Many years ago, I had access to a copy of this peculiarly titled book on the birds of India. It had some beautiful lithographs, possibly hand coloured, and evidently faded into strange and muddy shades of brown. Fortunately, today, there is a nice scan of the book available online via the Biodiversity Heritage Library and safely deposited on the Internet Archive. Some of us had created an entry at Wikipedia for its author J.A. Murray - and around 2006 it had been expanded as James Augustus Murray and at that time the library of the Natural History Museum in London had conflated the two in their catalogue index too. Fortunately it was easy to see that there was no connection to the lexicographer Sir James Augustus Murray and the errors have since been fixed but painfully little was known about James Alexander Murray!
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai has done an excellent job of digitizing its collections and making them available at a very reasonable subscription price. The search engine and the OCR also work rather well and after running some searches on GranthSanjeevani I stumbled on the rather sordid tale of our Murray. It turns out that he founded a Victoria Natural History Institute which aimed to make natural history specimens available for sale and he was rapidly trying to expand this organization across India. Rather too rapidly and ambitiously it would appear. He had people across the country paying him to become heads of branches and then went into severe debt. This finally led to his being charged with cheating and some of the court hearings appear in the newspaper reports of the time. They reveal that Murray was once a librarian at the Kurrachee Municipal Library from where he was discharged dishonourably after it was discovered that he was trying to sell off duplicates of old books. Moving back to Mumbai where he was born, possibly of mixed British Indian parentage (described as "Eurasian"), he tried to set up an organization to make use of his taxidermic skills and knowledge of natural history. A report from the Bangalore Museum notes with hope that they might obtain new exhibits through the newly opened branches of the Victoria Natural History Institute in Mysore and Bangalore. Phipson of the BNHS, it would appear, had been kind enough to lend money to Murray and perhaps even provided housing to him until he failed to pay his rents. Phipson was called to court as a witness. The court with L.H. Bayley presiding finally sentenced Murray to five years of rigorous imprisonment whereupon he appears to have been broken and the man was lost forever to history.
|The Bombay Gazette, 17 April 1893 p. 4|