.
I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, No. 75 of the 8th instant, and have sent a copy to the Officiating Post Master General of Bengal, and will give instructions regarding a Dawk from Benares to Allahabad, and from the Railway Terminus at Khaga to Cawnpore. No Dawks can be laid yet from Cawnpore to Agra. All Dr. Murray’s baggage in excess of one maund-and-a-half must, above Benares, be sent by bullock train.
2. Orders for conveyance from Raneegunge to Benares can conveniently be given to the officers whom they concern, who should be instructed to take them to the Post Master of Calcutta.
ORDERED that the following letters be written: No. 68. From C. BEADON, Esquire, Secretary to the Government of India, to J. MURRAY, Esquire, M.D., No. 176, dated the 22nd January 1858.
In reply to your letter, dated the 14th instant, I am directed by the Governor General in Council to state that you may proceed to rejoin your appointment of Civil Surgeon of Agra. Orders have already been issued to provide you with a Dak carriage from Raneegunge, and with conveyance for your baggage and Photographic Apparatus; but you will perceive from the accompanying extract of a letter from the Director-General of the Post Office, that no Daks can yet be laid from Cawnpore to Agra, and for that portion of your journey you will have to arrange on your arrival at Cawnpore.
2. His Lordship in Council requests that on your way to Cawnpore you will halt at Benares, and apply yourself to taking a set of views of the Raj Ghat entrenchment, conveying as clear and complete an impression of the works as possible.
3. You are also requested to halt at Allahabad, to take a set of views of the principal buildings in the Fort, and the buildings in course of adaptation or construction as Barracks and Hospitals, and, if possible, to take a general view exhibiting the intended sites of any such buildings.
4. You will have the goodness to forward in duplicate from Benares and Allahabad respectively, the views you are required to take at those stations. These should be carefully packed and despatched on alternate days by Dak, on the Public Service, to my address.
5. After your arrival at Agra, you will, with the permission of the local Government, proceed to Delhi, and take views of the Palace Buildings and Palace Walls, of the City Walls and principal gates, and of the Jumma Musjid and other Public Buildings of note. The Governor General in Council particularly desires that all the chief features within the enceinte of the Palace Walls, should be represented.
6. For these purposes, the Hon’ble the Lieutenant Governor of the Central Provinces has been requested to authorize an advance of Rupees 2,000, to be made to you from the Benares Treasury to be subesequently accounted for. On the subjects of your allowances you will receive a further communication hereafter.
In 1859 a package of Murray’s photographs was forwarded to London from Fort William:
India Public Department
Home Department, No. 66 of 1859
To: Sir George Clark, Under Secretary of State for India
From: Secretary to the Government of India, Fort William, 8th October 1859
I am directed to transmit by the present mail steamer four copies of each of the photographs taken from negatives by Dr. Murray, Civil Surgeon, Agra, as per annexed list.
I have the honor, etc.
List of photographs taken from negatives by Dr. Murray. [4 copies of each sent]
Parade Benares; Mosque, Benares; Simalah Temple, Benares; Bisshesspur North Temple, Benares
Lath, Allahabad; Jumna face of fort, Allahabad
The Well and Monument, slaughter-house, Cawnpore; Sutter Ghat, Cawnpore; Sutter Ghat, Cawnpore; The Hospital in General Wheeler’s Entranchment, Cawnpore
Khoodsin Bagh Musjeed, Delhie; Iron Lath at Kutab, Delhie; Humayon’s Tomb, Delhie; Humayon’s Tomb, Delhie; Flag Staff Tower, Delhie; Water Gate at Palace, Delhie; Mooree Gate, Delhie; Sufter Jung’s Tomb, Delhie; Tree in Palace, Delhie; Sir Theophilus Metcalfe’s House, Delhie; Subzee Mundee, Delhie; Musjeed Old Fort, Delhie; Kutub Minar, Delhie; Church, Delhie; Delhie Gate at Palace; Jumma Musjeed, Delhie; Hindoo Rao’s House, Delhie; Humayon’s Tomb, Delhie; Sammy House Picket, Delhie; Subzee Mundee Picket, Delhie; Lahore Gate at Palace, Delhie; Mussur Boorj and Dewan Khass of the Palace, Delhie; Lahore Gate of Palace, Delhie;
Hindoo Rao’s House, Delhie, from west; Zenutool Musjeed, Delhi; College, Delhi; Observatory, Delhie; Inner Gateway of the Palace, Delhie, now Powder Magazine; Bashing Ghat on Jumna, Delhie; Kutub Minar; Rao Petarah’s Temple, Delhie; Eastern Face of the Palace, Delhie
Bashing Gate; Humayon’s Tomb; Mosummun Boorj; Lahore Gate of Palace, Delhie
[IOR/L/MIL/9/382/ff.472-76] [IOR/L/MIL/10/91 f. 82 vol. 17] 

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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.463 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
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