Obituary: John Murray: 11th Duke of Atholl
JOHN Murray, who has died at 83, was enjoying a quiet retirement in the mountain hamlet of Haernertsburg in Limpopo when he was informed in 1996 that he'd inherited one of Scotland's grandest titles and was now the 11th Duke of Atholl.
A reserved and unassuming man who was born in South Africa, worked all his adult life as a land surveyor and wanted nothing more than to pursue his passion for hiking in the local mountains, he found the news mildly disconcerting.
He might have Scottish blood in his veins but he didn't feel remotely Scottish, the title meant nothing to him and he had no intention of moving to Scotland. "I am a South African, not a Scotsman. My heart and my mind are in this country," he said.
He knew that he was related to the 3rd Duke of Atholl, who died in 1805, and that he was next in line should anything happen to the 10th duke. But he was several years older than his distant cousin, a 1.95m giant known as "wee Iain" whom he'd met in 1993, and confidently expected to predecease him.
From a material point of view, there was very little in it for Murray. The 8th duke had begun selling off large chunks of the Atholl estate to pay crippling death duties, but in spite of this, it was on the brink of bankruptcy when the 10th duke's grandmother, who headed a wealthy printing house, bought it and it became private property separate from the title.
Blair Atholl, the 13th-century castle which his ancestors had called home since the title was created in 1703, had been put into a charitable trust. The south wing was occupied by the 10th duke's half-sister, who owned and managed the estate, while the rest of the castle was a museum open to the public.
Murray reluctantly accepted the title, knowing that if he did not, it would become extinct.
His most important obligation was taking the salute at the annual parade of the Atholl Highlanders, the duke's 85-strong private army created with the permission of Queen Victoria after a visit to Blair Atholl in 1844. He found himself colonel-in-chief of this fully constituted regiment of the British army without any military background at all.
"Am I doing the right thing?" he would ask his officers. "You're the duke," he was told, "you can do what you like."
He was born in Johannesburg on January 19 1929, the son of an army major who survived the Battle of the Somme in World War 1. He went to Michaelhouse and qualified as a land surveyor at the University of the Witwatersrand.
He lived in a modest bungalow, drove an old Merc and a Nissan bakkie, and kept quiet about his title. Most of his fellow villagers learnt who he was only when they attended his funeral.
He is survived by his widow, Peggy, and three children, including his eldest son, Bruce, the 12th duke, who owns a company that makes signs and rubber stamps.