Thursday, June 7, 2007

Irish planter, punter, soldier, playboy

My post Irish father of Indian cardamom, rubber and pepper planting on 27th May seems to have been received well. I had concluded that article by mentioning about Murphy’s failure to enlist in the in the army during World War I because of recruitment age limit. I should have realized that he was not the type to leave it at that. From further study of the details of his life I found that by 1917, around the age of 45, he was in uniform. Apparently, he must have obtained special permission.

JJ Murphy joined Supply and Transport, the forerunner of Royal Indian Supply Corps (RIASC), now known as Army Supply Corps (ASC). He served mainly in the Persia area and, after the war, came back to Yendayar, to his beloved plantations. But apart from the estates, he started taking a keen interest in horse racing. He certainly had the Irish flare for this sport.

Around 1920, Lord Willingdon, the then Governor of Madras was on a mission to revive racing in his capital city. Murphy was one of the first to support him. To quote from KL Kershaw, “For several years he dominated the racing world of Madras. At one time he owned 22 horses under training and they carried his colours on the turf of Madras, Ootacamund, Bangalore, Poona, Bombay and Calcutta.”

On a single day, at Madras, his horses won the Governor’s Cup and four other races. Among his impressive wins were the Indian St. Leger at Poona and CN Wadia Gold Cup in Bombay. He took his “Old Orkney” to England and won the Manchester November Handicap in 1927 with Steve Donahue riding, and the Goodwood Cup in 1929.

Murphy’s other loves included the company of the fair sex, good food, and wine. And parties. Kershaw says, “For years the Murphy Ball was the main feature of the “Planters’ Week”; when JJ entertained three and four hundred guests a night. His parties for the Dublin Horse Show, for Ascot, for the Derby; his entertainments at the Savoy, at the Berkely, at St. Ann’s – his house in Ootty and elsewhere became legendary".

Suddenly, at the age of 60, Murphy called off the whirl and withdrew to Yendayar. He concentrated more of labor welfare activities of which he was a pioneer in the plantation industry. Long before the laws were passed to the effect, for his workers Murphy had permanent accommodation, piped water, sanitation, maternity wards, crèches, hospitalization, noonday meals for children, and schools. He paid his workers each of whom he knew personally, higher wages than the rest of the planters. He also introduced generous gratuity and pension schemes.

JJ Murphy was a much loved and respected man. He last visited Ireland in 1938-1939, almost two decades before his death.


No comments: