James Murdoch (27 September 1856 – 30 October 1921) was a Scottish scholar and journalist, who worked as a teacher in the Empire of Japan and Australia. From 1903–1917, he wrote a massive three-volume History of Japan, which was not published until 5 years after his death. It was the first comprehensive history of Japan in the English language.
Murdoch was born in Stonehaven
, near Aberdeen
, in Scotland
. He exhibited signs of intellectual brilliance as a child, and although his family was of moderate means, he won a scholarship to Aberdeen University
where he completed a bachelor's and master's degree. He subsequently studied at Worcester College
, Oxford University
, Gottingen University
and the University of Paris
. Regarded as a genius in foreign languages, at the age of 24, he suddenly resigned from his post as a professor and decided to emigrate to Australia
Life in Australia
Murdoch taught in Queensland
Australia from July 1881–1889 as headmaster of the new Maryborough
Grammar School. He became unpopular with the trustees (possibly because of his atheism
) and he was dismissed in March 1885. He worked for the next two years as assistant master at Brisbane
Grammar School. In 1886 he also sat for the Bar examinations
, but failed in two of the eight papers because he had mistakenly attempted to answer every question. He left the school at his own wish and became a journalist at the radical nationalist journal, the Boomerang
. In a series of articles he predicted that within a generation the Australian colonies would form an independent republic
, which would turn socialist
through a violent revolution unless the harsh living conditions of the working classes were alleviated.
Life in Japan
Murdoch came to Japan as a foreign advisor
, from September 1889–1893 as a professor of European history
at the First Higher School, an elite institution for young men entering the Tokyo Imperial University
In addition to teaching, he vigorously pursued literary activities. In June 1890 he published a long piece of satirical verse, Don Juan's Grandson in Japan. In November he launched a weekly magazine, the Japan Echo, which lasted for six issues. In 1892 he published From Australia and Japan (a volume of short stories which went through three editions) and a novel, Ayame-san. His stories were romances in which the heroes tended to be academic and sporting paragons with socialist political leanings, whereas the women were both mercenary and cruel, or paragons of erudition, beauty and good breeding. He also wrote several texts for pictorial guidebooks aimed at historically-minded tourists, and edited the memoirs of Hikozo Hamada, the castaway who became the first Japanese to acquire American citizenship.
Life in Paraguay and London
In September 1893 Murdoch left Japan to join a 'New Australia' communist
. By the time of his arrival, however, about one-third of the colonists had seceded, and far from the socialist paradise he had imagined, he found only poverty, dissention and disease. He remained only a few days and, leaving his 12-year-old son in South America
, proceeded on to London
in ill health.
He spent the next five months recuperating at the British Museum translating the letters of sixteenth-century European religieux in Japan; he then returned to Japan, where he would live until 1917.
Life in Japan, again
From 1894 to 1897 Murdoch taught English
at the Fourth Higher School at Kanazawa Ishikawa prefecture
. On 23 November 1899
, while teaching economic history at the Higher Commercial College (today's Hitotsubashi University
) in Tokyo
, he married Takeko Okada. His most famous student during his second period in Japan was Natsume Sōseki
In 1901 Murdoch moved to the Seventh Higher School at Kagoshima, Kyūshū. He had never fully recovered from the illness he had contracted in South America and he hoped to benefit from the milder Kyūshū winters. The first volume of his A History of Japan, covering the period from 1542–1651, appeared in 1903. The European language sources in Latin, Spanish, French and Dutch were all translated by himself.
In 1908, Murdoch's teaching contract was not renewed. Murdoch, nevertheless, decided to remain at Kagoshima. He contributed regularly to the Kobe Chronicle newspaper and, to supplement this income, planted a citron orchard. Although he was never to achieve fluency with the spoken language, he had now become so proficient in classical written Japanese that he no longer had to rely on Japanese assistants. The next volume of his A History of Japan, subtitled From the Origins to the Arrival of the Portuguese in 1542 A.D., appeared in 1910. In 1915, following the completion of the manuscript of the third volume, The Tokugawa Epoch 1652–1868, poverty forced Murdoch back into teaching, this time at the junior high-school level.
Life in Australia, again
In February 1917, however, Murdoch was able to return to Australia to teach Japanese at the Royal Military College
, and at the University of Sydney
(where he founded the Japanese studies program), concurrent appointments instituted on the initiative of the Australian Defense Department. The following year, in response to an effort made by Waseda University
to bring him back to Japan, the University of Sydney raised his status to that of a fully tenured professor. In return for £600 a year from the Defense Department, the university also permitted Murdoch to visit Japan annually to obtain first-hand information on shifts in Japanese public opinion and foreign policy. The first such visit resulted in a memorandum highly critical of Australia's intransigence on the racial equality
issue raised by Japan at the Paris Peace Conference
. Similarly, two years later Murdoch was called to Melbourne to give the Prime Minister of Australia
his views on the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance
Murdoch died of cancer at his home at Baulkham Hills on 30 October 1921. He had just completed the research for the fourth volume of the A History of Japan but had not begun writing. He was survived by his son (in South America) and by his wife (who returned to Japan).