Abraham, Charles John (DNB12)

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ABRAHAM, CHARLES JOHN (1814–1903), first bishop of Wellington, New Zealand, born on 17 June 1814 at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was second son of Captain Thomas Abraham of the 16th regiment, who was on the staff there. His mother was Louisa Susannah, daughter of Edward Carter of Portsmouth. After attending Dr. Arnold's school at Laleham, he went in 1826 to Eton as an oppidan, but to save expenses soon went into college, then half empty. He reached the sixth form, and played in the school cricket eleven. In 1833 Abraham went as a scholar to King's College, Cambridge. King's at that time had the privilege of giving its own degrees without university examination in a tripos. Abraham was a good and accurate scholar, with a special memory for Horace and Homer, which he retained through life. He graduated B.A. in 1837, and succeeded to a fellowship at King's, which he held until 1850. He proceeded M.A. in 1840 and D.D. in 1859, and took the ad eundem degree of M.A. at Oxford on 14 June 1849.

After being ordained deacon in 1837 and priest in 1838 and entering on parochial work as curate of Headley Down, Hampshire, he returned to Eton as a master. For thirteen years he threw himself heart and soul into Eton life. There were few masters and the classes were large and unwieldy; Abraham had more than ninety boys in his division. With George Augustus Selwyn [q. v.], who was private tutor to the earl of Powis's sons at Eton and curate of Windsor, Abraham now began the friendship which determined his career. When in 1841 Selwyn became bishop of New Zealand, Abraham was anxious to follow him, but for the present the calls of Eton kept him at home. In 1846, in the interests of the reform of the school, he resigned the lucrative post of house-master to become assistant-master in college, and was largely responsible for the rapid improvement in the moral tone of the King's scholars. He helped to modify the system of fagging, and repressed the old college songs. As a teacher, Abraham widened the range of the curriculum, combining the teaching of history and geography and stimulating the boys' interest in history and literature. The collegers regarded him as a kind adviser and friend, and in 1850 gave a font and cover to the college chapel as a tribute of their regard. His pupils included Edward Henry Stanley, fifteenth earl of Derby [q. v.], to whom for a time he was private tutor at Knowsley, and Lord Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne Cecil, afterwards third marquis of Salisbury [q. v. Suppl. II], who visited him in New Zealand in 1852. In 1848 Abraham was appointed divinity lecturer of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and next year, when he became B.D. at Cambridge, published his * Festival and Lenten Lectures.'

He left Eton at Christmas 1849 to join Bishop Selwyn in New Zealand, and arrived in Auckland harbour in July 1850. Selwyn at once put him in charge, as chaplain and principal, of St. John's College, Auckland, a small training college for Maori and English youths. In 1853 he was made archdeacon of Waitemate, with the oversight of a large district. He took long tramps with Selwyn for months together through the native districts, visiting mission stations and schools. He returned to England in 1857 for surgical treatment of a broken arm. Whilst in England the new dioceses of Wellington and Nelson were constituted ; Abraham was consecrated bishop of Wellington at Lambeth Palace on 29 Sept. 1858, and his friend, Edmund Hobhouse [q. v. Suppl. II], bishop of Nelson. For twelve years Abraham was fully occupied in creating the machinery of his new diocese, the chief town in which had just been made the seat of government. Three or four months in the year he spent in visiting outlying stations. During the Maori war in 1860 he powerfully urged just treatment of the natives.

In 1868 Abraham returned to England with Selwyn, who was appointed to the see of Lichfield, and owing to Selwyn's temporary failure of health became co-adjutor bishop. In 1872 he was collated to the prebendal stall of Bobenhall in Lichfield Cathedral, and in 1876 was made a canon-presidentiary and precentor. He assisted in the revision of the mediaeval statutes of the cathedral, taught in the theological college, helped in beautifying and strengthening the fabric of the cathedral, of which he was the keeper, and although no musician was unremitting in devotion to the welfare of the choristers. In 1875-6 Abraham was also non-resident rector of Tatenhill, in Needwood Forest. A total abstainer, he was long a frequent speaker at meetings of the United Kingdom Alliance.

After Selwyn's death in April 1878, Abraham, with Bishop Edmund Hobhouse and Sir William Martin [q. v.], organised, by way of memorial, Selwyn College, Cambridge, which was opened in October 1882. He rendered the college much generous service, and as a chief benefactor he is mentioned annually in the chapel commemoration on 4 Feb. Abraham worked with William Dalrymple Maclagan [q. v. Suppl. II], Selwyn's successor at Lichfield, until 1890, when he resigned his canonry, thenceforth residing with his only son, the Rev. Charles Thomas Abraham, first at Christ Church, Lichfield, until 1897, and afterwards at Bakewell, Derbyshire. He died on 4 Feb. 1903 at Bake well vicarage, and was buried at Over Haddon churchyard. A memorial service was held the same day in Eton College Chapel, where a marble slab and effigy have been placed. Abraham married on 17 Jan. 1850 Caroline Harriet (d. 1877), daughter of Sir Charles Thomas Palmer, second baronet, of Wanlip, Leicestershire. Charles Thomas Abraham, his son, is now bishop suffragan of Derby.

Besides the work mentioned Abraham was author of : 1. 'The Unity of History,' 1845; 2nd edit. 1846. 2. 'The Three Witnesses on Earth,' 1848. 3. 'Personal Religion and Cathedral Membership,' 1858. 4. 'Readings, Meditations, and Prayers on the Lord's Supper,' 2nd edit., 1858.

[Articles on Charles John Abraham, by A. L. Brown and C. T. Abraham, in the Selwyn College Calendar for 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906 ; W. H. Tucker, Bishop Selwyn's Life, 1879 ; G. H. Curteis, Life of G. A. Selwyn, 1889 ; Maxwell Lyte's History of Eton, 1875, p. 421 ; A. D. Coleridge's Eton in the Forties, 1896, p. 381 ; A. L. Brown's Selwyn College, 1906 ; The Times, 5, 9, and 13 Feb. 1903 ; Crockford's Clerical Directory; Lichfield Diocesan Magazine, March 1903 ; Foster's Peerage and Baronetage ; original letters in the possession of Mr. Percy Simpson ; private information.]

W. G. D. F.