(Details of Murphy’s early life are, at best, sketchy, and largely dependent on what he told his associates. The following chronology is based on the funeral oration given by the superintendent ( Mr. Edward Smith) of Wrottersly Street chapel on March 24th 1872. Toward the end of the Birmingham lectures, questions were raised regarding the true status of Murphy’s father and his own account of his background was called into question
1823: Birth in County Limerick. Father a schoolmaster in a government school under the aegis of the national school board. Originally the family are of Catholic origin, but soon come under the influence of the Old Irish Society and numerous tracts from other sources and convert tom Protestantism. This leads to his father being relieved of his post and he and his family are then “driven from place to place by Catholic Persecution” and subsequently “deprived of almost any means of earning a living”. He manages to acquire a brief spell teaching under the aegis of the Church Education Society but is again subject to “Catholic Persecution” and has to relinquish that post as well.
1823-c.1859: William Murphy is the eldest son of the family and, after a rudimentary education, helps to support his family by working in the fields for 4d an hour. However a desire for higher things leads to his becoming a schoolmaster. The work involves a ten mile walk each day and his salary is £10 a year. Upon leaving this post he becomes a scripture reader under the aegis of the Old Irish Society. This leads to his being appointed to a missionary post with the Irish Church Missions, a placement he holds for eight years. In the late 1850’s he comes to England in order to extend his works scope.
c.1859-1867: Arrives in England and originally settles in Bristol where he serves under the ministry of the Reverend S. A Walker who becomes convinced of his Christian character and his zeal as as a worker in “The Lord’s Vineyard”. In a clear foreshadowing of things to come he is taken into custody twice whilst there. From this point he commences his career as a “Protestant Lecturer” and begins to tour the country, preaching. His first official lecture is given in Cardiff in 1863. It is only when he reaches the Midlands, it seems, that the real troubles begin
January 18th 1867: Cardinal Manning gives a lecture in Birmingham Town Hall calling on all England to “repent of its schismatic adherences” and to return to the “one true church.” He also states that conversions from “Romanism” were due to “bribery and corruption on one side taking advantage of poverty on the other”. Manning is something of an expert on conversion as he,himself, converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism after falling a .under the spell of the Oxford Tractarian Movement.
February 18th 1867: William Murphy is taken into custody in Wolverhampton for causeing a civil affray by lecturing and distributing copies of a pamphlet called “The Confessional Unmasked”. His copies are seized by members of the local Watch Committee on he grounds of obscenity. However they are later released again when it is discovered that the translations of Latin texts contained within it are accurate representations of their original sources.
April 7th 1867: Whilst giving a series of talks at the Temperance Hall in Walsall, Murphy is set upon and thrown to the ground by an angry mob. He fights them off bravely and finally makes it to a place of safety.
May 1867: Preaches at the Riddings Lane chapel in Wednesbury. A special gallery is erected to accommodate his congregation. In the course of the lecture the gallery (holding 300 people) collapses under the weight and two men suffer broken backs as a result. Undaunted, Murphy adjourns the meeting to a nearby piece of waste ground and, standing on a small mound, continues to preach. He is pelted with stones.
Murphy applies to the civil authorities of Birmingham to gain permission for the use of the Town Hall to give a series of lectures in the city. His application is rejected amidst fears of of the possible outbreak of civil unrest should his proposed lectures take place.