The R.M.S. Empress of Ireland Community

Famous Canadian - Sir John Murray

In 1841 in a small village of Coberg Ontario just east of Toronto, John Murray was born on March 3rd. Who knew at the time that this boy would grow up to become on of the founding fathers of modern day oceanography. By 1858, John left his family at the age of 17 and sailed to Scotland and to attended the University of Edinburgh. He did not follow any special professional curriculum; he devoted himself to literature under Professor Masson, and to science under Kelvin Tait and Clerk Maxwell.


As a young scientist in his 30's, John Murray's main claim to distinction was his intimate association with the great Challenger expedition. He took a large part in its organization and equipment in the years 1871-72. Then sailed on a British Navy vessel called the H.M.S. Challenger which circumnavigated the world between December 1872 to May 1876, conducting history's first systematic, scientific investigation of the world's oceans, investigating nearly all the seas on the globe.   These expeditions had laid the basis of our knowledge of the ocean, and of the enormous area of our globe which still hides from our view.

Source: Public Domain
H.M.S. Challenger

The Challenger was a 200 foot, three-masted, square-rigged wooden sailing ship equipped with an auxiliary steam engine. Fifteen of its 17 gun bays were rebuilt as laboratories, workrooms, and storage spaces for scientific equipment. It carried a crew of five scientists, an official artist, 20 officers, and about 200 sailors.

The Challenger began its voyage by crossing the Atlantic four times, discovering the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the process. It then visited Africa , Antartica, New Zealand, New Guinea,

China, Japan, Hawaii, the South Seas , and the tip of South America, studying not only the sea itself but the fauna, flora, and geography of numerous islands. The Challenger team made 362 regularly-spaced mid ocean measurements of depth, temperature, and currents and used special dredges to collect samples of life, ooze, and rocks from the ocean floor. This expedition produced the first global cross-section of the ocean's depth profile and identified over 4,700 ocean-dwelling animal species never before known.


The Challenger expedition gathered a body of data that has been matched by few voyages of discovery. The science of modern oceanography essentially began with the Challenger expedition. The Challenger returned triumphantly to Europe freighted with tens of thousands of photographs, drawings, measurements, and biological and geological samples. Publication of the results took 20 years and required 50 thick volumes totaling almost 30,000 pages. Data from the Challenger expedition are still cited occasionally in modern scientific literature. He had received awards from, numerous European scientific societies, beside honorary degrees from many universities, and a knighthood of the Order of the Bath.

Source: Public Domain
Sir John Murray

Twenty five years later scientific observer John Murray who was known as Sir John Murray, K.C.B., the celebrated naturalist of the famous Challenger expedition, boards the newly built Empress of Ireland in 1907 which is under the command of Captain Forester, the Empress is now traveling on her 16th West bound voyage from Liverpool to Quebec City.

Sir John was a short man with a pointed beard and approximately 60 years of age. While he was aboard the Empress of Ireland Sir John would spend a lot of time in the 1st class smoking room with his traveling companion and his microscope firmly planted on one of the tables as he studied sea water on glass plates underneath his microscope. The water samples had been taken by one of the able bodied seaman of the Empress whose duty was to take the water temperature from time to time to ascertain the water temperature. Curious on lookers would gather around Sir John and he would enjoy explaining to them what he was observing through his microscope. He would explain that the vegetation of the sea between Ireland and Newfoundland was a veritable meadow, abounding in species and varieties of plants and animals just as much as there is on solid land.

Sir John had also mentioned to the gentlemen who had gathered around his table that he was also preparing for another new expedition which was a joint venture between Great Britain and Norway.

This time the exploration steamer called S.S. Michael Sars was to explore the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to the Faroes in the spring of 1910. The vessel was furnished gratuitously by the Norwegian Government, together with the captain and engineer, the Norwegian Fishery Director and two assistant naturalists from his bureau. Sir John undertook to pay all expenses over and above those thus assumed by the Government of Norway. This time the exploration by the Challenger and by other expeditions of less magnitude the government study of marine fisheries carried on by many nations has led to an extensive and important improvements in the mechanical methods of ascertaining the conditions which exist at greater depth in the ocean, and it was proposed to utilize these improvements in the investigation to be carried on by this new expedition in the Michael Sars under Sir John Murray. The enlarge nets that were used by deep fishermen were to be employed,  together with newly fashioned trawls by which the specimens are hoped to be brought up from a depth of three and a half miles.


The London Times stated that with one of these trawls the steamer Michael Sars recently brought to the surface 225 fishes from a depth half a mile, 100 of which represented species unknown to science; so that great result may fairly be expected. A new instrument for measuring the force and direction of ocean currents at great depths is also to be tested, and tubes will be forced into the ocean floor to ascertain if possible something about its geological constitution and structure, concerning which very little is now known, inasmuch as the marine deposits at great depths have been explored only to the extent of 18 inches. A point to be specially investigated is the accumulation of ooze upon the sea bottom. It is supposed that the transatlantic cables are covered by such accumulations, and yet there are known to be glacial boulders along their routes which apparently remain uncovered. It is hoped that light may be thrown upon this phenomenon.


This interesting scientific undertaking is highly creditable to the people of Norway and to Sir John Murray, who manifest all the zeal of a young explorer at an age when most men are disposed to retire from the breezy activities of life. It is stated in the Norwegian newspapers that the crew of the Michael Sars are experienced in deep sea work.


On March 16th, 1914, Sir John Murray while driving in a car with his daughter Rhoda was involved in an accident and was killed near Granton, on the Firth of Forth. His daughter, Rhoda, was seriously injured.


SOURCE: The Sun, Wednesday December 8th, 1909