NOVA SCOTIA’S “NATIONAL HISTORIAN” (August 2/16)

He played a significant role in preserving the early history of the province, contributed some to compiling the history of Kings County, and has rightly been hailed as Nova Scotia’s national historian; yet you probably never have heard of Beamish Murdoch and the major role he played in writing about the early history of Nova Scotia.

Murdoch was a pioneer in the field of historical research and historical writing. As well as an author, he was a lawyer and political figure in Nova Scotia. Born in Halifax in 1800, Murdoch was one generation removed from the Ireland. He was admitted to the bar of Nova Scotia in 1822 and served as MLA for Halifax township from 1826 to 1830.

While he was a noted lawyer and political figure, it is his role as a historian that he deserves to be remembered. Murdoch is the author of the History of Nova Scotia, or Acadie, which he began to write when he retired in 1860. He wrote his three volume history in instalments, publishing them between 1865 and 1867.

Writing the three-volume history was only possible after the founding of the provincial archives, the Record Commission of Nova Scotia, in 1857. The archives first commissioner, T. B. Akins, had collected historical papers and documents of all kinds from various parts of Canada, from America and from Europe. Within seven years of the archives being formed Akins had amassed some 211 volumes and nearly 40 boxes of documents. Most of the public and historical records extant on Nova Scotia at the time – including many rare documents related to the English regime and the deportation of the Acadians – were collected and catalogued by Akins.

Murdock would make good use of this vast amount of material in writing the history, and was the first historian to do so. You can find Murdoch’s history at Acadia University. Also, an American University has posted his entire history on line – Google Murdoch’s history of Nova Scotia – but be warned: Unless you’re really an avid history buff it’s dry, sleep inducing reading.

Now to the Kings County connection with Murdoch the historian: Much of what Arthur W. H. Eaton writes about in his Kings County history came from research completed by other historical writers. One of them was Murdoch of whom Eaton only mentions twice as a source while praising the likes of William Pitt Brechin and Benjamin Rand. Yet without accessing Murdoch’s historical writing – his three volume history and other historical essays – Eaton couldn’t have written a truly comprehensive history of Kings County. This is the impression I get after reading relevant sections of Murdoch’s history. Eaton neglected to acknowledge his debt to Murdoch and also to Kentville historian, Edmond J. Cogswell. Eaton quotes Cogswell freely (from various newspaper articles published in the 1890s) but doesn’t name him, referring to him only as a “recent writer.”

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