Digitised@SLQ: James Nicholas Murray papers

James Nicholas Murray in uniform

James Nicholas Murray in uniform

In 2015, State Library was the fortunate recipient of the 29924 James Nicholas Murray Papers 1915-2015, proudly donated to the collection by his descendants in central Queensland. Private James Murray was a surveyor by profession, and the collection contains papers relating to his employment as a surveyor in Queensland, along with papers relating to his First World War service in Egypt and the Dardanelles. Of particular note is a field service notebook, which contains survey measurements of trenches and tunnels at Gallipoli.

Field assistant agreement 1911

James Murray’s declaration to serve as a field assistant to W.H. Hassall, Authorised Surveyor from 17 April 1911 to 17 January 1912


Originally from Maitland, New South Wales, James Murray was employed as an assistant surveyor in central Queensland when war broke out, and he enlisted in the A.I.F. on 10 February 1915, aged 30, and embarked from Brisbane, Queensland, on board HMAT A60 Aeneas on 29 June 1915, as part of D Company, 25th Infantry Battalion. Following additional training in Egypt, he proceeded to the Gallipoli Peninsula in September 1915. His 1915 diary describes his arrival at Anzac:

Saturday Sep 11

We arrived off Anzac about 10PM. For last hour we could see warships with their search lights at play & constant booming of guns. We did not all complete landing till 1AM Sunday. As far as I could make out we were not under fire during 3 hours we lay off Anzac.

Sunday Sep 12

Leaving Anzac at 1AM we marched along beach in a northerly direction with frequent stops, why I do not know, for we were not under fire. At 1 AM we camped at a place 2 miles north of Anzac and about the same distance south of Suvla Bay. The Connaught Rangers had dug outs here & mass was said by their chaplain early in morning. During mass a stray bullet went close to the priests head. I went down for water at 11 AM to a well close to beach & while there the Turks sent a few shrapnel shells down that way. I was a good 100 yds off the nearest one.

At 1 oclock we put our heavy packs on our backs again to go inland to the trenches destined for us in the direction of Anafarta. We went in single file along trenches parallel to beach before turning into the east. There was often space of 100 yds just before this turn.

Our company was the last of Battalion & in crossing this open space where we ran with […] troubled with our heavy packs we received properly our baptism of fire. The Turks had the range, & their direction was pretty right. Three or four who were 2 or 3 men away from me, before & behind, were wounded. How severely I do not know. 1 man was killed. The sound of flying shrapnel is very weird, first a boom & then a vicious swish, like swing of a whip.

The diary also reveals how he was summoned to A&NZ Headquarters and tasked with surveying the Allied trenches and tunnel system:

Wednesday 3 Nov

When I had gone to bed read a note summoning me to D coy. Headq Capt. Connor had received word that I was to report to A&NZ Headquarters for a few days map work & was told to proceed thither in morning. Delighted, hope it will prove a permanent lob. I should have a few days good tucker inside me. Have been off tucker lately & am rather weak.

Survey of Broadway, Firing Line, Whit eLane 3 October 1915

Survey of Broadway, Firing Line, White Lane

Using basic equipment, Murray surveyed dozens of locations at Gallipoli during October and November 1915:

Thursday 25 Nov

Rec’d orders transferred to 5 Aust Field Engineers. Ref Went to Monash Gully. Reported to Major Sturdee. Sergeant Matheson took me round trenches & underground Saps, Courtney Post & Steeles Post in the afternoon.

To be surveyor for Field Coy. May mean promotion by & bye. Wondering if 25 Battalion will leave tonight. Wish I were with them.

Friday 26 Nov

Start work compass & clinometer, taking levels in Saps, Courtneys & Steeles Post. Lieut Reid boss. See Frank Coen.

Firing Line, Meldrum Lane and command trenches

Firing Line, Meldrum Lane and command trenches

In mid December, 25th Battalion was evacuated from the Peninsula, and Murray returned to Egypt. On 3 March 1916, suffering permanent hearing loss from persistent otitis media, and ‘chronical myopia’, he was invalided to Australia. He sailed for home on HMAT Argyleshire, arriving in Melbourne on 30 March, and was discharged on 10 April 1916.

Certificate of discharge for James Nicholas Murray, aged 30

Certificate of discharge for James Nicholas Murray, aged 30. Murray was discharged as medically unfit with deafness caused by chronic otitis media.

After the war, Murray continued as a surveyor in central Queensland, married Everilda Lois Evelyn Ponsonby Hawke, and raised a family. His practice grew, and spanned generations of the family. Murray & Associates is now the longest serving surveying and town planning consultancy in Queensland. Donor and grandson Mark Murray, also a surveyor and a Director of Murray & Associates, produced a contemporary survey map of traversed trench and tunnel positions around Russell’s Top, Gallipoli, from Private Murray’s original field notes.

Russell's Top, Gallipoli 1915 - contemporary survey map

Russell’s Top, Gallipoli 1915 – contemporary survey map

In 2015, ABC News covered the theft and return of this valuable collection during an office robbery in Emerald. Thankfully the items were returned, and the collection is now safely housed at State Library, with most items digitised, transcribed and accessible to all via One Search.

Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland