THE name of Murdoch has long been associated with Australian journalism, and Rupert Murdoch himself is the grandson of a Scottish Presbyterian minister.

Yet the Murdoch who was a Scottish pioneer of Australian journalism as well as the author of the first serious history of Japan in English was no relation to the Murdoch dynasty. James Murdoch is largely forgotten now, but during his life he was recognised as a supreme Orientalist, an influential teacher and journalist and an expert on Japan and its history, culture and politics, so much so that he was appointed to be adviser on Japan to the Australian Government.

The centenary of James Murdoch’s death takes place this week. It was on October 30, 1921, that he died in Australia, far from the land of his birth.

On September 27, 1856, Murdoch was born in Fetteresso near Stonehaven to William Murdoch and his wife Helen née MacDonald. The family were not poor but could not have afforded proper education for James, had his academic brilliance not been spotted at an early age. He won a scholarship which enabled him to attend Aberdeen University where he was a garlanded student of Classics, graduating in 1879 and winning another scholarship, this time to Oxford – he left after a few months saying that Oxford had nothing to teach him after Aberdeen.

READ MORE: A look at the lesser known key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment

He moved to study at Gottingen University, now in Germany, and at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was already displaying his natural genius in foreign languages, even learning Sanskrit, before returning to the UK where in 1880 at the age of 24, he married a minister’s daughter Lucy Parkes. He became assistant professor at Aberdeen University before emigrating to Australia the following year after Lucy gave birth to their only son Kenneth.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography recounts what happened next: “Murdoch arrived in Queensland in July 1881 as headmaster of the new Maryborough Grammar School. He became unpopular with the trustees (possibly because of his atheism and the deterioration of his marriage) and in March 1885 they summarily dismissed him for resisting their instructions that his staff give lessons at the Girls’ Grammar School. For the next two years he was second master at Brisbane Grammar School. In 1886 he also sat the Bar examinations, but failed in two of the eight papers because he, mistakenly, attempted to answer every question.”

Thwarted in his attempt to become a lawyer, Murdoch promptly took up journalism with The Boomerang, a pioneering weekly newspaper founded by William Lane, a virulent hater of the Chinese people. Consequently Murdoch authored some very racist articles, but came to regret them when he toured the Far East ports and saw how Asian people were treated by their white exploiters. It also made him determined to visit and learn about Japan where many Scottish immigrants such as the merchant Thomas Blake Glover were flourishing.

Perhaps it was his early privations that made Murdoch avowedly working class, and he remained so all his life. He also never abandoned the use of the Doric, and would throw in some of the language during lectures.

Though he never learned to speak the language perfectly, Murdoch became very proficient in written classical Japanese and also started an English language journal The Japan Echo.

In 1893 came one of the most extraordinary developments in Murdoch’s life. From Japan he went all the way to Paraguay where his old colleague William Lane had persuaded more than 200 people to join him in an international socialist colony called New Australia, a serious attempt to create a Utopia that was partly funded by David Stevenson, cousin of Robert Louis.

Murdoch had been ill in Japan and on the journey and in Paraguay he quickly developed severe sunstroke, so much so that had to leave after only six weeks. He had been accompanied by his 12-year-old son Kenneth who stayed behind when Murdoch returned to Japan via London.

In London he completed various researches and within the space of a few years he published several novels – mostly thinly disguised autobiographies – while working at various schools and universities in Japan. His first marriage having ended, in 1899 Murdoch married a Japanese women, Takeko Okada.

By now he was writing the first volume of A History of Japan, published in 1903 to considerable critical acclaim. Two more volumes followed before he returned to Australia, invited by the Australian Government to become a lecturer in Japanese at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and Sydney University. In doing so, Murdoch became the first man to hold a Chair in Oriental Studies in Australia.

READ MORE: Clarkston Disaster deserves to be remembered across Scotland this week

The first four teachers of Japanese in the country were all recruited by from Japan, and through them his influence spread. In vain he warned the Australian Government about their “White Australia” policy which helped to harden Japanese militarist and expansionist attitudes.

Murdoch died of liver cancer at his home at Baulkham Hills at the age of 65. He was survived by his wife who returned to Japan and by his son.

Murdoch’s fourth volume of his history was never written but the existing three volumes were recognised as the standard work in English in the subject for decades afterwards.

At the time of his death his fellow Scot and Professor of Modern Literature at Sydney University, Sir Mungo MacCallum, described Murdoch as “one of the most remarkable men in the Empire”.

Indeed he was, and Australian academics have resuscitated his reputation in recent years. Seems a pity the same has not happened here.