Apologies again for the ongoing blogging hiatus in recent weeks – I’m still working hard on finishing off the first book in my new Tudor naval trilogy, and have also been working on the book on naval ideology, 1500-1815, that I’m co-editing with Alan James and Gijs Rommelse. I’ve also been working on the talk on the Stepney family that I’m giving in Parc Howard, Llanelli, this Saturday, the 28th, at 11am – so if you’re in the area, do come along. Plus, if truth be told, the utterly atypical heatwave that the UK’s been experiencing for the last few weeks (and looks set to continue to enjoy, if that’s still the right word) has made me want to keep the time spent slogging away in my office to a minimum, and that spent reading in the garden to the maximum!
Anyway, this post stems from an exchange on Twitter last week. (I’ve been largely avoiding Twitter, too, although as I suggested in my last post, that’s also not unconnected to the current omnipresence of Trexit and Brump – and whatever one’s views on both, I can do without being bombarded with them 24/7, thank you very much.) To cut a long story short, one of the naval history accounts posted a tweet about Lord George Murray, inventor of the Admiralty shutter telegraph system, and I retweeted this with a comment mentioning the biographical article I’d written about him, which led, in turn, to my contributing his entry to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Murray ended up as Bishop of St David’s, so an old friend posed the question of whether he was also in the Welsh equivalent, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography. This got picked up by DWB’s Twitter person, who passed it on to an editor to decide if Murray should be added. The answer, when it came back, was no, on the grounds that his connection with Wales was confined to the last two years of his life.
Now, with all due respect to the editor in question, this seems to me to be an entirely wrong-headed judgement. For one thing, we can probably all think of examples of individuals who were only in particular positions for a relatively short time, but who had a major impact on our lives. In my case, as I recounted in this blog some years ago, it was the young English teacher who only taught at my school for a couple of years, but who, during that time, set up a student-run school newspaper, which I joined immediately and enthusiastically, thus commencing my writing career. Conversely, many people, even heads of government like Prime Ministers, can remain in office for many years and make hardly any impact at all (looking at you, Lord Liverpool). Besides, with regard to the specific case of George Murray, one would have thought that DWB would make it a matter of policy to include all the bishops of the Welsh dioceses as a matter of course, for the sake of completeness.
This leads me back to George Murray himself. Yes, he was only Bishop of St David’s for the last two years of his life. But during that time, he oversaw a major remodelling of the bishop’s palace at Abergwili, giving it the form it now has as the Carmarthenshire county museum. He was also responsible for redesigning the gardens, which are now regarded as so important that they’re the subject of a well funded restoration project. He was bishop at the time of the ‘great election’ of 1802, a contest regarded as staggeringly corrupt even by the standards of Regency politics (or, indeed, of all politics in all countries, all of the time). He snubbed Nelson and Lady Hamilton when they turned up in the area. Oh, and all that was on top of his invention of said Admiralty shutter telegraph, which, while not being directly relevant to Wales, is now regarded as one of the key developments in the history of data transference, and thus as one of the early steps that led ultimately to the creation of the internet. All of which, I would respectfully suggest, means that he had rather more impact in his short life than some of the worthy but dull individuals who have ended up in DWB simply by virtue of the fact that they never went anywhere much beyond their own little corners of Wales.
But don’t take my word for it – judge for yourselves. I’ve uploaded in PDF form a modified version of my biographical article on Murray, which was published in The Carmarthenshire Antiquary, xxxvii (2001). You can read it here: Lord George Murray