James Murdoch lived from 27 September 1856 to 30 October 1921. He was a teacher and historian who spent much of his life in Japan and Australia. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Murdoch was born in Stonehaven. A gifted child, he won a scholarship to the University of Aberdeen. He went on to study at Worcester College, Oxford; at Gottingen University and and at the University of Paris. He was regarded as a natural genius in foreign languages and seemed destined for a glittering academic career when, in 1880 at the age of 24, he emigrated to Australia.
Murdoch held a series of teaching posts in Australian schools during the 1880s. He then became a journalist at the radical nationalist newspaper, the Boomerang. He made a considerable impact with a series of articles predicting that within a generation the Australian colonies would form an independent socialist republic, which unless living conditions were improved for the poor would follow a violent revolution.
In 1889, Murdoch became Professor of European history at the First Higher School in Tokyo. He also launched a weekly magazine, the Japan Echo, and started to write novels and non-fiction works. In September 1893 Murdoch left Japan to join "New Australia", an experimental commune in Paraguay. What he found was far from the socialist paradise he had expected, and he rapidly moved on to London.
In 1894 Murdoch returned to Japan, where he would live for the next 17 years. From 1894 to 1897 Murdoch taught English at the Fourth Higher School at Kanazawa Ishikawa prefecture. He then taught economic history at the Higher Commercial College, now Hitotsubashi University. Posts in other schools followed and in 1903 the first volume of his A History of Japan, covering the period from 1542 to 1651 was published. He became a full time writer from 1908, and in 1910 the second volume of A History of Japan, appeared, covering the period from the origins of Japan to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1542. The third volume, covering the period of the Tokugawa Epoch from 1652 to 1868, followed in 1915.
In February 1917, Murdoch returned to Australia to teach Japanese at the Australian Royal Military College and at the University of Sydney, where he was made a professor in 1918. He subsequently became an advisor to the Australian Government on its relations with Japan. He died in 1921 having just started work on the fourth volume of his A History of Japan.