Monday, May 2, 2011

The Plains of Abraham: an eyewitness account

Found in the Chicksands Collection, a small pamphlet with a brown cardboard cover reading:


Alexander Murray




Ob. 1762

Inside on the first page is a handwritten note:

Presented by Lt. Genl Sir J. Wolfe Murray

The preface states that the letters in the booklet were compiled by an aunt for her nephew, Lt. (now Commander) Philip C.K. Wolfe Murray, R.N.

Her note, quoted, recounts that the letters were “all I have of your great-grandfather’s”. Philip’s older brother, James, had the letters printed privately “for family circulation” but apparently sent a presentation copy to the War Office, where it was accessioned in 1933.

The letters are those of Alexander Murray, Lieutenant-Colonel (1715-1762). The eldest son of Alexander Murray, Sheriff-Deputy of Peebles & MP, Alexander went into the army at an early age and rose steadily through the ranks. He commanded the Grenadiers at the Siege of Louisburg and at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. He enjoyed a close personal relationship with General James Wolfe and indeed, his second son James Wolfe, born in 1759 (d. 1836) was the General’s god-son.

The second James Wolfe Murray (1814-1890) was a Brigadier General and his son, James Wolfe the third (1853-1919) was a Lieutenant General in the Royal Artillery – and responsible for the publication of this booklet.

The letters, written between 1749 and 1761, include a brief note written on the day of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (September 13th 1759) and another more detailed account written the following week. Excerpts include:

“At about 8 o’clock, contrary to our expectation, the French Army advanced in a column to try and break our centre, and surrounded our left flank. We advanced very slowly and resolutely to receive them, the men being determined to conquer or die in their ranks rather than be scalped and hacked…” and later

“The 17th they sent out to capitulate, and on the 18th I took possession with the Granadiers [sic]

James the 3rd added a note saying “My father used to tell me that Alexander Murray was the officer in command of the troops to whom the keys of Quebec were handed over by the French on the formal capitulation

A rare and little-known gem of Canada’s military history, with only one other copy listed in World Cat as belonging to the National Library of Scotland.


  1. Very interesting, Jan! I fancy myself quite well-read when it comes to James Wolfe but I've never come across an Alexander Murray. Any idea which Grenadiers he commanded? I think I'll brush up on my 1750s history this weekend...

  2. 45th Regiment Grenadiers at louisbourg and then Quebec