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Basic Biographical Details

Name: John Smith Murdoch
Designation: Architect
Born: 29 September 1863
Died: 21 May 1945
Bio Notes: John Smith Murdoch was born at Cassieford near Forres on 29 September 1863, the son of John Murdoch, farmer and his wife Bathia Smith and was educated at Rafford School and Forres Academy. He was articled to Matthews & Mackenzie of Aberdeen in 1878 and on the completion of his articles c.1883 he became assistant in the office of Alexander Ross in Inverness. Thereafter he moved to Glasgow to work for Campbell Douglas & Sellars and then the Glasgow South Western Railway Engineers' Department. During this period he became acquainted with John James Burnet, a friendship which lasted at least into the 1920s. The severe depression of the 1880s induced him to emigrate to Melbourne c.1884, and a few months after his arrival in Melbourne he was offered an appointment with the Queensland Department of Mines and Public Works by its director J J Clark.

Murdoch's career flourished with the formation of the Federation in 1901. Appointed Queensland District Architect in 1901 he commenced a programme of building provincial custom houses, courthouses and post offices, and in 1904 through his friendship with Littleton Groom, MP for Toowoomba, he joined the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs as Senior Clerk. In October 1909 Canberra was agreed upon as the site of the new federal capital and after Walter Burley Griffin won the competition of 1911-12 for its layout (with John James Burnet as assessor), Murdoch formed a departmental board to evaluate it and the two other winning schemes, those of Eliel Saarinen who was placed second and Alfred Agache who came third, producing a 'Departmental Plan' based on all three.

In 1912 Murdoch made a study tour for the new capital, visiting London en route to make arrangements with his former employer Alexander Marshall Mackenzie for the building of Australia House. He travelled in Europe, Canada and America, where he was particularly impressed by the recent developments in Washington. In the course of this tour he visited Griffin in Chicago to discuss the winning schemes, Griffin's scheme and the Departmental Plan in particular having been deemed too expensive in site engineering works to implement. Although Griffin was disappointed that key features of his plan had been lost Murdoch and Griffin initially got on well and Griffin arrived in Australia in August 1913, by which date the Departmental Plan had been approved in March and some of the site works begun. But in October 1913 the Departmental Board was dismissed, Griffin was reinstated, and relations between Murdoch and Griffin broke down. Murdoch was perturbed by the artificiality of Griffin's scheme and held that the new capital should follow the natural contours of the site. Griffen's proposals were ultimately implemented but Murdoch was appointed Chief Architect in the Department of Works and Railways in 1919 and he and Littleton Groom were the dominant figures in the Federal Capital Advisory Committee. He was entrusted with designing the Provincial Parliament House in 1922 and was promoted Director General of Works in 1924. He was admitted FRIBA in 1926, proposed by John Sulman, Charles Rosenthal and Leslie Williamson, and was by then a Fellow (1914) and Member of Council (1925) of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. Of Murdoch in his Fellowship paper John Sulman writes that he was 'competent, courteous and high minded' and expresses his gladness at Murdoch's having been specially invited to become a Fellow as he was 'so modest a man that he would never have sought it himself'. Murdoch was appointed CMG in 1927 and moved with his Department to Canberra in 1929 but retired in September of the same year, remaining a member of the Federal Capital Commission until its abolition in 1930.

Murdoch never married. He was described by his colleague C S Daley as a man of 'wide cultural and human studies' and is believed to have had a profound interest in Freemasonry in his earlier years. He died at Brighton, Melbourne on 21 May 1945.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 3Cassieford, nr Forres, Morayshire, ScotlandPrivate1863c. 1884 
Item 2 of 3Queensland, AustraliaBusinessAfter 1884  
Item 3 of 3Melbourne, AustraliaBusinessc. 1884  

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 5Matthews & Mackenzie1878c. 1883Apprentice 
Item 2 of 5Glasgow and South Western RailwayAfter 18831886Assistant 
Item 3 of 5Campbell Douglas & SellarsAfter 1883(?)Before 1886Assistant 
Item 4 of 5Alexander Rossc. 1883Before 1886Assistant 
Item 5 of 5Queensland Public Works Department1886(?)   


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3Charles Rosenthal19 July 1926for Fellowship
Item 2 of 3(Sir) John Sulman19 July 1926for Fellowship
Item 3 of 3Leslie Williamson19 July 1926for Fellowship

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 21913Australia HouseAldwych LondonEnglandWas associated with the project - intially as an assessor and later adviser.
Item 2 of 21913The ResidenceyActon CanberraAustralia 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 5Australian Dictionary of Biography Australian Dictionary of Biography  Volume 10, pp 621-2: D I McDonald, 'Murdoch, John Smith (1862-1945)'
Item 2 of 5Peisch, Mark L The Chicago School of Architecture, early followeres of Sullivan and Wright  Chapter 7
Item 3 of 5Rowe, David1994Building Federation, an architectural perspective: the work of John Smith MurdochVolume 3, no 4 (December)Constitutional Foundation 
Item 4 of 5Rowe, David1995John Smith Murdoch and the early development of CanberraVolume 6, JuneFabricationsSee particularly note 1
Item 5 of 5www.adb.online.anu.edu.au2006www.adb.online.anu.edu.au Australian Dictionary of Biography Online 

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Letter from David Rowe to DMW 1 November 1996.
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers F no2411 (box 6)


© All rights reserved. Courtesy of National Archives of Australia 

© All rights reserved. Courtesy of National Archives of Australia