When esteemed geologist, palaeontologist and father of the Natural History Society, George F. Matthew, offered his valuable fossil collections to the Society in 1908, it was under one condition: that the Society pay off the mortgages it acquired upon purchasing its Union Street Museum building in 1906. Though private benefactors provided generous endowments and the Ladies' Auxiliary steadily raised funds to commit to the mortgage, there remained a substantial balance on it in 1909. This was a growing concern, as Dr. Matthew had placed a time limit of three years on his offer. Furthermore, in the struggle to pay down the debt, members were forced to siphon funds from other Museum programs, with the result that such projects as enlarging and displaying the collection became low-priority matters relative to the mortgage.
Enter Mrs. Catherine Murdoch. Or more accurately, it was her continued generosity upon exiting the Society that ultimately solved its vexing mortgage problem.
Catherine Murdoch was the wife of Gilbert Murdoch, Saint John's Superintendent of Waterworks and amateur meteorologist. Catherine and Gilbert were born in Scotland and moved to New Brunswick before 1850. Both husband and wife contributed artefacts, specimens, expertise, and funds to the Natural History Society throughout the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. When Gilbert died in 1894, Catherine remained a faithful member of the Ladies' Auxiliary, donating gold and silver coins, New Brunswick Native bead and quill work, a cup and saucer from the fifteenth century, vases, and currency that survived the great Saint John fire of 1877. In 1905, she gave a nest of trap-door spiders, and she continued throughout this period to make financial contributions.
But perhaps Catherine's most momentous gift was her timely bequest to the Museum of over $3900 in 1909, a munificent contribution that nicely covered the remainder of the worrisome mortgage debt and secured a Saint John home for Dr. Matthew's palaeontological collection. This bequest testified to Catherine's attachment to her adopted province and to its Natural History Society. Though she spent the last year of her life travelling to Scotland (where her sisters still resided), Prince Edward Island (Canada), and New York, where she died at the age of 77, Catherine's final resting place is in Fernhill Cemetery, Saint John. To commemorate her gift, the Auxiliary members of the Natural History Society purchased a handsome oak desk for the Museum's rooms. They fitted it with a brass plaque inscribed with the words "In loving memory of Catherine Murdoch," as a tangible memorial to her generosity. Nearly a century later, the Murdoch desk endures as an artifact of the Museum's heritage, and a part of its permanent collections.