MURRAY, GEORGE, physician, surgeon, and politician; b. 2 Nov. 1825 at Barney’s River, Pictou County, N.S., son of David Murray, farmer, and Margaret Huggan; m. in June 1854 Mary Ann Patterson; d. 12 Feb. 1888 at New Glasgow, N.S.
Grandson of Walter Murray, who migrated from Scotland on the Hector, George Murray received his high school education at Pictou Academy, and then taught for four years in Nova Scotia public schools. In 1846 he entered the Pennsylvania Medical College in Philadelphia, attracted there by the reputation of a fellow Nova Scotian, Dr William R. Grant, the first surgeon in the United States to remove an ovarian tumour. Murray studied in Grant’s private office and won his praise. He then returned to Nova Scotia and in 1850 opened a practice at Barney’s River; four years later he moved to New Glasgow, where he practised until his death. He attained such a position in his profession that the Medical Society of Nova Scotia elected him its representative to the 1876 international medical congress in Philadelphia.
Nothing during his life excited Murray more than the method of bringing Nova Scotia into confederation and the terms of union itself. He ran as an anti-confederate (Liberal) candidate in the 1867 provincial election, and led the poll in the three-member riding of Pictou. In the assembly none blasted more vigorously than he the “treachery most foul” which had tricked Nova Scotians out of their sovereign legislature. In 1868 he felt that the anti-confederate government was doing its utmost to have the union repealed, but not so in 1869. With William Kidston of Victoria and Robert Chambers of Colchester he led a group of seven assemblymen who accused the government of having “accepted the situation” and denounced Attorney General Martin Isaac Wilkins as a “trimmer” on repeal. The same year he presented a petition from Pictou that a delegation be sent to Washington to ascertain the terms for the admission of Nova Scotia into the American union, and later a resolution stating that, unless Nova Scotia was released from confederation, the queen should be asked to “absolve us from our allegiance to the British Crown.” In the end he was forced to withdraw the “annexationist” petition, and Provincial Secretary William Berrian Vail* made use of a procedural device, amounting to a form of closure, to prevent debate on the “annexationist” resolution.
Throughout 1870 and 1871 Murray continued to harass the government on the repeal question, stamping himself as one of the most independent Nova Scotian assemblymen. During the 1871 provincial election, however, he denied the allegation that he had ever been an annexationist, and the British Colonist (Conservative) gloated that “he had devoured the ‘leek’ in the presence of the sturdy Scotsmen of Pictou”; all three Liberals lost to Conservatives (confederates). Disgustedly, the Morning Chronicle (Liberal) complained that Murray’s violent opposition to the Liberal government had destroyed party unity in Pictou. In 1874 these divisions had not yet healed, and Conservatives won the Pictou seats by acclamation. Prevailed upon to run in 1878, Murray accepted or rejected elements of his party’s platform as he pleased, leading the Pictou Colonial Standard (Conservative) to observe he was “a Government man to-day, an opposition man to-morrow, an Ishmaelite the day after, and the wandering Jew of politics the whole time.” In the midst of recession both Murray and the Liberal government were defeated, but as usual Murray outpolled the other Liberals.
Fiery in politics, in ordinary life Murray was the moderate par excellence. As an elder of the Primitive and later the United (now Westminster) Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow, he was known as a peacemaker. During his 35 years of medical practice, he established a reputation for an even temperament and a gentle manner. Although a general practitioner, he fully used his surgical skills developed under Grant and performed operations, uncommon at that time, for cataract of the eye and harelip; he was perhaps the first Nova Scotian to operate successfully for cleft palate or staphylorrhaphy. Expecting no remuneration from the poor, he never acquired much more than a competence. Murray was probably the leading physician in eastern Nova Scotia, and was widely known throughout Pictou County.
N.S., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1868–71. British Colonist (Halifax), 1867–74. Colonial Standard (Pictou, N.S.), 10 Sept. 1878. Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow, N.S.), 16 Feb. 1888. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 1867–74, 1878. Canadian biog. dict., II: 482–83. Directory of N.S. MLAs, 264. Beck, Government of N.S., 152–53. J. M. Cameron, Political Pictonians: the men of the Legislative Council, Senate, House of Commons, House of Assembly, 1767–1967 (Ottawa, ), 18.