Taissumani, March 10

The Murrays of Peterhead: a whaling family — Part 2


Alexander Murray Senior's Arctic medal. (HARPER COLLECTION)

Alexander Murray Senior’s Arctic medal. (HARPER COLLECTION)

One can pretty well reconstruct Alexander Murray Junior’s return trips to Scotland and his subsequent winterings there by looking at the birth dates of the children that resulted.

His son, Alexander Percy was born in Hudson Bay in 1895, but five more children were born back home in Scotland, in 1898, 1900, 1902, 1906, and 1910.

But Alexander was also busy on the domestic front while in Hudson Bay. He employed many Inuit in whale and walrus hunting, and they came aboard each summer, many with their families.

Alexander took up with a woman named Ooloota from the Cape Dorset area, and he fathered two children with her, Isaacie Ikidluak and Leah Arnauyak.

Leah Arnauyak spent her final years in Repulse Bay and knew exactly who her white father was. She told the historian Dorothy Eber that she knew John Murray—the Inuit called him Nakungajuq, “the Cross-eyed One”-better, “but Alexander was my father.”

Ikidluak told Eber:

“I was born when the ship Active was coming up around here. My father was the captain of the ship, Captain Murray. I have heard that was his name though I don’t remember him. I used to think that my mother’s husband was my real father. His whaling name was Iyola and his baptized name was Abraham. Yes, I remember going on the Active-just little bits.”

The Active played a big role in the lives of many Inuit families on the north shore of Hudson Strait and in Repulse Bay. An elderly lady, Anirnik, in Cape Dorset, told Eber:

“I was born on the Active. When I was a little girl we were on the Active every year and all summer because my father was hunting bowhead whales … When we saw the smoke we started to pack our things to be ready to board the ship . . . There were many men helping my father and there used to be lots of us sleeping in the hold . . . There were no white people in the hold-only the Inuit. The Qallunaat had their living quarters in the front and the back of the ship.”

The Active even had its own Inuit name, Umiarjuarapik—”the beautiful ship.”

Alexander Murray’s double life came to a sudden end on Nov. 11, 1912. He was still in command of the Active and was planning to winter in the Ottawa Islands in Hudson Bay.

His nephew, Austin Murray, recounted that Alexander “lost his life on the ice, hunting caribou. He’d been out a long time and got very hot, sweaty, very thirsty and when he got the chance of some water, it was ice-water-and he drank too fast. He died on the spot. It was so cold it went through his system like a knife.”

But reports other than the family’s indicate that alcohol probably played a role in the captain’s death.

After his older brother’s death, John Murray continued to be active in the Arctic. In his work in Hudson Bay, he worked with the well-known Angutimmarik, known to whalers as Scotch Tom.

Later, and for many years he commanded the tiny Albert for Henry Toke Munn’s Arctic Gold Exploration Syndicate, and became well-known in the Pond Inlet area and in Cumberland Sound.

But by this time whaling had ceased to be whaling and had evolved into what is generally called free trading. Murray worked for four years for Revillon Freres, a trading company that was a serious rival to the HBC. Later, he worked for the HBC itself for a short time.

There are a wealth of stories about John Murray’s Arctic experiences, and perhaps I will recount some of them in future columns. A persistent story is that he fathered an Inuit son of his own with an Inuit woman, but on close examination the chronology of that story doesn’t hold up.

John Murray retired to Wormit, across the Tay River from Dundee, in 1934, and died there in 1948.

I visited his son Austin in Scotland in 2003, a few months before his death, and heard some of his stories about his father and his love of the Arctic and the Inuit.

Part 1 of this two-part series was published March 3.

Taissumani is an occasional column that recalls events of historical interest. Kenn Harper is a historian and writer who lived in the Arctic for over 50 years. He is the author of “Minik, the New York Eskimo” and “Thou Shalt Do No Murder,” among other books. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

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