Emma Murray (Rutherfoord)

(10 July 1835 – 2 January 1905)[1]

Emma Murray was born into the Rutherfoord family on 10 April 1833. Her early life was spent at a fairly secluded property in Sea Point where she was raised to be an intellectual.  Education was made available to her in multiple fields, offered by masters in their material who would be brought into their home to teach the Rutherfoord children. During her days spent in Victorian Cape Town, Emma grew into a practical and kind young woman, feeling that she should do something for the Lord and sharing her mother’s passion for gardening and her father’s passion for philanthropy. These two qualities never left her, and in much later accounts of her life, she is described as having been a mother to all who attended the schools which she and Andrew founded, as well as having had the most beautiful gardens in the area. 

When Emma married Andrew in the Wynberg Reformed Church on 2 July 1856, she had mentally prepared herself for the “hardships” of being a minister’s wife, and also made it quite clear to her new husband that she intended to be his partner in more than just name. As they arrived at Bloemfontein, where they would reside until 1860 when they would be called to Worcester, Emma immediately took to the task of aiding Andrew in his administrative work as well as with his duties within the congregation. Emma even expressed her frustrations towards the other minister’s wives’ lack of involvement with their husbands work and struggled to understand how they could not see that the duties of a minister were far too much a burden for one man, and that this was where his partner should come to act as his aid.

It is told of Emma that she organised the first Christmas Tea for the Sunday School children in Bloemfontein. Even when still in Cape Town, she and her sister would organise ‘parties’ for children, and, it was at one such occasion that they introduced the idea of a decorated tree for Christmas – similar to that they have seen done by Queen Victoria in England.

Emma, while acting as Andrew’s partner and assistant, also made time for her own ventures, and eventually went on to become one of the founding members, as well as the first president of the Vrouwen Sending Bond (Women’s Missionary Society). Perhaps it was due to her idealistic upbringing that Emma took to the role of a mother with passion and dedication. Her relationship with her own children was one of love and closeness. What is most interesting however, is the way in which she would “adopt” all who resided with them for any period of time into their family. Due to Andrew’s work their home was always open to those who required it, and they often had young men who were being trained by Andrew for ministry, residing with them for long periods of time. In an account given by one of these men Emma is referred to as having been a “mother away from home” who granted them every ounce of compassion she would have shown to her own children.

While still in Worcester, Emma started the very first Mothers Prayer Meeting. Both here and in Cape Town, she initiated children’s workgroups for mission (Kindersendingkrans)[2]. Emma was also largely involved with work at the Huguenot Seminary in Wellington, which had been founded through the efforts of Andrew following their arrival there in 1871, and the students who could not find space at the hostel of the school would be given lodging in their homestead. Emma once commented that the loss of one of her own children was God’s work to open her heart, so that she could take in all those who needed her. Her life reflected this sentiment and until her final days she was described as a kind and thoughtful woman.

In the obituary of the Kerkbode[3], we find the following words [author’s free translation]: “She was not a daughter from the DRC, yet when she became the wife of one of its ministers, she fully identified with the interests of the DRC and have given her best with exemplary enthusiasm … She was Rev Murray’s partner and friend for almost fifty years … his help during his own illness and in his work. The congregation of Wellington will miss her as the always willing, friendly advisor, the keen worker for souls. Her influence is much wider that generally expected and the Afrikaner people – in great thankfulness and acknowledgement, lays a wreath on the grave of her that felt so deeply with them, who was so one with them, and whom, in its days of need, prayed and did so much for them.”


[1] Pascal Pienaar MDiv Student, Stellenbosch University

[2] De Kerkbode, 12 Januarie 1905, p14-15

[3] De Kerkbode, 5 Januarie 1905, p 2-3