Monday 6 June 2011

From the archives: Mungo Murray, shipwright author

One of Deptford's less-known notables, Mungo Murray brought a scientific approach to his work on shipbuilding.

Mungo Murray was a shipwright in eighteenth-century Deptford. Unlike most such men, his name is still remembered today, for he wrote a treatise on ship-building and navigation. To the Victorian historian Nathan Dews, it was 'the only English Treatise on ship-building that can lay any claim to a scientific character; and [Murray] was a man "whose conduct was irreproachable".'

Murray was born near Perth in about 1705, and came to Deptford's naval dockyard in 1738 as a shipwright; it is not known where he completed his apprenticeship. His book was published in 1754, and makes clear his relatively modest position by acknowledging 'the great obligation I am under to the principle officers and gentlemen in his majesty's service, not only in the yard where I have the happiness to be employed, but in several others'. More revealing is the fact that he was using the book to advertise for extra income:

The several Branches of Mathematicks treated of in
this Book are expeditiously taught by the AUTHOR, at
his House in Deptford; where may be had all Sorts of Sliding
Rules and Scales: As also Sectors for delineating Ships, Diagonal
Scales, &c. on Brass, Wood or Paste-board. Attendance from
six to eight every Evening, except Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Murray's fortunes seem to have improved after the publication of his first book. Lord Howe appointed him (under the title of midshipman) as a mathematics and navigation teacher on board his ships Magnanime and Princess Amelia. Among his pupils was Henry, Earl of Gainsborough to whom Murray dedicated his next book (a navigation textbook). He would go on to publish several more volumes before his death in 1770.

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