16th March 1914

Oceanographer John Murray killed in a car crash

John Murray is considered the father of modern oceanography. He was born and educated in Canada but returned to his parents’ native Scotland in his mid-teens. Aged 27, he signed up for a seven-month expedition on a whaling ship, during which he collected marine specimens and studied the water.

Four years later, he boarded HMS Challenger, a modified Royal Navy sail ship from which the arms had been removed to make space for laboratories and sample storage. It took him on a 70,000 mile, four-year, round-the-world voyage, during which he and his colleagues catalogued more than 4000 individual species.

Round the world voyage

The route, which started at Portsmouth, took in Lisbon, Madeira, Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Hawaii and the Falkland Islands, among other locations, for a thoroughly comprehensive survey. It produced more than fifty volumes of reports that added greatly to mankind’s understanding of the ocean, its ecosystems and what lived in it.

Upon his return, he spent some time exploring Scotland’s lochs and, in 1883, set up a marine laboratory at Granton. “British and foreign naturalists would be invited to make use of the station free of charge, and as they would have the assistance of a fisherman and an engineer and have at their service all the modern appliances for dredging, as well as a complete laboratory for research, it was expected that it would be largely taken advantage of,” reported the Edinburgh Evening News of 4 December that year.

Atlantic expedition

By the early 1900s, he was back at sea, on a self-funded expedition across the North Atlantic, where he brought the mid-Atlantic ridge to the public consciousness. Although entirely submerged, the ridge is part of an extensive mountain range, and the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian Plates.

Murray was killed in a motoring accident when his car overturned. He is buried in Edinburgh’s Dean Cemetery. His death was reported in the Larne Times of 21 March, which explained that Murray had been on his way home from Glasgow to Granton in the company of his daughter, who had been driving. Shortly after they’d left the main road to Edinburgh for a side road, “which is a short cut to Granton, something went wrong with the brakes and the car turned a somersault. Sir John Murray was instantly killed.”



Other events that occured in March

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