Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gray, Robert (1809-1872)

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GRAY, ROBERT (1809–1872), bishop of Cape Town, and metropolitan of Africa, son of Robert Gray [q. v.], bishop of Bristol, was born on 3 Oct. 1809. He entered as a commoner at University College, Oxford, in 1827, and took his B.A. degree in 1831, gaining an honorary fourth class in classics. Soon after taking his degree he visited the continent, and travelled in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Sicily. In 1833 he was ordained deacon by his father, and in the following year priest by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. He first held the small living of Whitworth, Durham, and afterwards that of Stockton, to which he was presented in 1845. In the interval he had married Miss Myddleton of Grinkle Park, Easington, Yorkshire, who till her death was his constant help and companion. Archbishop Howley soon afterwards pressed him to accept the bishopric of Cape Town, and he sacrificed his own inclinations to what he recognised as a call of duty. He was consecrated 29 June 1847. He arrived at his diocese at the commencement of the following year. He found it in a most forlorn condition, other denominations of Christians having done more for the propagation of their religion than churchmen. But his presence was felt immediately, and in about six years he succeeded in dividing his unwieldy diocese into three parts, two new bishoprics being erected at Graham's Town and Natal. After he had been twelve years bishop of Cape Town, the island of St. Helena was erected into a separate bishopric (1859). It was chiefly owing to his suggestions that the universities mission to Central Africa was set on foot, and a bishop consecrated to superintend it 1 Jan. 1861.

Until November 1853 Gray had been simply bishop of Cape Town and a suffragan of Canterbury; but in this month he formally resigned his see, in order to forward its reconstitution as a metropolitical see, with jurisdiction over Graham's Town and Natal, which it was in contemplation to erect into distinct bishoprics. On the following 8 Dec. he was reappointed bishop of Cape Town by letters patent. By his firmness Gray gained the respect, and by his gentleness the affections, of all classes of people. All things seemed to have gone on smoothly till 1856, when, upon his resolving to hold a synod of his diocese, he issued summonses to the clergy and certain delegates of the laity. Mr. Long, one of his clergy, refused to attend, and repeated the refusal in 1860, when a second synod was proposed to be held. It was alleged that Gray had no authority either from the crown or the local legislature to hold any such synod; and on 8 Jan. 1861 the offending clergyman was suspended by Gray from the cure of souls, and in March following he was deprived by the withdrawal of his license. In an action brought by the clergyman and his churchwardens before the supreme court of the colony, the judges decided in favour of Gray, on the ground that though no coercive jurisdiction could be claimed by virtue of the letters patent of 1853, when he was constituted metropolitan, because they were issued after a constitutional government had been established at the Cape, yet the clergyman was bound by his own voluntary submission to acquiesce in the decision of the bishop. From this judgment Mr. Long appealed to the judicial committee of the privy council, who on 24 June 1863 reversed the sentence of the colonial court, the judicial committee agreeing with the inferior court that the letters patent of 1847 and those of 1853 were ineffectual to create any jurisdiction, but denying that the bishop's synod was in any sense a court. The dispute between Gray and Mr. Long was therefore to be treated as a suit between members of a religious body not established by law, and it was decided that Mr. Long had not been guilty of any offence which by the laws of the church of England would have warranted his deprivation. Accordingly Mr. Long was restored to his former status. In the same year (1863) Gray was engaged in another lawsuit. One of his suffragans, Dr. Colenso [q. v.], bishop of Natal, was presented to him by the dean of Cape Town and the archdeacons of George and Graham's Town, on the charge of heresy. Bishop Colenso protested against the jurisdiction of his metropolitan, and offered no defence of his opinions, but admitted that he had published the works from which passages had been quoted, and alleged that they were no offence against the laws of the established church. Accordingly on 16 Dec. 1863 Gray pronounced the deposition of the Bishop of Natal, to take effect from 16 April following, if the bishop should not before that time make a full retractation of the charges brought against him, in writing. This judgment, however, was reversed, on appeal to the judicial committee of the privy council, on the ground that the crown had exceeded its powers in issuing letters patent conveying coercive jurisdiction on its sole authority. The principal point in the judgment is contained in the following words: ‘No metropolitan or bishop in any colony having legislative institutions can by virtue of the crown's letters patent alone (unless granted under an act of parliament or confirmed by a colonial statute) exercise any coercive jurisdiction or hold any court or tribunal for that purpose.’

It is a remarkable fact that the judge who presided at the pronouncement of this judgment, Lord-chancellor Westbury, was the very person who, as attorney-general, had drawn the letters patent which he now pronounced to be null and void in law. The result of the whole litigation was that the Bishop of Natal continued to hold religious services in his cathedral, while the dean also held other services at a different hour, and this state of things continued till the death of the deprived Bishop of Natal, which occurred in 1883. Meanwhile Gray made his appeal to the bishops of the English church to give him their countenance and support, as a bishop of a free and independent church. His anxious desire was that the church of England, through her bishops and convocations, should sanction his proceedings and concur with him in appointing a new bishop for the see, after passing the sentence of excommunication on Colenso, 16 Dec. 1863. The debates on the subject which ensued in the upper house of convocation do not give a very high idea of the intellectual power of the bishops, but upon the whole the upper as well as the lower house of convocation of Canterbury agreed in supporting Gray in his project of consecrating a new bishop for the diocese, taking a different name and title. In 1867 the matter was also brought before the Pan-Anglican Synod, which had been summoned to meet at Lambeth, and which all the bishops in communion with the Anglican church had been invited to attend. Here, owning to the attitude of the American bishops, Gray carried his point, viz. ‘that this conference accepts and adopts the wise decision of the convocation of Canterbury as to the appointment of another bishop to Natal.’ This was carried with three dissentients only, although only two days before, on 25 Sept., the archbishop had refused to put the question: ‘That this conference, while pronouncing no opinion upon any question as to legal rights, acknowledges and accepts the spiritual sentence pronounced by the metropolitan of South Africa upon the Rt. Rev. J. W. Colenso, D.D., Bishop of Natal.’ Gray, in deference to the Archbishop of Canterbury, acquiesced in his decision; but after the conference was over fifty-five bishops joined in the following declaration: ‘We the undersigned bishops declare our acceptance of the sentence pronounced upon Dr. Colenso by the metropolitan of South Africa, with his suffragans, as being spiritually a valid sentence.’ The debates, though not published, may be seen in the archives at Lambeth Library.

Gray's next step was to find a person willing to accept the bishopric, and who would be acceptable to all parties concerned. The see to which he was to be appointed was designated that of Pietermaritzburg. After many refusals the Rev. W. K. Macrorie in January 1868 accepted the post, and the next difficulty that arose was as to the place of consecration, it being found that there were legal difficulties as to a consecration taking place without the queen's mandate in any place where the Act of Uniformity was in force. The new bishop was finally consecrated at Cape Town on 25 Jan. 1869 by Gray, assisted by the bishops of Graham's Town, St. Helena, and the Free State.

The incessant work in which Gray had been engaged was now beginning to tell upon him, and his anxieties were increased by domestic afflictions. In 1870 he lost a daughter, and in the spring of the following year his wife died. He also sensibly felt the loss of the Bishop of Graham's Town, who had in the same year been induced to accept the bishopric of Edinburgh. The bishopric of Graham's Town being thus vacant, Gray had the satisfaction of consecrating for the see his old and tried friend, Archdeacon Merriman.

Gray died on 1 Sept. 1872, his death being supposed to have been accelerated by a fall from his horse about three weeks before. Up to this time he had been engaged incessantly in work in all parts of his large diocese, and before he died had been the means of adding to the South African church five new bishoprics, to which others have been added since his death. Perhaps Gray's most remarkable characteristic was his tenacity of purpose in carrying to the end what he judged to be his duty.

Gray published, besides many pamphlets and some charges, journals of visitations held in 1848 and 1850 (London, 1852), in 1855 (London, 1856), in 1864 (London, 1864), and in 1865 (London, 1866).

[Life of Bishop Gray, by H. L. Farrer, afterwards Lear, edited by the bishop's son; Chronicle of Convocation; Lambeth Archives.]

N. P.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.141
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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17 i 30 Gray, Robert (1809-1872): for Saltburn read Easington