Gray, Edmund Dwyer (DNB00)

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GRAY, EDMUND DWYER (1845–1888), journalist, second son of Sir John Gray [q. v.], was born at Dublin on 29 Dec. 1845. He was educated with a view to journalism, and on the death of his father succeeded him in the management of the ‘Freeman's Journal.’ In 1866, when only twenty years of age, Gray saved the lives of five persons in Dublin Bay, by swimming out through the dangerous surf to a wreck. Miss Chisholm (Caroline Agnes, daughter of Caroline Chisholm, ‘the emigrant's friend’ [q. v.]), was a witness of the scene; the two were introduced and were shortly afterwards married. For his gallant services Gray received the Tayleur medal, the highest award in the gift of the Royal Humane Society.

Entering the Dublin municipal council about 1875, Gray led a vigorous crusade against various abuses then prevalent. He devoted special attention to the department of public health, and, becoming chairman of that committee, speedily revolutionised the municipal health system of the city. He also secured the passing of many important statutes bearing upon the public health. He unsuccessfully contested Kilkenny on his father's death in 1875. In 1877 he was returned to parliament for Tipperary, and continued to sit for that place until 1880. In the latter year he was unanimously elected lord mayor of Dublin. The lord-lieutenant (the Duke of Marlborough) declined to attend the banquet, to which he had previously accepted an invitation, because some resolutions passed at the City Hall in favour of the distressed peasantry of the west appeared to him to sanction resistance to the law. Gray summoned a meeting of the corporation, when it was resolved that no banquet should be held, and that the customary expenditure—about 500l.—should be devoted to the relief of the distress in the Irish capital. Gray also at this time organised a fund at the Dublin Mansion House, amounting to 180,000l., for the relief of the famine districts, whose condition had been described by special commissioners in the ‘Freeman's Journal.’

Gray was returned to the House of Commons for Carlow in 1880. The year following he retired from the Dublin corporation to mark his resentment at the action of a portion of that body in refusing to confer the distinction of honorary burgesses on Messrs. Parnell and Dillon, who were then lying in Kilmainham gaol. But the November elections of 1881 gave the nationalists a substantial majority in the council chamber, whereupon the freedom of the city was conferred on the nationalist leaders, and Gray re-entered the corporation as representative of the Arran Quay ward. In 1882 Gray was elected high sheriff of Dublin. During that year he was condemned by Mr. Justice Lawson to three months' imprisonment and a fine of 500l. for having allowed some comments upon the composition of the jury at the trial of Francis Hynes for murder to appear in the ‘Freeman's Journal.’ As he could not arrest himself, the city coroner conducted him to the Richmond Penitentiary at Harold's Cross, where he spent some six weeks as a prisoner. The severity of the sentence excited great surprise in Dublin, for the high sheriff ‘was known as a man of moderate views and careful expression.’ The fine was discharged by public subscription in a few days. Resolutions condemning the sentence and expressing sympathy with Gray were adopted by the great majority of the public bodies throughout the country, and the freedom of most of the incorporated cities and boroughs of Ireland was conferred upon the prisoner. In 1883 Gray's connection with the Dublin corporation ceased, but he continued to take a keen interest in questions specially affecting the masses of the people. He was appointed a member of the royal commission on the housing of the poor in 1884.

When the Parnell movement first began to acquire force, Gray held somewhat aloof, but he soon became a devoted follower of Mr. Parnell. In the House of Commons he displayed great judgment, and was esteemed by men of all parties. He disapproved of the socialistic tendencies of Mr. Davitt, and was a warm supporter of that portion of Mr. Gladstone's Irish home rule scheme which proposed to create in the Irish legislature an upper order to protect capital and culture.

In 1885 Gray contested the St. Stephen's Green division of Dublin in opposition to Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, and after a severe fight was returned. He was also returned for Carlow, but elected to sit for Dublin. He was again returned for the St. Stephen's Green division in 1886 against Sir Edward Sullivan. It was chiefly owing to Gray's energy, and his powerful representations to the ministers of the crown, that the scheme for transferring the mail contracts from the City of Dublin Steam-packet Company to the London and North-Western Railway Company was defeated. The ‘Freeman's Journal,’ of which Gray had been the controlling spirit since 1875, was in 1887 converted into a limited liability company, and the capital of 125,000l. was subscribed six times over in less than two days. Gray continued to conduct the journal, but his health rapidly failed, and he died at Dublin 27 March 1888. His funeral at Glasnevin cemetery, on 31 March, was attended by an immense concourse of persons.

Gray had considerable literary gifts and a wide knowledge of commercial affairs. He not only successfully managed the ‘Freeman,’ but actively promoted the success of the ‘Belfast Morning News,’ a nationalist organ, of which he was also proprietor. He was generous and hospitable, and he earned the respect even of his political enemies.

[Freeman's Journal, 28 and 29 March and 2 April 1888; Dublin Daily Express, 29 March; Nation, 29 March; London Daily News, 28 March 1888.]

G. B. S.