Dr George Murdoch MBE

Originally published in the December 2005 edition of the Membership Newsletter (No.48)

Dr George Murdoch MBE – 8th March 2005

The following is extracted from the obituary prepared by colleagues and published in the “Swaziland Society”.

Everyone in the Swaziland Society will have heard of George Murdoch who was largely responsible for starting the Society in 1978 together with Mboni Diamini who was then he High Commissioner in London.  George died in Scotland on the 8th March 2005 aged 75.

After marriage ti Eunice in 1954 they went to Swaziland where George was responsible for the soil and land capability survey of the whole country and Eunice compiled the maps which are still in use today.  He will always be remembered as “the man who mapped the soils of Swaziland”.   He travelled throughout the country and came into direct contact with many Swazis and settlers and there was hardly a place name or river which he could not recognise.  He became an expert on many aspects of Swazi life before returning to the UK in 1969 where Eunice died in 1991 and their only son Alex died in 1993.  George married Muthoni in Kenya in 1994.

The system of soil classification which George devised related directly to local conditions and names such as Ungabolima (thou shall not plough), Winn, Lesibovu, Canterbury became convenient shorthand for everybody to use – not just the soils specialists.  He also developed crop specific land suitability systems which were later incorporated into the FAO Land Suitability system and supremely practical “Booker Tropical Soil Manual”, written in the 1980s when George’s main interest which is why he was instrumental in starting the Swaziland Society.  One of his first tasks had been to start the Focus on Swaziland which this year should reach is 40th edition – a fitting monument to his devotion to Swaziland.

He will be remembered as a person of great knowledge, meticulous attention to detail, great integrity and keen and generous with his time to encourage young people.  His memory for names was prodigious and his recall of contacts when at Bookers rivalled the computer systems for efficiency.  Despite his great appetite for work he had many other interests and was an avid collector of books and stamps and was sufficiently fluent in Russian to correspond with collectors in Moscow.

George’s marriage to Muthoni proved to be a source of great happiness.  After his death, Muthoni said “his funeral will be open to all:  George was a man of the people!”  He certainly was and he will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues, not least those in Swaziland and the Swaziland Society.