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Apr 22, 2023
Now, never-before-revealed details of the will of the Murdoch family matriarch have come to light – and they show that Dame Elisabeth’s parting gift to her only son, Rupert, would prove bittersweet. Her 2007 will, obtained by the Sunday Age and Sun-Herald from Victorian public records, show her son was to receive her treasured collection of Chinese porcelain. Then 99-year-old Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm in 2008. Credit: Joe Armao At the time Murdoch was married to his third wife, the Chinese-born Wendi Deng , with whom he had two daughters, Grace and Chloe. But the marriage was not to last, and by the time the will passed into probate in the Victorian Supreme Court in April 2013, Murdoch was to file for divorce from Deng months later in June. Advertisement It is likely Dame Elisabeth also gave Murdoch the collection in remembrance of her husband and Murdoch’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch, “the tall, dark, and handsome and an expensive dresser” who amassed an exceptional collection of porcelain and other artworks before he died in 1952. Chinese porcelain was something of an obsession for the journalist and chairman of the Herald and Weekly Times newspaper group, who had collected rare pieces from the Han Dynasty dating back to 205BC, as well as paintings by Frederick McCubbin and others. Wucai decoration on porcelain from the Qing Dynasty showing symbols of the eight Taoist Immortals. Once owned by Sir Keith Murdoch, the piece was bequeathed by his friends Herbert and May Shaw to the Hamilton Gallery. Credit: Madi Whyte In 1953 more than 600 attended an auction in Toorak of antiques from his estate, watched by uniformed police, which raised 35,100 pounds. Rival newspaper publisher Warwick Fairfax bought an 1780 Hepplewhite bookcase for 500 pounds. Sir Keith’s friend, Herbert Shaw, acquired part of his Chinese porcelain and glass collection for 9500 pounds. He bequeathed the items to the Hamilton Gallery, in western Victoria, and some of those pieces illustrate this article. The remainder stayed at Cruden Farm and were bequeathed by Dame Elisabeth to her only son. “The will set out some very specific bequests of individual pieces that went to family members,” said Ian Evans, a Collins Street accountant and executor of the will and former trustee of the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Trust, which runs Cruden Farm. Song Dynasty porcelain once owned by Sir Keith and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and bequeathed by their friends Herbert and May Shaw to the Hamilton Gallery. Credit: Madi Whyte Dame Elisabeth was equally thoughtful in the chattels she left for her children. Her surviving daughters received jewellery: Anne Kantor was left her diamond engagement ring and Janet Calvert-Jones her emerald and diamond broach. Dame Elisabeth was also specific in what she bequeathed her granddaughters – but not her grandsons. Rupert Murdoch’s daughters received carefully chosen gifts: Elisabeth Murdoch (from his marriage to second wife Anna Torv) received drop pearl earrings, while third wife Wendi Deng’s daughters, Grace Murdoch and Chloe Murdoch, respectively received her Royal Children’s Hospital brooch and her decorations. And granddaughter Prudence (from Rupert Murdoch’s first marriage to flight attendant and department store model Patricia Booker) received her diamond clips. The four eldest Murdoch children have key voting stakes in the Murdoch family trust, which controls News Corp. Granddaughter Judy Patterson (daughter of Helen Handbury and an executor of the will) received her diamond ring and her pearl and diamond earrings given to her by her children on her 70th birthday. While her granddaughter Penny Fowler, daughter of Janet Calvert-Jones, an executor, chair of Herald and Weekly Times and the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal, was gifted her shorter pearl necklace. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch celebrates her 100th birthday with her children Rupert Murdoch, left, Anne Kantor and Janet Calvert-Jones, right, at Cruden Farm in 2009. Credit: Reuters In contrast, James and Lachlan Murdoch were not even named in the will. This was not entirely unusual in wills from wealthy women of Dame Elisabeth’s generation, who were more focussed on bequests to their female descendants. “To each of my grandsons and Michael Morrison an item of my old silver, glass or porcelain appropriate to their tastes and selected by my executors,” the will states. Loading This might have rankled among Dame Elisabeth’s intensely competitive grandchildren, especially the Murdoch siblings. “If you look at what the items were bequests, they were items of female adornment,” Evans explained. “Trustees had the flexibility to make disbursement of other chattels, if I can put it like that, and the residue remaining with the farm.” Dame Elisabeth, who was born in Armadale in 1909, was given Cruden Farm as a wedding gift when in 1928, aged 19, she married newspaper executive Keith Murdoch, aged 43. Her will states Cruden Farm would be left an “an area of public recreation” and any profits of its running would “go to relief of poverty, advancement of Christian religion, advancement of education and to the benefit of the community”. In the 2021/22 financial year the estate made an income of $1 million. “If you read the will, it’s very clear that maintenance of Cruden Farm as a place of public recreation was her predominant goal,” said Evans. Morrison, the Cruden Farm gardener, was also given a selection of gardening books, while the Cruden Farm estate manager Andrew Gobel, who works at the farm to this day, received $110,000. She left cash to her godsons and goddaughters of several thousand dollars each, as well as similar amounts for friends from Cruden Farm’s surrounds in Langwarrin. Loading When she died at Cruden farm in 2012, the property was valued at $9.8 million and her personal estate at $19.6 million – which included “personal chattels”, cash, News Corp shares and paintings valued at $3.7 million; furniture valued at $539,000, objets d’art at $431,000, plants at $185,000 and livestock at $27,000. Assets totalled $29.5 million. The Murdoch family has maintained ties with the property. Rupert Murdoch and fourth wife Jerry Hall attended the property for a birthday party in 2017. The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here . 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