With its roots as a British penal colony, Australia might be less scandalized than conservative Annapolis by the carryings on of Gilbert Murdock, whose shenanigans played in both locales as he hopped continents and countries. Murdock was born in Annapolis in 1826, but he’s left less trace here than in Australia. There a book revealing his shady past has just been published, and his son, William Lloyd ‘Billy’ Murdoch, has just been inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame. The book, Billy Murdoch: Cricketing Colossus, brings both legacies together.
Australian cricket writers Richard Cashman and Ric Sissons wrote the book to give Billy Murdoch the place in cricket history he deserved. About him, they have plenty of good to say. A cricketing giant of the late Victorian era, he was Australia’s first world-class batsman, scoring Australia’s first double and triple centuries as well as captaining the first Australian team to defeat the English in England. This 1882 victory sparked the most famous rivalry in cricket, The Ashes tests between England and Australia.
About father Gilbert Murdock (he always used the American spelling of his surname), the book has little good to say, for he was a ne’er-do-well whose life read like a Victorian melodrama.
From Annapolis, Gilbert volunteered to serve in the Mexican-American war. He then settled in Monterey, California, where he was elected the new town’s second mayor and met 15-year-old Susanna Flegg, the daughter of two English convicts who had been exiled to Tasmania. Gilbert married Susanna, who had travelled with her then-free parents to prospect gold in California, and the couple returned to Australia in that nation’s gold rush. Their two sons were born. Namesake Gilbert became a successful lawyer. Billy became an Australian cricket captain famous across the British Empire.
After several years in the goldfields, the elder Gilbert abandoned Susanna and sons, then served time in prison for passing bad checks.
In 1868, he returned to Annapolis, establishing an auction and commission store on Main Street. In 1879 he remarried Edith Pence, bigamously, and with her had an American son, Harry Murdock. In Annapolis, he created a new life story, reflected in the largely fictitious account published in the Annapolis Examiner.
Gilbert died at 59 in 1885 in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.
During his lifetime, both his Australian and American families tried to keep his bad behavior hidden from the public eye, for in those Victorian times having such a ne’er-do-well in the family would have been a great social disgrace.
Today, not so much.
“Gilbert may well have been a rogue,” said great-granddaughter Jan Murdoch Joyce at last month’s book launch. “But by modern standards his crimes weren’t too bad. I’m delighted to discover such a colourful American skeleton in the family closet.”
Pete MacIver assisted with researching the book Billy Murdoch: Cricketing Colossus. He is a school teacher and lives in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.