Andrew Murray at age 28.
Andrew Murray at age 28.

Here’s the first of a two-part feature on a major speed bump Andrew Murray hit on his road to matrimony. His example serves as a helpful reminder that committed Christians need to exercise sensitivity and wisdom rather than being presumptuous in working through the complexities of romance and courtship.

Murray was a capable, consecrated and confident Christian minister who enjoyed marked success in his endeavors of life. A family member wrote of him in his early years of ministry: “[Andrew] is so bold, he carries the day. ‘Never fear’ is his motto. He never anticipates difficulties or refusals. With Andrew an idea suggests itself, approves itself to his judgment and then he never rests till it is carried out.” This appears to have been Murray’s general outlook on and approach to life. While such a confident outlook and bold approach often brought him success, they likely contributed to his failure in his first proposal of marriage.

In 1854, at age twenty-six, Murray was honored to be one of two delegates sent to England to represent to the British Government the interests of the British and Dutch settlers he ministered to in the Orange River Sovereignty. The ORS was the large region between the Orange and Vaal Rivers in South Africa.

Cape Town, South Africa, about 1850.

Shortly after returning to South Africa from England in May, 1855, Murray was introduced to Howson Edwards Rutherfoord, a respected and influential Christian merchant, philanthropist and politician in Cape Town. Rutherfoord, his wife and children belonged to the Church of England. Though they were devoted to their own denomination, the Rutherfoords’ Christian sympathies were broad, and they were well-known for their generous hospitality to missionaries of every society and denomination.

Howson Rutherfoord memorial fountain

Upon meeting Murray, Rutherfoord promptly invited the young clergyman to join his family for dinner at their home on Herschel Estate near Claremont, one of the southern suburbs of Cape Town. After that, Murray was a regular and welcome guest at the Rutherfoords’ home and table. As the hospitable Mr. and Mrs. Rutherfoord were inclined to do with some of their guests, before long they invited Murray to stay in their home for a time.

Murray, who had just turned twenty-seven years of age, soon began to be attracted to the Rutherfoords’ twenty-year-old daughter, Emma. Emma’s older sister, Mary, was married and lived with her husband in India, while Emma’s older brother, Frederic, was pursuing his education in England. Emma also had two younger sisters, Ellen and Lucy, both of whom were still living at home.

Howson Rutherfoord memorial fountain inscription

Since the time of Mary’s marriage three years earlier, Emma had inherited the title of ‘Miss Rutherfoord’ and carefully fulfilled her duties as the eldest daughter at home by paying calls with her mother, helping to receive visitors and keeping the weekly household accounts. Emma taught children’s classes at the High Church School in Claremont, regularly visited the sick and poor, and carried out a tract distribution ministry.

Emma and her sisters were taught at home by their mother and visiting governesses and masters. Besides studying such basics as reading, writing, grammar, literature, arithmetic, history and geography, the Rutherfoord girls also received lessons in French, Italian, German and Dutch. Emma and her sisters were also trained in skills that were considered essential for accomplished young women in the Victorian era – music (both singing and playing the piano), fancy needle work as well as drawing and painting. Emma was an avid reader and had an appreciation for a wide variety of books.

As Murray observed and learned more about Emma he was impressed with her and his heart was drawn to her. Though he had known her less than a month, he concluded he desired to marry her. He further decided to propose to her straightaway, apparently presuming she would be receptive to that. As it turned out, he was completely mistaken.

Besides the fact that his proposal was totally unexpected, it was also poorly timed. Emma and Ellen were right in the middle of helping with a children’s birthday party for the five-year-old son of some neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Boyle. Mr. Boyle was Aide-de-camp to Cape Colony’s new Governor, Sir George Grey. In addition to a sizeable group of children, the party was to be attended by Sir George and Lady Grey themselves. Young Mordaunt Boyle’s birthday was on Thursday, June 21. After spending that entire morning at the Boyles’ house finishing the decorating, Emma and Ellen returned to their own home. They planned to be back for the party the latter half of the afternoon.

Murray had left the Rutherfoords’ home that morning but returned ‘most unexpectedly’ early that afternoon. Finding Emma alone, he presented her with a rather businesslike proposal of marriage. She was so completely stunned by it that she was unable to make any reply. Instead, she fled to her bedroom and locked herself in. When Ellen, who had gone out riding, returned home, she found her sister, very uncharacteristically, in an overwrought state. As a result of these unfortunate developments, both sisters were too upset to return to the Boyles’ for the birthday party. While there is no record of Andrew Murray’s response to all this, likely he retreated from the Rutherfoords’ home feeling confused, distressed and embarrassed at what he had unintentionally precipitated.

The next morning Emma composed a written refusal to Murray’s proposal: “Dear Sir, It was with feelings of perfect astonishment and wonder that I received your communications yesterday, which on further consideration quickly changed into those of deep pain and regret. A proposal of marriage after so short an acquaintance shocked me much. It seemed to me that there could be no mutual sympathy, and no clear knowledge of character, necessary for so close, so holy a relationship. With these sentiments I feel obliged to decline any further acquaintance. But wishing you a safe journey and much prosperity in your future labors, Believe me, yours truly, Emma Rutherfoord.”

In a letter written that same day to her sister Mary, Emma further revealed: “I cannot tell you what pain and suffering this has cost me. And more so I cannot help feeling that if left to himself he would not have proceeded with such haste, but that he has been spurred on by the Rev. Mr. Long and his Uncle Rev. Mr. Stegmann, as up to that unfortunate day his conduct had been such as to put me perfectly at ease. Our interaction hitherto had been so pleasant and I had entertained such a respect for his character, felt that his mind was no ordinary one, that his want [lack] of appreciation and consideration has wounded me most painfully.

“To my real character I feel he is as perfect a stranger as I am to his. And if I loved him with all my heart, it would be a bitter trial and a great sacrifice to leave such a home as mine, and enter into a field of much hardship and self-denial. Of all this he seems to have made no note. While I feel it must be a love passing anything I have yet known, to keep me from fainting under the trials and sorrows of wedded life – a love that I feel in my inmost soul that I am capable of and therefore will never marry anyone till I feel it awakened. No respect, no ideas of usefulness (for they would be false where my heart was not) shall ever induce me to leave my home.”

Three days later, on Monday, June 25, Emma concluded her letter to Mary: “Mr. Murray called on Papa today to know if my answer was decisive and negative. I feel so fashed [vexed], so wearied about it. It pains me that one of no ordinary mental capacity and vigor of piety should be so totally devoid of proper feelings on this one point. And then I get vexed with myself for feeling so pained … Sad that one whose mental superiority and whose work is all I could desire, should so want heart cultivation.”

(To be continued …)

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I have written a comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

About Vance Christie

An avid fan of historic Christian biography throughout his ministry, Vance has published nine books.

One Thought on “Andrew Murray’s Failed Marriage Proposal

  1. Alice Williams on March 2, 2019 at 12:50 pm said:

    I am looking forward to the rest of the story with great anticipation!

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