John Murray

(15 September 1826 – 27 December 1882)

John, the firstborn, seemed to have been quiet, serious and studious even as a little boy – characteristics which were to be his ‘trademark’ until his death. Prof Marais, his one-time student and then colleague at the Theological Seminary, said this of John at his funeral: “Seemingly cold, often almost unreachable, turned into himself, he had a warm heart. There were moments when one was given a glimpse of what was going on in his warm heart. Fatherly concern, friendly advice, never felt short. And yet, he spoke little and never pushed his advice or opinions onto one. But when he has spoken, one did not easily forget what he had said or done on the occasion”. What impressed Prof Marais most, were John’s actions on Marais’ first day as professor at the Seminary. Whilst the others offered eloquent welcoming words, John gave him a firm handshake, accompanied by one word of welcome: “The curtain felt away, and I glanced deep into his warm heart. From that moment, the teacher (‘leermeester’) was my faithful friend and brother.”[1]

According to his sister Maria, John was a loving and obedient child, whose love for his gentle mother never diminished throughout the years. At the age of twelve John and his brother Andrew, younger by two years, were sent to Scotland, to stay with their father’s elder brother Dr John Murray and his family in Aberdeen. Here the two young brothers attended Grammar School and Marischal College, winning prizes and earning distinction. After seven years in Aberdeen, the two boys went to Utrecht, Holland, to complete their theological studies and to learn Dutch. They joined the society Sechor Dabar (Remember the Word), a group of earnest students, some becoming their friends for life.

On their return to South Africa in 1849, John was immediately called to Burghersdorp. Here he married Maria Anna Ziervogel in 1850 and laboured for eight years until 1857, when he was called to become the first professor of the Theological Seminary in Stellenbosch. This position he held for twenty-five years until his death.

During his years at Burghersdorp, John wrote the Kinderbijbel and the Catechizatie Boek, both of which thousand of copies were printed and sold. Other devotional books followed, providing simple, much needed literature on a variety of devotional topics.

John and Anna had fourteen children – four which died in infancy. Seven daughters and three sons grew up to witness their father’s unfailing sense of duty, his lasting and deep interest in mission work and his deep sense of the holiness of God.[2] John died rather unexpectedly at the age of 56, whilst still fully active as professor of theology, and serving on the boards of Kaapse Universiteit, Stellenbossche Gymnasium (Paul Roos) and Bloemhof Meisjesschool. He was hailed for his depth of knowledge and spiritual wisdom, his “belezenheid”, his calmness and the effective manner in which he could communicate complicated concepts. His last words were “It is well” – words that aptly describes his legacy.


[1]De Kerkbode, 5 Jan 1883, p 2-5

[2] Unto Children’s Children, p 82-86