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Murch Stories - Politicians, Councillors & Churchmen
Sir Jerom Murch - Politician
Bath Guildhall

Sir Jerom Murch – Politician and Mayor of Bath



Jerom Murch was born in Honiton in Devon in 1807 and was educated at University College London.  He became a Unitarian minister in Norfolk on £100 a year before moving to Bath in Somerset to take up a position as a minister in Trim Street in 1833. The Trim Street area was at the time a very poor part of the city. At the age of 38 he was forced to retire from his ministry due to ill health, by which time he had formed very clear humanitarian opinions on how the city and its inhabitants lives could be improved. He had married Anne Meadows, an heiress, and was able to prosper and pursue his ambition as a Liberal reforming politician. He also became a magistrate, the Deputy Lieutenant of the county and Alderman.


Jerom Murch was a consummate networker and public speaker.  With determination and his persuasive powers, he pushed forward many projects and reforms to the city. He became a key figure in Bath’s political and cultural life during the 19th century and was elected Mayor seven times from 1863 to 1893. He was also voted ‘Man of the Century’ during a career that spanned sixty years.  He was a great humanitarian and presided over what has been described as a great age of Victorian civic improvement in the city. His distinguished career also earned him a knighthood.


His initiatives to help the poor, included improving Bath’s water supply and sanitation. In 1864 the city began a series of reforms under his leadership, with improvements to the streets and buildings, lighting, theatres, parks and amenities. He had a long association with the Bath Board of Guardians, the Bath Literary and Philosophical Association, the Bath Mineral Water Hospital, the Theatre Royal Company and the Grand Pump Room Hotel Company.  He instigated improvements to Victoria Park and the restoration of Bath Abbey. He was also involved in the extensions to Bath’s Guildhall in the 1890s, including the Victoria Art Gallery.


He wrote several books on religious history and on the city of Bath. He also built a grand house called Cranwell based on the designs of Inigo Jones. He can be credited with instigating improvements to the design, prosperity, cultural heritage and health of a city that he clearly loved and it brought him great prosperity and success.


Both his sons died before him, Charles in 1891 and Arthur in 1885.  His wife died in 1893.  Jerom died in 1895. His grandson, Denis Jerom Murch, died in the second Boer War at Sanna’s Post.


Rev. Dr. William Harris Murch (1784 – 12 July 1859) – The Boy Preacher


William Harris Murch was born in Honiton in Devon and developed an interest in the church at a young age.  He was known as the ‘boy preacher’.


After reading a biography of Samuel Pearce, an English Baptist minister, known as a hymn-writer, he became inspired to join the church. He attended Wymondly College, a dissenting academy that moved location frequently. He was baptised in 1802 when still a young boy in the Baptist style.  When he completed his training he received an offer from the Sheppards Barton Meeting house in Frome, which he finally accepted after thinking and considering for some while over whether he was mature enough.


After a long ministry in Frome, in 1827 he was appointed as a joint secretary of the Baptist Union and the Theological head and President of the Stepney Academy, A Baptist foundation that was formed out of the Baptist Education Society set up in London by Abraham Booth and others. Dissenting academies were schools, colleges and seminaries run by dissenters, people who did not conform to the Church of England.  From the mid seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries they were a significant part of England’s educational system. They were non-conformist Protestants who did not conform to the Church of Englands articles.  Their sons were debarred from taking degrees in the universities so many of them attended the dissenting academies. Many of those who could afford it completed their education at Leyden, Utrecht, Edinburgh or Glasgow. Edinburgh was attended by those who were studying medicine or law.  Murch was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity by Brown University.  He became a joint secretary of the Baptist Union in 1834 and remained in post for twelve years.  John Howard Hinton at the time stated that although Baptists had been meeting for many years it was not until 1834 that the real Baptist Union was formed.


In 1840 Murch attended the Worlds Anti-Slavery Convention in London and was one of the delegates painted in the portrait of the convention by Benjamin Robert Haydon which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.


Murch stepped down from the Stepney Academy in 1843 and resigned from other formal positions and moved to a church in Rickmansworth for seven years before moving to the city of Bath to form a church there. 


He died in 1859.

Murch attends Anti-Slavery Convention

James DeForest Murch – Writer and Influential Man of the Church


James DeForest Murch was born on October 23rd 1892 in New Vienna, Ohio.


His father Everett Delonzo Murch (a preacher in Ohio) and Ella Mallory Savage were strongly committed to the Stone-Campbell tradition and James D Murch maintained that commitment throughout his life. His fathers’ position as a preacher meant that the young James spent much time with leaders of the Stone-Campbell tradition. He himself became a pivotal figure in the movement.

James Murch married Olive Cameron in 1915 and he clearly admired her for her commitment to their deeply Christian family and home.  He said of her “Olive has all the qualifications necessary to have built a career of her own but she chose to build one that has been of immense help to me in my life and ministry”. They had one child, James DeForest Murch II.


His life was totally dedicated to his faith and his church.  He studied at Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati. He became a unity activist, teacher and historian.   He continued to study and write throughout his life and became editor of The Lookout with Standard Publishing in Cincinnati.  He co-founded the Cincinnati Bible Seminary and became acting president for a time.  While there he taught Christian education and missions.  He also became editor of the Restoration Herald while president of the Christian Restoration Association and a director of the Clark Fund.  Throughout his life he was a leading national figure in the Christian church and wrote a history of Christian Churches.


Later Dr. Murch founded and became a director of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. He also became a co-founder of the North American Christian Convention and its committee.  His love of the church and his faith also led him to become a founder of the Christian’s Hour Broadcasting Association.  For seventeen years he was a Bible school superintendent and became an elder of the Westwood-Cheviot Church of Christ in Cincinnati.  Continuing his interest in writing and publishing, he became managing editor of Christianity Today, he also became founder and president of the National Association of Religious Broadcasters and the Evangelical Press Association.  He founded the North American Christian Convention and worked on its committee; became a fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters and President of the National Sunday School Association.

His wrote prodigiously.  Christianity Today called him, “One of its most influential evangelical leaders,” He was also described as being “an initiator and pioneer”. Reading his autobiography’s table of contents, Adventuring for Christ in Changing Times, it is possible to understand the depth of his commitment to the evangelical community. 

James D Murch was the editor of many magazines and journals including:


Something Doing, 1916-1918

The Lookout, 1918-1925

Restoration Herald, 1925-1934

Christian Endeavor Quarterly, 1925-1934

Christian Action, 1935-1945

Christian Unity Quarterly, 1941-1945

Standard Bible Teacher and Leader, 1944-1945

Christian Home Life, 1944-1945

United Evangelical Action (first major endeavor outside the Stone-Campbell Tradition), 1945-1958

Christianity Today, 1958-1961


James D Murch retired aged 70. Following his retirement he committed much of his time to writing. He became a visiting lecturer and preacher. He wrote a weekly column in the Christian Standard called ‘Today in Christendom’ up to his death in 1973.  His last installment sadly coincided with the release of his obituary.


Apart from his writing he will be remembered for the hymns he wrote, in particular ‘I’ll Put Jesus First in My Life’, written in 1967.  It is a particularly moving piece that marks out James DeForest Murch as a man of great belief and talent. He was a studious, dedicated Christian who always wished he had been able to become a scholar, however, he had no formal education in theology or Christian education, he once commented, “If I had given as much attention to my studies as I did to student activities I might have been a scholar”.

Here is that rather lovely hymn:


The world all about me has now no allure:
Its pleasure ring pain,
Its wisdom is vain;
I seek a foundation that's steadfast and sure:
I'll put Jesus first in my life.


In all that I say,
In all that I do,
Thro'out the world of toil and strife,
By day and by night,
Thro' trust in His might,
I'll put Jesus first in my life.


The Lord Jesus died my salvation to win:
He went in my stead
To Calv'ry and bled;
Redemption impels me to give up all sin:
I'll put Jesus first in my life.


I know there's a home for the ransomed and blest,
When death is no more,
When struggle is o'er,
For those who love Jesus and give Him their best:
I'll put Jesus first in my life.


Tho' earth's tribulations continue each day,
Tho' pleasure may call,
Tho' evil enthrall,
His grace will protect me forever and aye:
I'll put Jesus first in my life.



Rev. Dr Chauncey Murch - Egyptologist & Missionary - The Murch Collection       Saint or Sinner?

Chauncey Murch has been one of the more challenging Murch’s to research as his reputation differs depending on what reports you read. 


Chauncey was born on 1st January 1856 in West Alexander, Pennsylvania.

He married Amelia Sophronia Canfield (1853-1916) in 1880 and had six children, Chauncey Murch born 1887, a son who did not survive, James Allen Murch and four others unknown during the research for this article.  Chauncey received his doctorate of Divinity from the Western University of Pennsylvania. He became well known in the city following his trips to Egypt as he often lectured to the students of the university whilst displaying some of his finds on return trips to Pennsylvania. 


Sadly his mother died suddenly when he was 29 and was reported in the Greencastle Star Press in December 1885 the following:


Dropped Dead While Speaking.

Findlay, O., Dec. 24. — Mrs. Mary March dropped dead in the Presbyterian church here Sunday night while addressing a missionary meeting. Intense excitement ensued. Mrs. Murch was a prominent church worker. One of her sons, Rev. Chauncey Murch, is a missionary in Egypt, and another son, Rev. Franklin Murch, is the pastor of a church u) Kansas City, Mo.


Chauncey Murch became a missionary based in the American Presbyterian Mission in Luxor, Egypt for 25 years in the late 19th century.  He was a prodigious collector of Egyptian antiquities, of which over 3000 are kept at the British Museum and were sold to them between 1890 and 1907 by Murch and they are commonly known as The Murch Collection. Other museums, in particular in the U.S, also hold thousands of pieces purchased and sold on to other Egyptologists who travelled throughout Egypt collecting for museums or private collections. 


In researching this piece it was difficult to decide if Chauncey Murch was a saintly missionary or a rather slippery character who purloined many thousands antiquities.  Opinion falls mostly on the side of that as an unscrupulous buyer of looted pieces.  However, those removing ancient antiquities from the country could all be considered plunderers of Egyptian treasures, including the most famous of them all, Howard Carter. It is clear that Chauncey Murch was a real character and rather intriquing, however, I sadly cannot find a picture of him to post so that you can judge for yourself from his image. So I will, for the moment, put down what I have discovered about Chauncey Murch and allow you to make up your own mind on the matter.


One of his most significant finds among the many thousands in his collection is a 20 sided dice which was purchased from an Egyptian dealer called a D20 or icosahedron.  Murch sourced the piece between 1883 and 1906. It was originally crafted some time during the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. putting it at towards the end of the Ptolemaic Period. Originally the die was crafted from Serpentine, which is a semi-precious stone that ranges in tone from brown to green and is a source of both magnesium and asbestos.  Serpentine is used extensively in gems and ornamental work. When polished it has contains cloudy patches interspersed among clear regions. Numbered cubes date back at least 5000 years in Asia.  The pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art are thought to be the oldest D20s ever found and were purchased after Murch’s death. The twenty faces are carved with Greek letters.


The most important part of the collection historically, and that which Chauncey Murch himself evidently took most pleasure in, consists of scarabs and the various other allied forms of seals. In the daily life of the Egyptian the seal played a very important part, and was used for a variety of objects. It was carried about on the person doubtless as a means of identification, and to be affixed to documents as a sign manual; but in addition to this, at a time when locks and keys were non-existent, it provided the Egyptian with a means of safeguarding his property, and we find that wine jars and other vessels, bags, boxes, entrances to tombs, and even doors of storerooms and houses were all secured from theft or disturbance by means of the seal.


Discovery of the Amarna Tablets


The name, Tell el-Armarna, "the hill Amarna," is the modern name of ancient ruins about midway between Memphis and Luxor in Egypt. The ruins mark the site of the ancient city Khut Aten, which Amenophis IV built in order to escape the predominant influence of the old religion of Egypt represented by the priesthood at Thebes, and to establish a new cult, the worship of Aten, the sun's disk.

In 1887 a peasant woman, digging in the ruins of Tell el-Amarna for the dust of ancient buildings with which to fertilize her garden, found tablets, a portion of the royal archives. She filled her basket with tablets and went home. How many she had already pulverized and grown into leeks and cucumbers and melons will never be known. This time someone's curiosity was aroused, and a native Egyptian dealer secured the tablets. Knowledge of the "find" reached Chauncey who, suspecting the importance of the tablets, called the attention of cuneiform scholars to them. Then began a short but intense and rancorous contest between representatives of various museums on the one hand, eager for scientific material, and local Egyptian dealers, on the other hand, rapacious at the prospect of the fabulous price the curious tablets might bring. The contest resulted in the destruction of some of the tablets by local Egyptians ignorant of their value and the final distribution of the remainder and of the broken fragments.


After the discovery of the tablets, the site of the ancient city was excavated by Professor Flinders Petrie in 1891-92 who knew of Murch and his reputation a not entirely scrupulous dealer. He described his first meeting with Murch when invited to dinner; Murch was short and stout, he was not at first a prepossessing figure but Petrie found he improved on acquaintance, and his wife was charming and intelligent. 

Sir Earnest Wallis Budge, a friend of Chauncey, wrote about the find in his book ‘The Discovery of the Amarna Tablets’ and it makes clear that competition for acquisition of plundered treasures was fierce, not only by western hunters but by the local population. He states  


"BEFORE I had been in Cairo many hours I found that everybody was talking about the discoveries which had been made in Upper Egypt, and the most extraordinary stories were afloat.
Rumours of the "finds" had reached all the great cities of Europe, and there were representatives of several Continental Museums in Cairo, each doing his best, as was right, to secure the lion's share. The British officials with whom I came in contact thought, or said they thought, that whatever the objects might be which had been discovered, they ought to go to the Bulak Museum, and that any attempt made to obtain any part of them for the British Museum must be promptly crushed."


Budge was followed by police who were determined to arrest anyone trying to obtain the tablets for disposal to the west.  Their many attempts to stop their removal failed, although in the process of doing so a great many of the tablets were destroyed.  Budge writes


“the officer in charge of the police told us that the Chief of the Police of Luxor had received orders during the night from M. Grebaut, the Director of the Service of Antiquities, to take possession of every house containing antiquities in Luxor, and to arrest their owners and myself, if found holding communication with them.

Among the tablets was a very large one, about 2o inches long and broad in proportion. We now know that it contained a list of the dowry of a Mesopotamian princess who was going to marry a king of Egypt. The man who was taking this to Cairo hid it between his inner garments, and covered himself with his great cloak. As he stepped up into the railway coach this tablet slipped from his clothes and fell on the bed of the railway, and broke in pieces. Many natives in the train and on the platform witnessed the accident and talked freely about it, and thus the news of the discovery of the tablets reached the ears of the Director of Antiquities. He at once telegraphed to the Mudir of Asyut, and ordered him to arrest and put in prison everyone who was found to be in possession of tablets, and, as we have seen, he himself set out for Upper Egypt to seize all the tablets he could find."


The pieces did, however, find their way to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and various other pieces reached other museums.


Despite the years he spent dealing with the treasures of Egypt, it is clear from church reports that Chauncey was also very involved in his missionary work.  This work involved spreading the word to the local Muslims and increasing the conversions to Christianity. His wife also pursued a similar goal and ran a girls school in Luxor for some time. The annual report of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church states:


'The Mission Boat, the “ Ibis,” has been kept in use most of the year, and the larger part of the territory covered from Assuan to Cairo. Mr. Finney occupied it during the opening months of the year, Dr. Murch in the autumn, and the writer during December. For forty-six years this boat has been doing service for the Lord on the Nile. The peculiar physical character of the country, causing all life to cling close to the banks of the river, makes it possible for the worker to visit almost'the whole population, carrying his own home with him. Many thousands by this means have had the Word preached to them the past year, while it has afforded unnumbered opportunities for closest personal contact with workers and other Christians needing help and encouragement. The warmth of welcome everywhere accorded the “ Ibis” shows the place it has made for itself throughout the whole length of the country. It should be remarked here that our work in Egypt has long since outgrown the possibilities of a single boat. The growth of the work in Upper Egypt has called for the use of the boat during the entire year in the territory south of Cairo.'


Their lives were not easy by any standards and it seems both Murch and his wife were taken ill during 1907, the report 'states 'The thing that especially interested the medical fraternity was the severe epidemic of “Dengue” fever, which raged in Luxor and vicinity for about three months. Thousands were prostrated, and it was no uncommon sight to find five or six ill at one time in a family of eight. Although the disease was very severe and caused intense suffering to those afflicted, yet it was one attended with practically no fatalities. Of the seven of the mission circle in Luxor Station, five took enforced vacations of longer or shorter periods, while “ Dengue” took its course with them. Dr. and Mrs. Murch were attacked while at Assuan, the others in Luxor.'


Sadly Reverend Chauncey Murch died in that same year. No doubt his heart condition would have been greatly exascerbated by an attack of Dengue Fever.


Following his death, a large proportion of his collection was given to the Metropolitan Museum, New York in 1910 by his wife Amelia and by Miss Helen Miller Gould (an American Heiress and philanthropist). His will was proved in London and he left the relatively paltry sum of £9 6s 5d. in his will to his wife.


Obituary New York Times October 21st 1907

Reverend Chauncey Murch

Toledo, Ohio, October 20th, A cablegram received here today

announced the death in Egypt on October 16th of Reverend

Chauncey Murch, a Presbyterian missionary. He was 48

years old. He went to Egypt in 1883. His wife was with

him at his death which was due to heart disease.

He was a resident of Scotch Ridge, Ohio.


Old Church at Scotch Ridge
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