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Robert Murray was born on December 25, 1832 in Earltown, Nova Scotia. He graduated from the Old Free Church College in 1852 and was appointed editor of The Presbyterian Witness in 1855. He was also secretary for the Halifax Evangelical Alliance, an advocate of the free common school system in Nova Scotia, and one of the early members of the Dalhousie University Board of Governors, receiving an honorary LLD from Dalhousie in 1902. Murray was also a poet. He wrote the hymn "From Ocean Unto Ocean" as well as a Canadian stanza to "God Save the King."
In 1867 Murray married Elizabeth Carey, with whom he had five children: Antoinette, Robert Harper, John Carey, William Cunningham, and Norman Grant. The family lived on the Studley estate owned by Antoinette Nordbeck, where Elizabeth served as companion and caregiver to Antoinette and her sister Caroline. When the Nordbecks died, the estate was left to Elizabeth. On Robert Murray's death in 1910 Elizabeth sold the property to Dalhousie to help with its expansion. Dalhousie's Studley campus takes its name from this property.