Chichester honours a true hero

Mayor of Chichester Richard Plowman salutes a genuine hero for our times with the unveiling this weekend of a sculpture of Chichester’s very own Admiral Sir George Murray.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 6:05 am
Murray will stand alongside his great friend Horatio Nelson
Murray will stand alongside his great friend Horatio Nelson

Murray will stand alongside his great friend Horatio Nelson in front of the Council House in North Street – a man for this moment as well as his own.

Richard is convinced Murray – the great Georgian Cicestrian and Captain of the Fleet to Lord Nelson – is just the person to strike a chord with us all as we emerge from troubled times.

But for the death of Murray’s father-in-law, the chances are that Murray would have been standing next to Horatio Nelson on that fateful day at the Battle of Trafalgar.

A popular naval saying still recalls the trust Nelson placed in Murray. “Murray or none” still means “no one else will do” in naval circles. The phrase was first spoken by Nelson himself – testament to his faith in his Chichester friend.

As Richard says: “If Murray hadn’t had to stay behind and miss Trafalgar, Nelson might well have said ‘Kiss me, Murray’ and not ‘Kiss me, Hardy!’”

And that’s why his memory echoes now.

“Murray was someone who was very brave in adversity, rather like we have had to be in the pandemic.

“We have needed to have courage. We have needed to be strong. And we have needed to do our duty.

“And Murray did all of those. There is a great sympathy between Murray and what is happening now.”

Vincent Gray’s Nelson/Murray sculpture will be unveiled at 11am Saturday, April 3. The piece is initially in resin; the aim within the next few years is to raise the £90,000 which will see it cast in bronze.

Richard is delighted to have reached this point: a proper commemoration of Murray in the city in which he was born and died: “He was a hero. He was known for his bravery, but he was also a very good man, a very kind and caring man.

“He was a good role model. When he came back to Chichester, he was actively looking after some of the naval and service widows and their sons and finding positions for them.

“Within his letters you can see remarkable acts of kindness.

“Although there will be still some restrictions due to Covid-19, we shall be able to have a good unveiling ceremony although the number of guests will be limited and socially distanced.

“And I am delighted to announce that the former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas will be guest of honour. The Admiral is a friend of Ian Murray, the direct descendant of Admiral Sir George Murray.”

Sir George Murray was hugely respected in the city where he is remembered for his association with what later became the Ship Hotel.

“He was the chap who built The Ship, he was mayor of Chichester and he was very, very high up in Nelson’s navy. And he also had a very respected and active life in Chichester. Georgian Chichester was the place to be at that time. It was really buzzing.

“Murray missed Trafalgar because his father-in-law died, and Murray was an executor in the will. But he had a very distinguished career. The thing about Nelson’s navy was that it was a meritocracy. You didn’t get there because of who you were. You got there because of your talents. One of the reasons we won at Trafalgar was because the fleet was in such a good way because of Murray’s work. He was also always very concerned about the men.

“He redesigned the uniform because he noticed the tunic top was short and there was a gap between it and the tops of their trousers. The men were always catching colds. Murray made the tunic top lower to make the gap disappear.”

For this and plenty of other reasons Richard was keen that Chichester should mark him: “Here was a Chichester man, born in Chichester and died in Chichester, a very brave man who was one of Chichester’s heroes.

“Murray was 18 and on HMS Bristol and there was a battle in the Caribbean. It was a frightful engagement. Everyone on the poop deck was killed except for Murray. He remained at his post while all this was going on. Imagine that at the age of just 18... In despatches, they said that Murray, like Nelson, knew no fear.”

Richard is delighted that Murray’s close friendship with Nelson is depicted in the Chichester sculpture.