The Murdoch Boys
by Tor Riley
Two brothers, Alexander and William Murdoch, served in the Engineer Tunnelling Company. Their father was Thomas Murdoch, who was born near Stranraer, Scotland in 1848 and who emigrated to Otago as a child with his parents, John and Martha Murdoch, and his seven siblings on the maiden voyage of the Lady Egidia, arriving in January 1861. The family settled at Saddle Hill. Thomas became a carpenter and in 1876 married an Irish lass, Annie Ternan, at Dunedin. Thomas was not a successful businessman and in 1880 was adjudged bankrupt. After 1884 he took his family to Westland where Alexander and William were born.
Thomas and Annies other children were John (1877-1954), Annie Maria (1878-1929), James (1880-1964), Robert (1882-), Thomas (1884-1962) and Martha (1888-1970).
Alexander and Williams brother, 56943 Thomas Murdoch (1884-1962) also served in the 28th Reinforcements, NZEF, and a cousin, 26494 John Murdoch (1872-1936), 15th Reinforcements, served in the Engineering Battalion, New Zealand Engineers.
4/1366 Sapper Alexander Murdoch, NZETC 1887-1921
Alexander was born in 1887. On his enlistment at Avondale on 6 October 1915 Alexander recorded that he had been a miner working for the Waihi Goldmining Co. and had been residing at Gladstone House, Kenny Street Waihi. He was 5 feet, 11 ? inches tall, weighed 13 stone (82kg), and had dark hair and dark eyes. He listed his mother as his next of kin, Mrs. T. Murdoch, of Woodville.
Alexander trained at Avondale Camp but only two days prior to embarkation for England was admitted to Auckland Hospital suffering from gastritis. He sailed with the Main Body on 18 December 1915. From April to July 1917 he was back in England, admitted to No 3 New Zealand General Hospital at Codford St Mary, Wiltshire, having contracted venereal disease. He returned to his unit in France on 19 July 1917. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 5 October 1918 and then briefly to Corporal, a rank he relinquished on returning to England prior to embarking for New Zealand. He returned home on the Hororata, having served overseas for three years and 88 days. He was discharged on 12 April 1919.
Alexander returned to mining, taking a job constructing the new hydroelectric power station at Mangahao in the hills east of Shannon in the Manawatu. Construction started in 1919 so it is possible that Alexander began working there soon after his discharge. By 1921 he was a shift foreman, working twelve hour shifts underground.
In June 1921 Alexander, now aged 33, married Kate Persson (1895-1981), the ninth of fourteen children born to Anders Persson and Phoebe Ann Alderson. They were married for barely six weeks before Alexander was killed in a gelignite explosion in the No.2 tunnel at Mangahao.
The following extract from the Police report provided to the Coroner described what happened:
The deceased was at work at No 2 Tunnel, Arapeti, Mangahao. He was shift Boss and went on shift at 8am on 3.8.21. J. Crowther shift Boss on previous shift on going off shift told deceased that there was an undischarged shot in the tunnel face, and warned him to be careful. The deceased by all accounts located the shot and was endeavouring to withdraw it when it exploded and killed him instantaneously and seriously injured Michael Lynch who was working alongside of him. The other two men of the shift namely James Lynch and H.E. Kingett were at the time of the explosion working about a chain away from the face and escaped injury.
No 2 Tunnel, when completed, would stretch over a mile in length and connect the Arapeti basin with the headworks of the pipeline overlooking Shannon, A chain equalled 66 feet or 22 yards (20 metres).
The same report mentioned two of Alexanders brothers, James and William; William had previously worked alongside Alexander in the tunnel. He was one of the witnesses in the Coroners Report, called to the scene as next-of-kin to identify his brothers body.
Alexander was buried at Palmerston Norths Terrace End Cemetery. His service medals were later sent to his widow Kate, then living in Alexander Street, Palmerston North. There were no children from the marriage. Kate remarried in 1925 and had two children.
49521 Sapper William Murdoch, NZETC 1890-1974
William was born in 1890. In 1910 and 1911 he was working at Reefton as a miner. By 1916 he had moved north to Waihi where in August 1916 he married Jessie Jane Passfield, the daughter of Ernest Tyler Passfield and Elizabeth Barraclough.
Seven months later, on 15 January 1917, William attested at Te Aroha for the Tunnelling Company, New Zealand Engineers. He was a gold miner employed by the Waihi Gold Mining Company Ltd, residing in Moresby Avenue, Waihi and he listed his next of kin was his wife, Mrs. J. Murdoch, of 22 Day Street, Auckland. He was aged 26 years and ten months, 5 feet 3 ? inches tall, of dark complexion, with dark brown hair and grey eyes. He was assessed as Class A fit for Active Service.
William sailed with the 25th Reinforcements (5th Tunnelling Reinforcements) and served overseas for one day short of two years, returning home aboard the Ionic on 14 March 1919. He was discharged on 22 May 1919 and gave his address as Devrill Street, Waihi. His Certificate of Discharge described him as aged 26 and 10 months, of dark complexion, 5 feet 3 ? inches in height, dark brown hair and grey eyes. Like his brother Thomas he had been a gold miner. He served overseas for 1 year and 364 days.
After Williams return from overseas he joined Alexander at Mangahao along with a third brother, James (1880-1964). William identified Alexanders body immediately after his death. William later worked at Waihis open-cast Martha Mine and started a family. He and Jessie had five children.
William Murdoch died at Waihi in 1974 and Jessie in 1986. Both are buried at Waihi Public Cemetery.
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