Who's Who - Sir Keith Murdoch

Sir Keith Murdoch Sir Keith Arthur Murdoch (1885-1952), an Australian journalist, travelled to and reported from the Gallipoli in 1915 and helped to bring about Sir Ian Hamilton's dismissal as Commander-in-Chief of the Gallipoli campaign.

Murdoch, who was to ultimately become one of Australia's powerful newspaper magnates, was born in Melbourne in 1885.  Following an education at Camberwell Grammar School and the London School of Economics he began a career in journalism with the Melbourne Age.

In 1907 Murdoch left Australia for London before returning three years later, again working for the Melbourne Age.  In 1912 he became political correspondent of the Sydney evening Sun.  In 1915, with the First World War underway, Murdoch was once more despatched to London as managing editor of the United Cable Service of the Sun and the Melbourne Herald.

Murdoch had applied to become Australia's official war historian upon the outbreak of war in August 1914 (when Australia immediately entered the war in support of Britain).  However in the ensuing ballot to decide who secured the post Murdoch was beaten by Charles Bean.

It wasn't therefore until August 1915 that Murdoch finally wangled permission to visit Anzac Cove, and even then it was ostensibly only to investigate alleged mismanagement of mail sent to Australian soldiers serving in the Gallipoli campaign.

Once there Murdoch was promptly button-holed by one of two British reporters covering the campaign, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.  Ashmead-Bartlett expressed fury not only at what he perceived to be the bungling mismanagement of the campaign - a charge laid at Commander-in-Chief Hamilton's door - but also at the manner in which Allied press reports were rigorously censored so that little criticism escaped to Britain.

Murdoch quickly came to agree with Ashmead-Bartlett's views and when the latter asked Murdoch to carry a personal letter to London, for hand delivery to the Prime Minister Hebert Asquith, and which contained vehement criticisms of Hamilton's campaign, Murdoch readily agreed.

However the second British journalist, Henry Nevinson, learnt of their plot and - appalled at what he perceived as a betrayal of Hamilton's trust in permitting Ashmead-Bartlett to report on the campaign (and Hamilton was more progressive than most commanders) - arranged for French military police to arrest Murdoch en route to London at Marseilles and seize the letter.

However this only delayed the inevitable.  Murdoch, frustrated in having Ashmead-Bartlett's letter confiscated, nevertheless proceeded to London and wrote his own rather more emotional letter to the Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher containing the substance of Ashmead-Bartlett's criticisms.

In due course Asquith and the British Cabinet were passed details of the letter.  Both Murdoch and Ashmead-Bartlett were saved from the potentially unpleasant consequences of their action by the timely - and powerful - support of British press baron Lord Northcliffe who swung the full weight of his newspapers in their favour.

It is generally believed that the resulting furore served not only to bring about Hamilton's recall from Gallipoli, but also helped to bring the campaign to its ignominious close.

Knighted in 1933 Murdoch was appointed Trustee of the National Gallery in Victoria the same year.  He subsequently served as Director-General of Information from June-December 1940 and as President of the Australian-American Association (Victoria Section) from 1941-46.

Keith Murdoch died in 1952.  His son, Rupert, founded in his own turn a worldwide media empire.

Click here to read a transcript of Ashmead-Bartlett's letter to British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.

The "linseed lancers" was the Anzac nickname assigned to members of the Australian Field Ambulance.

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