All Californians will find interest in a simple sketch, however prosaic, of the life of one who came to the shores of the Pacific in early manhood, friendless and penniless; who, after a very brief residence, impressed his fellow men with a high sense of his worth and splendid abilities; who became a leader in the early political movements in California; who was a Judge of the Supreme Court at the age of twenty-six years; who became Chief Justice of that tribunal at the age of twenty-eight; and who died, not “full of years” but “full of honors,” in the service of the State. 


      HUGH CAMPBELL MURRAY was born at St. Louis, Missouri, on the 22d day of April, 1825. He was of Scotch ancestry. While he was yet in his infancy his parents removed to Alton, Illinois. At Alton, Hugh passed his boyhood days, where he received his education and grew up to manhood. Upon leaving school he resolved to embrace the study of law, and, with that view, entered the office of Hon. N. D. Strong. He had not commenced the practice of law, when the Mexican War broke out. Mr. Murray joined the army and received the appointment of Lieutenant in the Fourteenth Regiment of Infantry. He served during the war in Gen. Scott’s line, and, upon the conclusion of peace, returned to Illinois. The Editor has been unable to obtain any incidents in his military career, and cannot say with what distinction, if any, he served in Mexico; but his disposition was ardent and adventurous, and he doubtless entered with spirit and enthusiasm into that short conflict. 

      Before he had commenced the prosecution of his profession, his attention was again diverted. Upon the discovery of gold in California, he was among the first to leave Illinois for the far West. He came to California by way of Panama. The voyage severely tried his patience and endurance; not being able to secure a through ticket, he was detained some time on the Isthmus; at length he embarked at Panama on the ship Two Friends, for San Francisco. This vessel was very old and very slow. Mr. Murray spent six months in coming from Panama to San Francisco, and would have been even longer on the way had he not left the vessel at Cape St. Lucas. In company with some of his companions he walked the entire distance from the point last named to the place of his destinationseveral hundred miles. Upon this journey the little party of indomitable pioneers suffered incredible hardships and privations. At last, in September, 1849, they arrived at San Francisco. Mr. Murray at once commenced the practice of law. He soon formed a large circle of friends, and was distinguished for his social and convivial qualities. He was not long in obtaining a lucrative practice. When the Superior Court of the city of San Francisco was organized by the first Legislature of the State in 1850, Hugh C. Murray and J. Caleb Smith were elected Associate Justices, Judge Morse having been appointed to preside. Judge Murray discharged the functions of his office in a manner that convinced the bar and the people of his capacity and fidelity. 

      In 1854, upon the resignation of Judge Bennett, Mr. Murray was appointed by Governor McDougal as one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. Judge Murray was then only twenty-six years of age. It is safe to predict that many years will elapse before the Supreme bench of this or any other State will be occupied by a man as young as was Judge Murray at that time. Upon the expiration of his term of office, in 1853, our subject was nominated by the Democracy for Supreme Judge, and was elected by the people. Shortly after his election, he became, upon the resignation of Judge Lyons, Chief Justice of the Court. 

      The term for which he was elected having expired in 1855, Judge Murray became a candidate for reëlection. The Native American, or Know-Nothing, party had just perfected its organization in California. Judge Murray, with many of the brightest intellects of the State, embraced the principles of the new party. The first State Convention of that party met at Sacramento, in the summer of 1855. It was a very enthusiastic body and largely attended. Judge Murray received the nomination for Supreme Judge for the long termsix years. After a desperate contest, in which every appliance was brought to defeat him, he was again elected by a small majority. He continued to be the presiding justice of the Court up to the time of his death. In the summer of 1853 he made a visit to Illinois, and spent a few months with his mother. With that exception, ever since his appointment in 1851 until he succumbed to disease in 1857, he devoted all the energies of his great mind to the proper discharge of his official duties. 

      Judge Murray died of consumption at his residence in Sacramento, on September 18th, 1857. For a long while before his death he had suffered much, and often occupied his seat on the bench when his health did not justify it. He was confined to his room for about ten days in his last sickness. By the force of will he bore up against the working of his disease until the evening previous to this death, when the consciousness of his situation was first fully manifested to him, and he calmly resigned all hope of life. From that hour he sank rapidly, and at a quarter past twelve o’clock the next day, expired. A post mortem examination showed the cause of death to be the perforation of the left lung by the ravages of disease. A violent fit of coughing, with which he was first attacked, caused a rupture of the tegument and the opening referred to. The following extract is taken from the obituary notice of Judge Murray which appeared in the Sacramento Union the day after his death. 

      “As a man, Judge Murray has always been noted for his extremely positive character. No one in the State possessed more warm and devotedly attached friends, and probably no one more bitter enemies. He sought no disguise of his preferences or dislikes, nor did he strive to conceal the faults of his nature. He was consequently subjected to severe criticismas much so as perhaps any man who has occupied so exalted a position. The violence of assault had, on the other hand, the effect of drawing his friends to him more closely, and we doubt not the tears shed at his grave will flow directly from the very depths of the heart. 

      “As a jurist, Judge Murray occupied an unequivocal position. No onenot even his most bitter enemyhas ever questioned his capacity. He had a peculiarly legal mind, sufficient to grasp all the points of a case with wonderful scope. His legal knowledge seemed to have been almost intuitive. From chaos he drew forth order, and resolved the most intricate propositions into clear and concise form. His decisions were always terse and pungent, free from circumlocution and directly to the point. The last judicial act of his lifethe decision in the case of Welsh vs. Sullivan--was his most elaborate one, and serves better than any commentary to display the strong, positive character of the Judge and the man.” 

      At the time of his death, the only surviving relatives of Judge Murray, were his mother and brother, who resided at Alton, Illinois. His mother is represented to have been a lady of strong intellect and estimable character. 

      More than twelve years have elapsed since Judge Murray’s body was committed to the earth. A noble fraternity of professional men, constantly augmenting in numbers, continues to study with unflagging interest his learned expositions of law. His fame is established as an honest man, a great lawyer, and an upright judge. Those who bear his name may smile at the harmless shafts with which his enemies, in their bitterness, dared to assail even his honor. The record of his life will bear the closest scrutiny, and will lead the candid foe to confess, that he was UNCORRUPTED and INCORRUPTIBLE. 



On the opening of the Court, W. T. Wallace, Esq., Attorney General of the State, arose and said: 

May it please your Honors:— 

      Since your last adjournment, it has pleased an all-wise Providence to remove from our midst the Hon. Hugh C. Murray, the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California. Arriving upon our shores a youth, unknown and unheralded, unaided by any of the fortuitous circumstances which sometimes lend success to men, he commenced his high career; but he was not even then unnoticed. One who heard his first effort here as a lawyer, has often in other years related to me the deep interest which his eloquence threw around the first cause which he argued upon these shores. After his arrival in this State, Judge Murray did not long remain at the bar. It was early discovered that he was fitted for a loftier position. He was first elected one of the Judges of the Superior Court of the city of San Francisco. In that position his great abilities as a jurist were so signally displayed, that in accordance with the general wish of the bar, at the earliest opportunity which offered, he was transferred to the bench of the Supreme Court, in which position, having been twice elected by the people of the State, he continued until his death put a period to his usefulness. He was gifted by nature with an intellect capable of grasping the mightiest subjects; he had a mind which passed with ease through the meshes in which ingenuity or sophistry had interwoven a cause to the controlling point; and he was possessed of an analysis under the magic operation of which the most intricate legal problems were solved as if by intuition. At the early age of thirty-two years, it is not to be denied that his position was in the front rank of the jurists of our country. In view of so much accomplished while he was yet in the morning of his life, who could tell what he might have effected for his country, and himself, when years and experience had fully matured his great powers? But he is gone ! Glassy and dim now is the eye that we have seen here so often lit up with the flash of genius and intelligence. That generous and kind heart is stilled forever. That noble form, which we have so long seen presiding over the judicial destinies of a great State, has passed away, and of the loved and honored and gifted departed, nothing is left but the bright page in the judicial history of the State which his genius adorned, and the memory of the man, most fondly cherished by those who knew him best. He had no negatives in his nature. He never shunned responsibility, and never turned aside in his pathway to avoid consequences; and, like all men of such strongly marked and positive character, he had bitter enemies and devoted friends. But friends and generous foes alike, gathering around his early tomb, pronounce his untimely death the greatest calamity that has yet befallen the fortunes of our young commonwealth. 

        I move, your Honors, that the resolutions of the Sacramento Bar, which I have the honor now to read and present, may be entered upon the minutes of the Court; and that this Court do now adjourn, as a mark of respect to the memory of the lamented deceased. 


      In response to the motion of the Attorney General, Chief Justice Terry said:— 


The death of the Hon. Hugh C. Murray, who for five years past has occupied, with distinguished ability, the position of Chief Justice of this Court, has filled us with unfeigned regret. 

        Called early in life to an important position in the Judiciary of a new State, he was eminently fitted for the discharge of the onerous and responsible duties of the post. His quick perception, sound judgment, and vigorous intellect, enabled him to master with ease the most difficult questions; and the possession of great moral courage prevented his being swayed or influenced, in the conscientious discharge of his official duties, by any considerations of policy or regard for personal popularity. He has left his mark in the history of our young State, whose judicial reports, bearing the impress of his genius, will remain a lasting monument to his memory. As a judge, he was just, impartial and fearless. As a man, he was remarkable for the possession of social qualities which won, in a peculiar degree, upon the confidence and affection of his associates. He was frank, candid, and ingenuous, almost to a fault; generous to prodigality, and firm and faithful in his friendship. We deplore his early death, as an irreparable loss to the State; and, cordially approving the resolutions you have just read, order that the proceedings of to-day be entered on the minute of the Court, and as mark of respect for the memory of our late distinguished brother, order that the Court stand adjourned until Monday next. 



Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 473-478.

© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.












San Francisco County