Monday, April 15, sees the 200th anniversary of the death of Galloway’s most famous son – Alexander Murray.
The Kirkcudbright shepherd’s son, who was born with severe short-sightedness, seemed on the surface to have few prospects in life but rose to become a Professor of Oriental Languages at Edinburgh University.
Born in a cottage in Dunkitterick, Murray’s father was already 70 when he was born, but taught his son to read the Bible whe he was just a little boy. He made such remarkable progress that his uncle paid for him to be educated at New Galloway and Minnigaff.
He worked at the mill in Minnigaff and taught the mill owner’s children. A natural linguist, he soaked up books and taught himself French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, Anglo-Saxon, Welsh and Abyssinian.
His fierce intelligence brought him to the attention of Robert Burns, who he met in Dumfries in 1794. Burns encouraged Murray to go to Edinburgh University. He applied for and won a scholarship and graduated in divinity.
Murray was also a prolific writer, penning a seven-volume history of the explorer James Bruce as well as a tome called the History of European Languages and Outlines of Oriental Philology.
In 1806 he was appointed assistant minister at Urr near Dalbeattie but at heart he was an academic and in 1812 applied successfully for the post of Professor of Oriental Languages at his alma mater. But within a year his heath was failing and he died in 1813 at the age of 37. He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Murray’s Monument was built in 1835 in his honour near the remains of the shepherd’s cottage where he was born.