- James Murdoch (Scottish journalist)
name = James Murdoch
27 September 1856
30 October 1921
Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, Australia
occupation = journalist, educator, historian
nationality = British
James Murdoch (
27 September 1856– 30 October 1921) was a Scottish scholar and journalist, who worked as a teacher in the Empire of Japanand Australia. From 1903–1917, he wrote a massive three-volume "History of Japan", which was not published until 5 years after his death. It was the first comprehensive history of Japan in the English language.
Murdoch was born in
Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, in Scotland. He exhibited signs of intellectual brilliance as a child, and although his family was of moderate means, he won a scholarship to Aberdeen Universitywhere he completed a bachelor's and master's degree. He subsequently studied at Worcester College, Oxford University, Gottingen Universityand the University of Paris. Regarded as a genius in foreign languages, at the age of 24, he suddenly resigned from his post as a professor and decided to emigrate to Australia.
Life in Australia
Murdoch taught in
QueenslandAustralia from July 1881–1889 as headmaster of the new MaryboroughGrammar School. He became unpopular with the trustees (possibly because of his atheism) and he was dismissed in March 1885. He worked for the next two years as assistant master at BrisbaneGrammar School. In 1886 he also sat for the Bar examinations, but failed in two of the eight papers because he had mistakenly attempted to answer every question. He left the school at his own wish and became a journalist at the radical nationalist journal, the "Boomerang". In a series of articles he predicted that within a generation the Australian colonies would form an independent republic, which would turn socialistthrough a violent revolution unless the harsh living conditions of the working classes were alleviated.
Life in Japan
Murdoch came to Japan as a foreign advisor, from September 1889–1893 as a professor of
European historyat the First Higher School, an elite institution for young men entering the Tokyo Imperial University.
In addition to teaching, he vigorously pursued literary activities. In June 1890 he published a long piece of satirical verse, "Don Juan's Grandson in Japan". In November he launched a weekly magazine, the "Japan Echo", which lasted for six issues. In 1892 he published "From Australia and Japan" (a volume of short stories which went through three editions) and a novel, "Ayame-san". His stories were romances in which the heroes tended to be academic and sporting paragons with socialist political leanings, whereas the women were both mercenary and cruel, or paragons of erudition, beauty and good breeding. He also wrote several texts for pictorial guidebooks aimed at historically-minded tourists, and edited the memoirs of Hikozo Hamada, the castaway who became the first Japanese to acquire American citizenship.
Life in Paraguay and London
In September 1893 Murdoch left Japan to join a 'New Australia' communist experimental commune in
Paraguay. By the time of his arrival, however, about one-third of the colonists had seceded, and far from the socialist paradise he had imagined, he found only poverty, dissention and disease. He remained only a few days and, leaving his 12-year-old son in South America, proceeded on to Londonin ill health.
He spent the next five months recuperating at the
British Museumtranslating the letters of sixteenth-century European religieux in Japan; he then returned to Japan, where he would live until 1917.
Life in Japan, again
From 1894 to 1897 Murdoch taught English at the Fourth Higher School at Kanazawa
Ishikawa prefecture. On 23 November 1899, while teaching economic history at the Higher Commercial College (today's Hitotsubashi University) in Tokyo, he married Takeko Okada. His most famous student during his second period in Japan was Natsume Sōseki.
In 1901 Murdoch moved to the Seventh Higher School at
Kagoshima, Kyūshū. He had never fully recovered from the illness he had contracted in South America and he hoped to benefit from the milder Kyūshū winters. The first volume of his "A History of Japan", covering the period from 1542–1651, appeared in 1903. The European language sources in Latin, Spanish, French and Dutch were all translated by himself.
In 1908, Murdoch's teaching contract was not renewed. Murdoch, nevertheless, decided to remain at Kagoshima. He contributed regularly to the "Kobe Chronicle" newspaper and, to supplement this income, planted a
citronorchard. Although he was never to achieve fluency with the spoken language, he had now become so proficient in classical written Japanese that he no longer had to rely on Japanese assistants. The next volume of his "A History of Japan", subtitled "From the Origins to the Arrival of the Portuguese in 1542 A.D.," appeared in 1910. In 1915, following the completion of the manuscript of the third volume, "The Tokugawa Epoch 1652–1868", poverty forced Murdoch back into teaching, this time at the junior high-school level.
Life in Australia, again
In February 1917, however, Murdoch was able to return to Australia to teach Japanese at the Royal Military College,
Duntroon, and at the University of Sydney(where he founded the Japanese studies program), concurrent appointments instituted on the initiative of the Australian Defense Department. The following year, in response to an effort made by Waseda Universityto bring him back to Japan, the University of Sydney raised his status to that of a fully tenured professor. In return for £600 a year from the Defense Department, the university also permitted Murdoch to visit Japan annually to obtain first-hand information on shifts in Japanese public opinion and foreign policy. The first such visit resulted in a memorandum highly critical of Australia's intransigence on the racial equalityissue raised by Japan at the Paris Peace Conference. Similarly, two years later Murdoch was called to Melbourne to give the Prime Minister of Australiahis views on the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.
Murdoch died of
cancerat his home at Baulkham Hillson 30 October 1921. He had just completed the research for the fourth volume of the "A History of Japan" but had not begun writing. He was survived by his son (in South America) and by his wife (who returned to Japan).
* [http://www.dhs.kyutech.ac.jp/~ruxton/James_Murdoch.htm James Murdoch] - detailed biography by
Joseph Henry Longford
* [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A100607b.htm Murdoch, James] - detailed item of
Australian Dictionary of BiographyOnline Edition
* [http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/murdoch_1892.shtml Ayame-san]
* [http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/ogawa/ronin.shtml Scenes From the Chiushingura and the Story of Forty-Seven Ronin]
* [http://www.columbia.edu/~hds2/chushinguranew/retelling/Murdoch.htm The 47 Rônin are Introduced to the World]
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