Capt Murdoch McDonald

Murdoch was the first of our family to be born outside of the bonnie shores of Scotland. The last child of Hector & Ann McDonald was born in New Zealand on the 27th of January, 1858, not much more than a year after the families arrival in the new colony.

On an as yet unknown date, Murdoch married Elizabeth Bruce, the younger sister of Colin McDonald's wife. The couple had 5 children, Colin, Elizabeth, Graham, Myrtle and Duncan.

Name of Person
Rank for which granted
Class of Certificate
Date of Issue
Murdoch McDonald
Only Mate
Foreign Trade
11th Mar 1881

Like two of his brothers before him Murdoch chose a life at sea. Marine Department records show he was issued with a Foreign Trade Mates certificate in March 1881. The same year. N.S.W passenger records show him as a 23 year old Boatswain in the 312 ton Barque Stag out of Auckland. In March 1882 the same records show him as Mate of that vessel. On August 1st 1882 the Stag was wrecked in Bass Strait, a marine board of inquiry suspended the certificate of the master and censured the Mate (Murdoch) but returned his certificate.

Name of Person
Rank for which granted
Class of Certificate
Date of Issue
Murdoch McDonald
Master Ordinary
Foreign Trade
15th Jul 1884
Capt Murdoch McDonald
The Barquentine Yolande unloading at Port Chalmers New Zealand

Murdoch gained his Masters Certificate in 1884 and in October of that year was serving as 1st Mate of the Brig Robin Hood under the command of his brother Colin. The passenger list for that voyage is very interesting as it not only lists Murdoch as 1st Mate but also Mrs Colin McDonald, Mrs Murdoch McDonald and two children as passengers.

On the 27th of December 1884, Robin Hood under the command of Capt Colin McDonald and 1st Mate Murdoch McDonald struck an uncharted rock off Hummock Island in Bass Strait. All the crew and part of the cargo was saved but the vessel was a total loss.

The Robin Hood marine board of inquiry resolved that there was no blame attached to the Master or officers of the Brig.

Murdoch's first known command was the three masted

Schooner Frank Guy (1888), the Sydney Morning Herald noting that the family were sailing with him. The next vessel I can find is the Barquentine Yolande in 1892, in December of the same year shipping records show Murdoch was accompanied by his wife Elizabeth, 7 year old son Graham and 5 year old daughter Myrtle. He was still in command of this vessel when she was lost on the on the Wesport Bar (NZ) in 1897. The board of inquiry cleared the Master and Officers of the vessel of any blame for the incident.

Joining his brother Colin, he also sailed with the Melbourne, Australia based Archibald Currie Line.  N.S.W state records show him as 2nd mate of the Argus under the command of his brother Colin in May 1898 and 1st mate of the ss. Bucephalus in July and October of the same year. I assume this was to

ss. Hymettus - Archibald Currie line (shown in B.I. livery)
ss. Euryalus- Archibald Currie line

gain the required time at sea under steam to convert his Masters certificate from sail to steamship.

It is known he commanded the ss. Clitus from 1899 to 1904, ss. Euryalus 1904, ss. Fortunatus in 1905-06. After Capt Colin McDonald was hospitalized in Madras (1906), following a serious accident, Murdoch took over his command in the Hymettus. In fact in reading the shipping clearances of the day, often the brothers crossed paths.

In 1903 there was a "triangular change of masters" including his brother Colin leaving Euryalus and Taking command of the ss. Gracchus and Murdoch Taking over the Euryalus. The Clearances for Sydney Friday 15th of July 1904 shows the following: Gracchus, Currie s, 3750 tons, C McDonald, for Madras and Calcutta via Melbourne. Euryalus,Currie s, 3576 tons, M McDonald, for Java and Singapore, via Newcastle and Melbourne. In 1907 Murdoch took command of the ss. Darius but was soon back in the Fortunatus for what was to turn out to be her ill-fated voyage to India. Having left Melbourne as usual Fortunatus ran aground on April 5th 1907 off Flores Island, she was stuck for 12 days before continuing to India.

ss. Fortunatus - Archibald Currie line
The Nourse line 3 Masted Ship Forth - Capt Matzinger

During her return voyage from Calcutta in July, Fortunatus mysteriously took fire in the Indian Ocean and had to be abandoned. At 8:30pm on July 30th, ss. Fortunatus was at position 6 degrees 24 minutes South and 90 degrees 14 minutes East when smoke was noticed coming from the ventilators forward of the engine room. The vessel was put before the wind and the engines stopped. The crew and passengers started fighting the fire but it proved to be beyond their capabilities. At 8:30 the following morning the ship was abandoned, the 4 lifeboats  staying with the burning ship for a day hoping to be seen by a passing vessel.On August 1st at 10am Capt McDonald gave orders to desert the ship. The four boats hoisted sail and made for Sumatra though, due to squally weather, became separated on the second day.  At 7pm on the 3rd of August the 3 masted sailing ship Forth picked up the passengers and crew

of the first lifeboat, by 10:30pm the same day the second boat was also alongside. Concerns were held for the other two boats, however by 2 pm the following day the third boat was sighted and by 11pm the occupants of all four lifeboats were safely aboard the Forth. Capt Matzinger pointed the Forth towards Port Louis in Mauritius where, after 11 days the passengers and crew of Fortunatus boarded the BI steamer Santhia which took them to Colombo in what was then called Ceylon.  After a lengthy stay in Colombo they boarded the RMS Orotava which arrived in Perth, Western Australia on November 26th, 1907.  A board of inquiry later cleared Capt McDonald of any blame, adding "There appears to have been no panic or want of discipline, and we are of opinion that this reflects great credit on the master, officers, engineers, and crew that only one life was lost." The missing coal trimmer was found on the 9th of August 1907 so all hands were saved.

A full account of the loss of Fortunatus can be seen here.

ss. Ipoh - Staits Steamship Co

It is not clear exactly when Murdoch and family left Australia for a new life in Singapore, however he is still listed on the Victorian electoral roll as living at 9 Moonee St, Ascot Vale, Victoria in 1909. According to newspaper reports of his death in 1925, he had been in Singapore for 17 1/2 years. This would make it around 1908, however I have not as yet been able to confirm this. It was from the Port of Singapore that Murdoch commanded small steamers for the Straits Steamship Company, on a return voyage to penang via Port Swettenham.

From the shipping intelligence of the day I have been able to ascertain that he commanded the ss. Carlyle in May 1911 and the ss. Krian from July of that year to at least the end of 1914. The ss. Ipoh in May 1919 and was in what turned out to be his last ship, the ss. Klang in October 1920. Murdoch's association with Straits is still being investigated.

The research of these seafarers has been most interesting, not only from the point of view of their maritime careers, but, through reading many newspaper articles on the men I have come to have some understanding of their personalities. When you think of the days of sail it immediately congers up thoughts of rough, tough, brutal men, the kind that would eat broken glass for breakfast. Our family however appears to have been the exception to the rule (or maybe the myth). There are many articles of the day that refer to Murdoch's brother Colin as a genial, considerate and well thought of man, Murdoch it appears was no different.

After World War 1 there was much soul searching as people attempted to come to grips with the horror the world had been subjected too for four years, they wanted to remember the men who were lost and ensure it really was the war to end all wars. One of the memorials to be built was was in Zeebrugge in Belgium and a fund was started to construct same in 1920. Murdoch jumped right in and started a collection towards this memorial. He kicked it off with a personal donation of $100, with his first appeal collecting $1000, not an insignificant sum in 1920! I have found another record where he also collected another $452 three weeks later. When you consider the obvious humanity in the man it really does make his end much more poignant. Murdoch died due to a well reported incident in Singapore Harbour in 1925.


October 31st 1925 started out as so many had done before. Capt Murdoch McDonald was preparing the ss. Klang for sea, prior to her sailing her usual Singapore - Port Swettenham - Penang and return voyage. The Captain's wife, Elizabeth, watched the Klang sail then drove around Keppel harbour to the ridge of hills to the west and stopped at her usual place at The Gap. From here she could watch Klang leave the harbour and cross the island speckled sea underneath where she stood.

Klang had sailed with her usual 400 odd deck passengers and proceeded up the harbour, however unknown to Mrs McDonald, part way up the harbour a report came to the bridge that a Malay had run amok and had killed or injured several of the passengers. The vessel came about and was brought to anchor, Murdoch then went down to deal with the matter.

Arriving on the scene he saw a very agitated passenger with a foot long Kris slashing left and right. Murdoch approached him and placed his hand on the mans shoulder to calm him down, the man lashed out nearly disemboweling Murdoch and he collapsed to the deck. The Mate found Murdoch laying on the saloon deck, he was then transferred to a long chair and bandaged with sheets from his cabin, however, he died shortly after. The ship hoisted signals requesting police and medical assistance. When the police came on board they attempted to subdue the man but with no success, eventually, considering the safety of all on board, the man was shot dead. A full account of the murder can be found here.

A Kris - double edged , razor sharp blade designed for slashing, indigenous to Malaysia

Elizabeth of course knew none of this, she had seen the vessel turn back towards the port so returned to see what was wrong, by the time she arrived Murdoch was gone. The saddest part of this entire incident is that Murdoch had decided to retire from the sea and this voyage of the Klang was to be his last. I suppose in reality that is the way it was but not as Murdoch had planned. On retirement Murdoch and Elizabeth had intended to take a trip to Scotland, the birth place of his parents and siblings but, having been born in New Zealand a place he had never seen.

Capt Murdoch McDonald is remembered by the celebrated Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder in his book "Roamin in the gloamin", although it should be noted that Sir Harry did keep referring to him as MacGregor!



Duncan Hector McDonald passed away on the 15th of August 1928 at his home, Gisborne, New Zealand.

Colin James McDonald passed away on the 19th of October 1946 at his home, 15 Thackeray street, North Balwyn, Victoria, Australia.

Capt Graham McDonald passed away on the 8th of November 1946 at his home 17 Allfrey street East Brighton, Victoria, Australia

Myrtle Wright (nee McDonald) passed away on the 23rd of January 1953 at her home 49 Beaver St, East Malvern, Victoria, Australia

To see the Bibliography for Capt Murdoch McDonald please click here.

To see all Passenger lists for Capt Murdoch McDonald please click here.

To see the known ship list for Capt Murdoch McDonald please click here.

To see the photo album for Capt Murdoch McDonald please click here.


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