Purchas, John (DNB00)

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PURCHAS, JOHN (1823–1872), divine and author, eldest son of William Jardine Purchas, captain in the navy, was born at Cambridge on 14 July 1823, and educated at Rugby from 1836. He proceeded to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. 1844 and M.A. 1847. He was curate of Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, from 1851 to 1853, curate of Orwell in the same county from 1856 to 1859, curate of St. Paul's, West Street, Brighton, from 1861 to 1866, and perpetual curate of St. James's Chapel, Brighton, in 1866. Into the services of St. James's Chapel, Purchas introduced practices which were denounced as ritualistic, and on 27 Nov. 1869, at the instance of Colonel Charles James Elphinstone, he was charged before Sir Robert Phillimore [q. v.] in the arches court of Canterbury with infringing the law of the established church by using a cope (otherwise than during the communion service), chasubles, albs, stoles, tunicles, dalmatics, birettas, wafer bread, lighted candles on the altar, crucifixes, images, and holy water; by standing with his back to the people when consecrating the elements, mixing water with the wine, censing the minister, leaving the holy table uncovered during the service, directing processions round the church, and giving notice of unauthorised holidays. Purchas did not appear, stating that he was too poor to procure legal assistance, and too infirm in health to defend the case in person. On 3 Feb. 1870 judgment was given against him on eight points with costs (Law Reports, Admiralty and Ecclesiastical Courts, 1872, iii. 66–113). This decision was not entirely satisfactory to the promoter of the suit, and he appealed for a fuller condemnation of Purchas to the queen in council; but he died on 30 March 1870 before the case was heard. Henry Hebbert of Brighton, late a judge of the high court of judicature at Bombay, then applied to the privy council to be allowed to revive the appeal, and was permitted to take the place of the original promoter, 4 June 1870 (Law Reports, Privy Council Appeals, 1871, iii. 245–57). The privy council decided against Purchas on 16 May 1871, on practically all the points raised (ib. iii. 605–702). He, however, made over all his property to his wife, and neither paid the costs, amounting to 2,096l. 14s. 10d., nor discontinued any of the illegal practices. The privy council consequently, on 7 Feb. 1872, suspended him from the discharge of his clerical office for twelve months.

These decisions gave rise to much difference of opinion and led to a prolonged controversy, in which, among others, the Rev. Gordon Calthrop, the Rev. Robert Gregory, afterwards dean of St. Paul's, and Canon Liddon took part. A copy of the order of suspension was affixed to the door of St. James's Chapel on 18 Feb. 1872, but Purchas continued his services as usual for the remainder of his life. He died at his residence, Montpellier Villas, Brighton, on 18 Oct. 1872, and was buried in the parochial cemetery on 23 Oct. He left a widow and five sons.

He edited the ‘Directorium Anglicanum: being a Manual of Directions for the right Celebration of the Holy Communion, for the saying of Matins and Evensong, and for the performance of the other rites and ceremonies of the Church,’ 1858. This is a standard work on Anglican ritual.

His other writings were:

  1. ‘The Miser's Daughter, or the Lover's Curse,’ a comedy, 1839.
  2. ‘Ode upon the Death of the Marquis Camden,’ 1841.
  3. ‘The Birth of the Prince of Wales,’ a poem, 1842.
  4. ‘Poems and Ballads,’ 1846.
  5. ‘The Book of Feasts,’ 1853.
  6. ‘The Book of Common Prayer unabridged: a Letter to the Rev. J. Hildyard on his pamphlet, “The Morning Service of the Church abridged,”’ 1856.
  7. ‘The Priest's Dream: an Allegory,’ 1856.
  8. ‘The Death of Ezekiel's Wife: Three Sermons,’ 1866.

[Times, 19 Oct. 1872, p. 5; Annual Register, 1871, pp. 187–210; Sussex Daily News, 19 Oct. 1872 p. 5, 22 Oct. p. 6, 24 Oct. p. 5; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. x. 210; Men of the Time, 1872.]

G. C. B.