The Murdoch connection

February 25, 2013 12:00 am | Updated 04:58 am IST

Following the genealogical trail of some of the British who served in Old Madras has become a fascination for one of my regular suppliers of tidbits, Bharath Yeshwanth. This time, he has sent me information about a connection with Madras that media mogul Rupert Murdoch has.

Murdoch may be an American now, but his roots are in Australia. It was Patrick Murdoch, the son of the Rev. James Murdoch, a Minister of the Free Church of Scotland, who first emigrated from Scotland to Victoria in 1884. Patrick’s son Keith Arthur Murdoch, later to be knighted, went into journalism and in time, became a newspaper proprietor whose business his son Rupert developed into a worldwide empire. Keith Murdoch married Elizabeth Joy Greene. Rupert was their son and it was his mother who introduced an Indian connection into the Murdoch family.

Elizabeth Joy Greene was the great great grand-daughter of Robert Sherson, who arrived in Madras in the late 18th Century to serve the East India Company and rose to become Post Master General in 1793. In May 1798, he married Catherine Taylor in St. Mary’s in the Fort. Their daughter Catherine Jemima married Frederick Forth who was to become Lt. Governor of the West Indies and a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong before retiring to, and settling in, Tasmania. The Forths’ son was the father of a daughter who married a Greene and it was the Greenes who were the parents of Elizabeth Joy who married Keith Arthur Murdoch, one day to become a newspaper magnate. Less smooth was the career of Robert Sherson in Madras. After a steady climb to a senior position, Sherson was appointed in 1807 by Governor William Bentinck as co-charge with a fellow official, Cooke, to receive and disburse grain imported for famine relief. When a cyclone struck Madras in December 1807, the granaries were badly damaged. A committee formed to assess the loss included two persons who had been overlooked when Bentinck had appointed Sherson and Cooke and they alleged that grain had been fraudulently sold and that Sherson had appropriated the proceeds amounting to nearly 30,000 pagodas.

George Barlow, who succeeded Bentinck as Governor, accepted the findings - quite possibly because of his close friendship with one of the complainants - and dismissed Sherson, a person of “excellent character,” according to all those in the settlement who felt that he had been ‘framed.’ Seven years after he had been suspended, a Member of Parliament in the U.K., Alexander Novell, who had waged a sustained campaign to have Sherson’s name cleared, succeeded in having him acquitted; it was also recommended that he be re-employed by the Company. A grateful Sherson in 1816 named his son Alexander Novell.

Sherson, it would appear, did not re-enter the Company’s service but became a merchant. In 1816, he is recorded as having bought a house next to the Exchange that is now the Fort Museum, possibly what is a Naval office today, for 3000 pagodas. In 1818, he sold it for 4000 pagodas. And, then, did he leave India?

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