James Murdoch was killed in France while serving with the Royal Field Artillery on 3 July 1916. He was aged 35. He is buried at Norfolk Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, France.
James was born on 18 August 1880 in Wellington. His parents were Fanny and Hunter Henry Murdoch. His father had worked as a Record Agent in London and his mother published the first cook book in New Zealand, Dainties or How to Please our Lords and Masters. They had emigrated to New Zealand from London shortly before James' birth. The family moved to Riverslea, Hawke's Bay where James went to school. From school he began to study law, passing his final solicitor's law examination in February 1903. He was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court in 1903 and as a barrister on 26 June 1911.
Murdoch began work as a law clerk with EH Williams in Hastings. When Williams amalgamated his practice with Sainsbury and Logan in 1900 to form Sainsbury Logan and Williams, Murdoch transfered to Napier and developed a busy legal career. He became a partner of the firm in 1908. In 1909 he was elected to the Council of the Hawke's Bay District Law Society. Outside the law he was interested in horticultural matters, being a committee member of the National Sweet Pea Society and entering produce competitions in A & P shows (being highly commended for his beans and walnuts at the Hawke's Bay Show in 1908). He was appointed by the national A & P Association to represent its interests in the Hawke's Bay district.
Murdoch was active in litigation and appeared in many cases for the Napier Borough Council. He appears to have focused on civil matters. In April 1914 the Court of Appeal granted the Crown leave to appeal to the Privy Council in a claim for personal injuries in which Murdoch represented the claimant. However, several months later World War I began and Murdoch was about to leave his legal career. Perhaps because his parents were recent emigrants, he travelled to England where he entered officers' training school and received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery.
About six months after he had entered active service at the front, Second Lieutenant Murdoch was killed in action in France on 3 July 1916. "Mr Murdoch came of a fighting stock, and his letters showed that he had entered into his new duties with characteristic energy and enthusiasm," the Hawke's Bay Herald reported on news of his death. "His many sterling qualities had secured him not only success in his profession but a wide circle of friends, who will regret his loss and feel much sympathy for his widow as well as his mother and sisters."
Several weeks after his death, New Zealand newspapers published a letter which Murdoch had written to his friends on 3 April 1916, and which was reported as the last received from him. It contains descriptions of the battlefields and the conditions which the soldiers were enduring.
"The sound of firing seldom ceases anywhere along the line. We are busy by day and occasionally have night stunts and all night the machine guns and rifles keep up a rattling fire while each side sends up many lights and flares to see what the other fellow is doing in No Man's Land. The effect at night is most weird...
"We are now out of action in a rest camp a good bit further south, in a country and climate removed from mud and cold... We are billeted in a building belonging to a chateau. We have only one room - a large one - to mess and sleep in (on the top floor) but have the run of the garden, which is a large one with plenty of trees, now coming into leaf, lawns and a tennis court. A river runs by, where we bathe and water our horses. Of course there are plenty of drills, parades, etc to keep us busy during the day till about five, but after tea we lie out on the grass and smoke, have our gramaphone going, or play tennis till dark. I don't know how long we shall be left in this paradise - not long I expect, as now the fine weather is here both sides will be getting busy and perhaps the great offensive will come off this summer, and we shall be in for something like what the French are getting at Verdun." (Poverty Bay Herald, 25 July 1916, page 3).
Murdoch's wife, Edith Louise Murdoch, died in July 1956.
Sources: Stuart Webster, Sainsbury Logan and Williams: Lawyers since 1875 (November 2011), Chapter 9; Hawke's Bay Herald, 17 December 1900, page 2; Evening Post, 16 December 1902, page 2; Press, 24 February 1903, page 3; Dominion, 9 April 1908, page 9; Dominion, 20 March 1909, page 13; Manawatu Times, 20 December 1911, page 3; Otago Daily Times, 29 May 1912, page 5; Evening Post, 10 August 1912, page 2; Dominion, 14 August 1912, page 2; Dominion, 25 April 1914, page 14; Dominion, 15 April 1915, page 3; Poverty Bay Herald, 11 July 1916, page 6; Colonist, 15 July 1916, page 3; Poverty Bay Herald, 25 July 1916, page 3; SW Grant, The Law Society of the District of Hawke's Bay, 1986, pages 16 and 67.
This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who died while serving in World War I.
By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: firstname.lastname@example.org.