The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

 
 
Midshipman (Later Lieutenant Commander VD) Cecil Murnin

Midshipman Cecil Egan Murnin, (Later Lt Comdr C E Murnin VD) China Contingent, Boer War officer and a Wallaby

Cecil Egan Murnin was born in Sydney in 1883, son of George and Harriet Murnin; his grandfather M E Murnin had been prominent in business shipping and insurance as well is having been a police magistrate in the middle of the century. (He was also a founder of the AMP Society and the Union club.)

Murnin was educated at Shore School, Sydney, where he excelled at Rugby and was regarded as a good wicket-keeper although the coach had some doubts about his batting. By 1900 having left school and in the business, he was a midshipman in the Naval Brigade.

In July 1900, the Australian colonies in response to the Boxer Rebellion offered naval assistance to Britain, to assist in quelling the anti-European disturbances and rescuing the besieged legations in Peking. The Naval Brigade offers from New South Wales and Victoria and the gunboat HMCS Protector from South Australia were accepted.

Midshipman Murnin at just 17 years of age volunteered and was accepted for the New South Wales contingent. He was assigned to A company, (New South Wales) of the contingent which would fight as infantry.

The contingent departed Sydney on the SS Salamis on 8 August 1900. By the time the contingent arrived in China most of the fighting was complete and several planned operations came to nothing. The New South Wales contingent moved to Peking to undertake internal security and public order duties replacing a British regular battalion. Midshipman Murnin was assigned to the convoy of junks and barges on the canals carrying equipment for all of the force. He kept a diary of his travels. Murnin’s A company were also responsible for operating one of the naval 12 pounder's, which were issued to the contingent. The contingent departed China on the SS Chingtu 29th March 1901 arriving in Sydney on the evening of 25 April 1901. There, it was apparent that despite inoculations, at least one case of smallpox was on board. Eventually one of the New South Wales Marines died from this disease. The majority of the contingent including Murnin were landed on 3 May 1900.

For his China service, midshipman Murnin and was awarded the Queen's China War Medal and the private American decoration the Military Order of the Dragon.


On return from China he announced his intention to go to South Africa. He sailed on the SS Orient from Sydney on 24 July 1901 with other members of the naval brigade who wanted to see service in South Africa. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he carried excellent credentials, presumably letters of introduction from important military figures in the colony. He announced that he hoped to secure a commission in the Scottish Horse however he was unable to secure such a position. The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 1901, reported that he had written back to his father to say he was now serving as a Lieutant in the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Volunteer Rifles and was stationed near Paarl in Cape Colony. It is interesting however that the Otago Witness in 1908 in discussing his selection as a Wallaby for the tour of Britain, stated that it he had served with the Colonial Light Horse. Given enlistment terms it is quite possible that he served in both units. He does not appear on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Volunteer Rifles roll but that is not an infrequent occurrence in the war. Colonial Light Horse roll is currently not available. Both units spent their operational lives in the Cape Colony.

From late 1901 until the close of the war, the DEOVR was chiefly employed in the west of Cape Colony, about Griquatown and Daniel's Kuil; and although very frequently engaged and suffering some losses, they seem always to have done well, often in difficult circumstances, as when they had to take convoys or to guard posts very far from the railway and the main force of the army. While in Griqualand, throughout part of 1901 and 1902, the corps had to observe great watchfulness, and be ever ready for surprises. The enemy did not leave the posts—such as Griquatown and Daniel's Kuil—unworried, and casualties were frequent. A portion of the regiment was in the Port Nolloth-Ookiep district in 1902 when the enemy developed considerable activity in that neighbourhood. One detachment of twenty, which held a kopje near Arrenons, made an excellent defence when attacked on 15th April by a strong force.

Whilst the DEOVR’s role was primarily convoy and vital asset protection, the Colonial Light Horse patrolled much more widely looking for small Boer raiding and foraging parties and in fact probably fought the last action of the war.

The Colonial Light Horse Regiment saw a good deal of service in Cape Colony in 1902, at a time when glory was very hard to harvest, but they did useful work in worrying and running down small commandos, and they seem to have kept out of serious mishaps. They were still engaged with scattered bodies of the enemy when peace was declared, and had sharp fighting thirty-six miles east of Fraserburg on 3rd June 1902, actually four days after the declaration of peace. The commandos had apparently not taken the news seriously, if these had reached the neighbourhood. On this last occasion a Squadron Sergeant and 3 men were killed, and 2 men were wounded.

He returned to Australia 21 August 1902 on the SS Wakanui. The intention had been to disembark in Hobart then transship to a coastal ship to Sydney. However in an incident eeryily similar to his return from China, two crew members were found to be suffering from smallpox. Non-Tasmanians were not permitted to land and were carried on to New Zealand. After health checks he was allowed to return to Australia. Newspapers at the time were caustic in their condemnation of authorities in South Africa endangering soldiers lives, as it had been known in South Africa that there were cases of smallpox on the ship. Repeated reference was made to the Drayton Grange case as a further example of official laxness.

For his South African service Lt Murnin received the Queens South African medal with a clasp's Cape Colony, South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.

Following his wartime experiences he returned to the Naval Brigade as a Lt, to business and sporting activities. He is noted as shooting with the Naval Brigade rifle team in competition in the early years of the century. He was also an enthusiastic sailor and skippered the 10 foot skiff Rainbow in harbour competition with the Port Jackson Sailing Skiff club, both before and after the war.

It was in rugby however that he was to make his mark after the war. He played for Eastern Suburbs club in the first grade rugby competition from about 1904 onwards and in 1905 toured New Zealand with an Australian side. About this time he also became captain of Eastern Suburbs and played with such greats as Dally Messenger. He led Easts to the premiership in 1905. He was a large, imposing and fearless loose forward six-foot 2 inches and on one occasion when Dally Messenger was being roughed up by a player from the Sydney Rugby club, Murnin stepped in and offered the offender a chance to have a go – needless to say the offer was declined.

By 1907 he was capaining the Waratah's with a win loss ratio of seven games, five wins, a draw and a loss. Statistics than any current Super Rugby skipper would kill for. In one of these matches against the New Zealand All Blacks, the Waratah's won 14-0. A memorable photo in the Sydney Mail at the time showed an all Black player deliberately holding him back by the jersey as he ran for the ball. Can't imagine an All Black doing that but still!

Also in 1907 he withdrew from the test series against the All Blacks due to a family bereavement.

In 1908 he is selected for the first Wallaby tour of Britain but was not selected as captain. Recently a rugby authority has suggested that this was because he was a working class boy and the selectors wanted someone with statue who could speak well publicly. This argument fails to understand who Murnin actually was. He was a well-known in Sydney social circles and Sydney Church of England Grammar School is scarcely working class. It is not clear why he should have been passed over but this was a period of great spitefulness in rugby, being precisely at the time of the split between union and league. His refusal to play tests in 1907 may have contributed to it as well as perhaps a perceived close relationship with Dally Messenger and perhaps Dan Frawley (3ACH). Dr Moran, the selected captain was perhaps seen as safer hands in enforcing the amateur code. The discussion became academic however as Murnin took ill on the voyage and had to return home. He was carried off the boat in Sydney. At this distance is not clear what the problem really was, the official version being that he had caught a chill on shipboard and as a result of training with this, had damaged his spine. Later reports indicate that he was also diagnosed with kidney infection and peritonitis. In any event it was many months before he was fit again and he appears never to have played representative rugby again. Given his early death, it is tempting to think that the problem could have originated with his war service.

The Otago Witness in describing his 1908 selection said that he was one of the finest forwards New South Wales had produced and that in the loose there was no better all-round man in the state.

He retained a strong interest in rugby administration and also took up golf as a member of the Sydney Golf Club.

Despite these tribulations Murnin remained active in the Naval Brigade. His presence was noted at the welcome to Sydney to the newRAN in ships in 1913 and on other occasions. He commanded the Viceregal guard of honour of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve on 27th April 1914 at the 144th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Kurnell.

He married Ruth Alma Blair at St Peter's Neutral Bay, 7 August 1913. He established his own firm, C E Murnin Ltd, as a tea importer although it is clear that other items such as textiles were also imported. His wife seems to have had a keen interest and worked alongside him in the business, as she took over successfully as the managing director after his death.

During World War I it is not clear what role he played, perhaps being restricted by health issues to home service. Some sources however claim that he had the British War medal (and possibly the Victory Medal). This would indicate a service perhaps beyond just home service. By 1921 he had been promoted to Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and in April that year had just been awarded the Volunteer Officers Decoration (VD) he was attending a medal presentation in Bombala on Anzac Day 1921, presenting 16 local men with their British War Medals. It was not clear whether this was in an official or unofficial capacity. Shortly after the last presentation, he collapsed on stage and was rushed to hospital but never recovered consciousness. He was 38 years of age. He was buried in Waverley cemetery after a short service at St Mark's Darling Point.
 


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