Major Graham Bell-Murray brought the West its first significant kennel of Afghan hounds. The breeding program he undertook, with the dogs he gathered together in Afghanistan in the early years of last century, endures to this day. Even more tangible is that if you own a brindle Afghan hound you know your dog has a direct genetic link to Major Bell-Murray's brindle bitch Pushum, the only known source of this color pattern in the breed.
This tribute to the Major, the man and his family, provides only a rare mention of the founding stock that were to become known the World over as 'the Bell-Murray Afghan hounds'.
He did not use or register a kennel name. The occasional use of the affix 'of Cove' came several years later, after Miss Jean C Manson, companion to Graham's wife, took ownership of all the Bell-Murray hounds in December 1924. He seldom 'went into print'. The reputed 'warring' between his founding camp and that of their supposed arch-rival Mrs Amps and her Ghazni 'founding camp' is more a figment of historical writers than reality. Major Bell-Murray, as far as is currently known, only once responded to the great debate on the difference in type between the Bell-Murray and Amps' imports from Afghanistan that we in the breed have made so much of over the years. Officially, the involvement of both kennels in the breed was short-lived, though the Bell-Murray's went on long after many realised. Later events and newspaper reports provide us with a significant insight into the man we know only as Major Bell-Murray. The subsequent availability of personal information helps us further understand the life of the man whose dogs live on in the pedigrees of the breed as we know it today.
Graham Bell-Murray was born in Millburn House, (the home of his maternal grandparents) in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on 27 July 1881. He was the youngest of four children. His father, George Bell Murray, had served in the African Zulu War of 1879 with the Royal Marines. Educated at Edinburgh University, George graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons and after entering the Royal Navy rose to the position of Fleet Surgeon, retiring in 1897 with the honorary rank of Deputy Inspector-General.
The family often lived near the sea. Although Graham was born in Moffat, his mother Esther (daughter of civil engineer Robert Bloomfield) and his father George were living at Chatham in Kent where George was stationed at Her Majesty's Dockyard as a staff surgeon in the Royal Navy on HMS Swift. His mother returned to Scotland just weeks before Graham's birth. Graham's two sisters, four year old Esther Bloomfield Murray and two year old Mary La'Coste Murray were already with their widowed grandmother (Esther Bloomfield) at Millburn House in Moffat, Scotland.
By the time Graham was nine most of the family were together in Seaward Place, Broughty Ferry, Scotland. Broughty (pronounced 'Bruffy') Ferry, situated where the River Tay meets the North Sea would become the location of Mrs Thomas Sydney (Olive) Couper's famous Garrymhor Afghan hounds.
Graham's brother, John George Patrick Murray was the eldest of George and Esther's four children (all of whom were born in Moffat, Scotland). Sent to private schools from a young age, he excelled intellectually and followed in his father's footsteps and graduated as a physician and surgeon. Before the turn of the century he had joined the British Army as the top placed candidate for the Indian Medical Service. He would serve for many years in India eventually settling his family in Kent in the south of England. His eldest daughter would marry Sir Robert Edwin Russell of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Graham went straight from school into the Army. In 1901, at the tender age of 19 he had one of the most prestigious addresses in England. The Tower of London! Following in the footsteps of his brother, Graham had joined the British Officers of the Indian Army Company, was a 2nd Lieutenant and stationed at His Majesty's Garrison and Fortress, Tower Hill. Queen Victoria died in January 1901 and her state funeral was held in February. We know that Graham was already stationed here in March and it is almost certain that he took part, along with the Royal Guards and Royal Garrison Artillery, also all stationed at Tower Hill and the Tower of London, in the grand military style funeral that Queen Victoria had requested for herself.
The 1st Batallion, Middlesex Regiment which Graham joined was located in India from 1899 through to its departure for Aden in 1912. In 1902 Graham had qualified for the Indian Staff Corp and was posted to the 11th Coorg Infantry, stationed at Bangalore, in Southern India.
We know from his own writing that he "lived on the extreme frontier of India from 1904 to 1920". During this time he served with the Supply & Transport Corp which was part of (and supported) the Indian Army. Promoted to Captain in 1910, he was to lobby strongly for better quality food supplies and equipment. He would later claim that these actions incurred the wrath of the Army and British Home Office.
By September 1907, Graham had returned to Scotland where, in the parish church Moffat, he married Miss Mary Jackson Russell. Due much in part to the role that Graham and Miss Manson played in the development and breeding of the Bell-Murray Afghan hounds, we have (until now) known very little of Mrs Mary Bell-Murray and her family.
Mary Russell was born in Bothwell, in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1887, the fourth of eight children of Archibald Russell and Helen Isabella Johnson and grew up at Chasely, 10 Castlehill Crescent, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Archibald was a coal-master. He owned or leased coal-mines. Mary grew up with a strong Presbyterian influence all her life. Her maternal grandfather, Rev James Stewart Johnson, was born in Cumnock, East Ayrshire and studied at Glasgow University. Graduating with a Doctor of Divinity, he was parish minister at Cambuslang from 1854 until his death in 1881. Mary's maternal uncle was Rev James Alexander Gilmour Johnson, parish minister at Inveresk and the Rev William Goldie-Boag, who officiated at her and Graham Bell-Murray's wedding, was married to her maternal aunt. Mary's grandmothers were both born in Canada and strong family links to Canada and America would remain throughout her life.
The first of the couple's three children, Mary, was born in Muree, India in 1908 quickly followed by Helen Esther and Dorothy Edith Bell-Murray. It was the same year that Dorothy arrived (1912) that the family acquired Begum their first Afghan hound. Between 1912 and 1920 nine native dogs were obtained and according to Major Bell-Murray, all were taken to England.
Mary and Miss Jean Manson took the children to Scotland when they were seven, five and four years old (returning to Bombay in April 1916). These were dangerous times. On average one ship a day was being torpedoed or hit German mines.
On 26 Sep 1920 Mary Jackson Bell-Murray, her three daughters and Miss Jean C Manson arrived in Liverpool aboard the 'SS Castalia'. They gave their address as 'Westvale', Moffat, Scotland. It is almost certain that the dogs arrived on the same ship - as was the custom of the time. Of the nine, Graham Bell-Murray said he succeeded in getting over the period 1912-1920 it is not clear if he includes those he bred while in Afghanistan, or if he meant 'native acquisitions'. Either way, the numbers are difficult to tally with eventual registrations. We do know that the arrivals included Begum, Rajah, Pushum, Ranee, Kanee, Straker, Ooty and Baluch. The dogs would have completed six months quarantine and at the end of March 1921 been released. Pushum and Begum duly came straight into season and so on 14 June 1921 at the age of four years Pushum whelped the first UK litter of Bell-Murray Afghan hounds, quickly followed by the eight year old Begum one week later whelping the second. The young Ooty (barely more than a year old) was the chosen sire for both litters. The family was still a month away from moving into The Cove, at Kirkpatrick-Fleming. The property today is fully restored and as a listed building has preserved much of its appearance as was known to the Bell-Murray family and their many dogs. The property is home to the Robert The Bruce's cave. The cave where legend tells us King Robert watched a spider try several times to build his web and inspired the popular expression "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again".
Miss Jean Manson and her daughter
The Bell-Murray's lived at Cove from 1921 until 1928 when the property was purchased by the family that own it to this day. Kirkpatrick-Fleming is just three miles from Gretna Green, famed for 'runaway marriages'! I think it's fair to say that Major Bell-Murray struggled to settle back in Scotland. Financially, Scotland's economy, heavily dependent on steel and shipbuilding in particular, was hit hard by the international depression of the 1920s and 1930s. There has been speculation for years as to why Miss Manson became the owner of all the Bell-Murray hounds in December of 1924. The Major, at Cove, had become bankrupt in 1924 over a promissory note he had signed. His property and possessions were to be sequestered and sold off. With the dogs in Miss Manson's name and a public statement that he had no possessions (everything in the house were the possessions of his wife) Graham Bell-Murray left the country, bound for India once again.
This is the trip he wrote that he was searching for more stock for Miss Manson and in so doing saw Mrs Amps' stock for which he did not care. I believe he was probably also looking for further work for himself. Six months later he returned. During this period Jean Manson set about promoting the Bell-Murray hounds. They had been at Crufts in 1922 and 1923. They did not attend Crufts in 1924 (this was the year the financial issues started and came to a head throughout the course of the year). 1925 saw a large team of Bell-Murray's entered, the first time in Miss Manson's name, and again in 1926 and 1927 under Bell-Murray enthusiast Will Hally. 1926 was the year Miss Manson took a large contingent of dogs to America, and while she was booked to return three weeks later, those plans changed and she remained here for some months. It may have been that several died of distemper in New York that her plans changed so dramatically. A month after her return, Graham made a second return trip to Bombay. The kennel did not show at Crufts in 1928, this was the year Ch Sirdar of Ghazni achieved his first Crufts Best of Breed win and the judge Mr N A Laraine was a well-known Ghazni hounds supporter. Graham Bell-Murray's own interest in Afghan hounds never waned and he judged the breed at the Royal Veterinary College Dog Show held on 27, 28 October 1927 at the Crystal Palace, London. The results suggest that Ghazni type hounds deliberately stayed away. He awarded Best of Breed to Mrs J Barton (Evelyn Denyer) Taj Mahip of Kaf and Best Bitch to Mrs A B Willen's Shadi.