The Brinian

Lizzie Burroughs Murrison – Pioneer Motorist

Lizzie Burroughs Murrison was born in a room above the coach house and stables in the grounds of Trumland House early on the morning of January 5th 1884. Her parents were Robert Mitchell Murrison and Margaret McDonald, who married in Rousay on October 29th 1879. At the time of the 1881 census Robert was employed by the laird, General Frederick William Traill Burroughs, as a gamekeeper on his estate. Robert and Margaret named their daughter after the laird’s wife – Lizzie Burroughs. Robert’s uncle, George Murrison, was the laird’s factor/land steward, living at Veira Lodge in Frotoft.

Lizzie’s birth certificate, and below the coach house and stables on the Trumland estate

The Murrison family left Rousay in 1885, Robert having taken up the post of steward for the Hansford Flood family on their Farmley estate in County Kilkenny, southern Ireland. Pictured below: Robert and his wife Margaret with their children. Rear left is oldest son Alexander William, who was born on Rousay in 1880; Lizzie is standing beside him. The four younger children were all born in Kilkenny: standing to the right is Robert Edward, born in 1888; Eva Mary (left) born in 1892; Elsie Isabella (centre), born in 1895; and in the foreground is Alan McDonald, who was born in 1898.

At the turn of the century the development of the British motor car industry was in its early days, and in September 1903, circumstances lead Lizzie Murrison to be present at a Reliability Trial being held at Crystal Palace, south London. Subsequent events lead to Lizzie being the first woman to drive a motor car from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.

Lizzie’s great nephew, Rod Calder-Potts, has been kind enough to send Rousay Remembered photos and information, including a transcription of an article in the Kilkenny Moderator and Leinster Advertiser, dated Wednesday Morning, October 7, 1903.


Unexampled Feat by a Young Lady.

Hearing that a lady had accomplished the unprecedented feat of driving a motor car from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and that she was staying in the town, our representative called upon her at Randall’s Station Hotel, Wick, last night, and was successful in obtaining an interview with her, and gleaned many interesting details concerning her record of driving unaided a motorcar over 900 miles. This lady, Miss Murison – who comes of an Orkney family – is an attractive-looking daughter of the Emerald Isle, and her speech “bewrayeth” her nationality. She is the daughter of a well-known Kilkenny country gentleman, and besides being an accomplished and intrepid equestrian, is passionately fond of all outdoor sports. Her acquaintance, however, with motoring is only of short duration, for it is only within the past few weeks that she has had any opportunity of indulging in this most exhilarating form of country travel.

Being on a visit to “Bonnie Scotland,” as she terms it, and staying with friends at Paisley, the main centre in Scotland of the “Mo-Car” industry, she obtained the privilege of driving several times on an Arrol-Johnston Mo-Car of the dogcart type. After some half-dozen lessons she attained a degree of efficiency which was surprising in a lady so young, Miss Murison is not yet being 20 years of age.

Recently there have been held at the Crystal Palace, London, what are termed Reliability Tests for motor cars, and the Motorcar Syndicate of Paisley had entered several of their cars for the tests, but owing to some misdirection on the part of one of the guides their cars arrived at the Palace grounds a few seconds later than the stipulated hour and were refused admittance. Miss Murison, hearing of this unfortunate contretemps, at once proposed that she might be allowed to drive one of the cars part of the way back from London. This courageous offer was accepted by the Paisley company in a modified form, to which Miss Murison readily assented, and this was that she should run the car from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The run commenced on Tuesday last at 4 pm, she earlier in the day having been given her first and only lesson on the car she was to drive. The distance between the two points is approximately 900 miles, and this she covered in five days, running an average of 180 miles per day. Her largest drive on any one day was 213 miles. The roads in Cornwall and in some parts of the Highlands are particularly trying, and the drive was made for some considerable distance through rain and mist, yet Miss Murison accomplished the journey without the slightest hitch. The ladies and gentlemen who accompanied her express themselves delighted with the journey, and marvel at the skill displayed by the fair motorist. The subject of this interview grows enthusiastic over the beauties of the Scottish scenery, and in answer to our enquiries said, “Yes! I had the good fortune to steer quite clear of all accidents to either man or beast,” although, she added, with a twinkle in her liquid eyes, “several of my party expected, I believe, to end their journey in glory.”

A not unlikely result of Miss Murison’s feat will be to give an impetus to the motor industry, as the record of her trip conclusively demonstrates how easily a Mo-Car can be handled even without any technical skill, and how absolutely reliable those vehicles now are, especially those made to run with the maximum of comfort and moderate speeds, as is the case with those made by the Paisley firm. This is only to be expected when we state that Sir William Arrol of Forth Bridge fame is chairman of the Mo-Car Syndicate, Paisley, the makers of the car Miss Murison rode.

Miss Murison says she has no desire to shine as a record-breaker, and speaks of her task as a comparatively light one, and, with a faraway look as if thinking of the land of her birth, she says she hopes at no distant date to become as familiar with the beauties of “Ould Ireland” from the seat of her Mo-Car as she now is with those between Land’s End and John O’Groat’s. – [signed] “Northern Ensign”

(Miss Murison, who is of Scottish birth and parentage, was born in Orkney, but had been resident in Farmley, County Kilkenny, with her parents for a number of years.)

A correspondence writes me today – ‘With reference to your paragraph about this ”Irish Girl’s” motor car drive from Land’s End to John O’Groats, the name Murison or “Mearison” as it is sometimes called in Aberdeen awa’, is not exactly suggestive of Irish origin, and you may take it from me that the girl who accomplished the feat referred to is Scottish by birth and parentage. She has, however, spent a number of years with her people in the south of Ireland, a circumstance that no doubt sufficiently accounts for the adjective your contemporaries and yourself applied to her. – [signed] “Glasgow Evening Times”

Lizzie and her passengers pictured on their arrival at the John o’ Groats Hotel

It was Nottinghamshire man Tony Thorpe who brought Lizzie’s story to my attention in the first place. I am indebted to him for that, for the use of the photo above, and allowing me to provide the link below to his ‘Britain By Car – A Motoring History’ website. There he describes the circumstances surrounding how, when, and why Lizzie made her epic journey in much greater detail.