David Limond Murdoch was born in Ayr, Scotland. He married in 1948 and the couple travelled to Australia where he worked for the Bank of New South Wales.
Murdoch continued to manage the BNSW for two more years then requested a year’s leave of absence wanting to return to England so his ailing wife might regain her health. This was refused so after a brief sojourn in Melbourne he resigned and returned to Auckland to sign up as inspector with the BNZ. In spite of their earlier confrontations Murdoch soon established a close relationship with Russell who was associated with a so-called ‘limited circle’ with members, such as Mackelvie, James Williamson, Josiah Firth, F. A. Whitaker and others who shared an aspiration to make money. This group, persuaded by Russell, had taken the initiative to form the BNZ. When the general manager retired, Murdoch took over as chief executive and eventually was appointed General Manager.
He wasn’t very ethical, chasing business agressively, entering deposit rates with other banks then breaking them when it suited. This gained him a reputation for ‘tortuosity’. In 1872 he went to Melbourne where he opened the BNZ’s first Australian branch. After further rates manipulation, a second branch was opened in Sydney. During his tenure the BNZ attracted the majority of domestic deposits. He also searched out profitable lending opportunities, working in tandem with the Loan and Mercantile company, granting advances for real estate investment where prices were rising. As a prominent banker he became very friendly with members of the ‘limited circle’ and was involved in a number of speculative companies. He was on several boards including mining enterprises, frozen meatworks and several land development companies.
Members of the circle persuaded the normally cautious Murdoch to support land development companies. However, prices collapsed in the depression that set in by the end of the decade. Rather than let his friends and old customers fail he arranged finance for them, often accepting collateral such as property and securities of doubtful valuation. With support from Russell he refused to take instructions from the BNZ and the London Loan Company boards prompting them to suggest he retire. Meanwhile some of his duties were taken over by his deputy, John Murray, who was worried about Murdoch’s liberal lending and his reluctance to confide in London. After massive losses Murray demanded the state of the bank’s balance sheet be reported. This resulted in Murdoch being summoned to England to explain matters to the London board. He resigned under a cloud and severed his ties with the London Loan Company.
In spite of all this skulduggery he continued to live in his elegant Italianate home named Prospect situated on the slopes of Mt St John. He and his wife, Eliza, were keen gardeners and their friend Mackelvie sent them seeds from England to plant in their flower beds. He became chairman of the Mackelvie Trust and was instrumental in the completion of the Auckland Art Gallery and the display of the former's collection. He died at home in 1911, his wife having predeceased him in 1901. The bulk of his £145,000 estate was passed to his brother’s children and grandchildren.
So Murdoch continued to lead the good life but many of the other makers and losers of fortunes in those early colonial times didn’t fare too well. James Williamson, after a glittering social ascent, died impoverished but was frantic with worry during during his last days. Rumour had it that he committed suicide but according to his death certificate he suffered from ‘cardiac disease’. Thomas Russell was also in severe financial straits but Logan Campbell saved his bacon enabling him to live a comfortable life in England. F. A. Whitaker committed suicide in the Auckland Club while depressed by the failure of his Waikato land speculations. Josiah Firth turned to a reinforced concrete construction enterprise but died of heart failure. (DEIRDRE ROELANTS)