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In Memoriam. The Bishop of Cape Town.

Sonnets "In Memoriam."

From Mission Life, Vol. III, Part II (New Series) (1872), pages 647-653.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006



(From the "Zingari.")

THE Augustine of South African Christendom is no more. By his death the foremost prelate of the Colonial Churches is lost to the world; and wherever this news is heard by Christian men, it will be with surprise, sorrow and regret. He has filled a great niche in the civilisation of the nineteenth century--"His fame is in all the churches," and the gap that his too early sinking into his rest will make, particularly in this quarter of the globe, cannot be adequately filled by any successor.

The Most Reverend Robert, Gray, Doctor of Divinity, Honorary Canon of Durham, First Bishop of Cape Town, and Metropolitan of the Province of the United Church of England and Ireland in South Africa, including St. Helena, died at his residence, Bishop's Court, Protea, Newlands, at six o'clock on Sunday morning, 1st September, 1872, in the sixty-third year of his age, and the twenty-sixth of his episcopate.

Such might be the simple announcement of the great fact which we have recorded. But would it satisfy the reader to know no more of the facts than that? The inhabitants of this country can ill estimate at this moment the value of the founder, the leader, the apostle whom we have lost, whatever may now be written of him.

Endowed with courage, skill, and determination of character which makes the great soldier, he enjoyed in addition the forensic faculties of the lawyer, the eloquence of the orator, the learning of the divine, and combined with them the industry and zeal of an ever-advancing conqueror, standing out before the world as a second Apostle Paul, born to found a Church, rear its bulwarks, firmly establish it, provide with laws where at first there was no feeling, where the elements that did exist were chaos, and the means to resolve them to order, progress, stability, and happiness appeared at first but dream the wildest, the most chimerical. There is nothing strange, nothing forced in these words, they contain but well-known, self-evident truths.

The deceased prelate was a son of the former Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol (who, we believe, was afterwards translated to Durham). He was born on the 3rd October, 1809, was entered at University College, Oxford, where he took a fourth class in classics, graduated B.A. in Easter Term 1831 (the same year as Bishop Merriman, who was then at Brasenose), received ordination, and took his M.A. degree in 1831, when he was appointed Perpetual Curate of Whiteworth, Durham; was one of the Secretaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel [647/648] in Foreign Parts, and appointed Vicar of Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, in 1845, where he was marked by the same industry and zeal among the poor of a large labouring and manufacturing population which ever characterised his career. Here he was joined by the Rev. Henry Badnall, of the Durham University, who remained with him as his curate till 1847, in the early part of which he was chosen Bishop-designate of the See then about to be erected. On the 26th of April of that year he appealed to the public for aid for his bishopric, specially for additional clergy. On the 29th June, with Drs. Tyrrol, Short, and Perry, the Australian Bishops-designate of Newcastle, Adelaide, and Melbourne, respectively, he was consecrated at Lambeth Palace, by Archbishop Sumner, first Bishop of Cape Town. By the Queen's Letters Patent of September 25, the Cape was apportioned as a diocese, and Cape Town rose to the rank of a city. From the date of his consecration (and we were omitting to add that his University honoured itself by conferring upon him the degree of a Doctor of Divinity, while the Bishop of his recent parish made him an Honorary Canon of Durham), he went up and down the United Kingdom preparing plans, raising funds, and awakening every possible interest for his future sphere of labours. In December, he and his faithful curate, the present Venerable Archdeacon of Cape Town, accompanied by the Hon. and Rev. Mr. H. Douglas, sailed for the Cape in the "Persia"--the former as his private secretary and examining chaplain--but not before he had offered the Archdeaconry of Graham's Town to the Rev. Mr. Merriman, now Bishop of that place. The party, with his lordship's family, arrived on Sunday, 20th February, 1848. On the following Thursday the Government Gazette appeared with the Letters Patent, and the parish church of St. George's thenceforth become the Cathedral of the first South African diocese.

To point out here the hearty manner in which his lordship, with Mrs. Gray and the children, were received by those who had hoped for their arrival, and to describe the condition in which the Bishop found the affairs of the Church generally, would be a work of almost supererogation. It was in answer to an appeal from the members of the Church of England, in both the Eastern and Western Provinces, to the Committee of the Colonial Bishops' Fund, to use their influence in procuring the appointment of a Bishop for the Cape of Good Hope, that Bishop Gray was sent out. When he arrived there were only thirteen clergymen for an area of 110,000 square miles of colony, out of which that Church had but 45 acres, against 51,898 granted to the old Church of the land.

The work before the Bishop was novel and severe; for while he had, on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, advocated, in all parts of England, the cause of Missions in colonies whose requirements he was able to ascertain, he could obtain no reliable [648/649] information about the Cape to guide him, till he arrived in the colony and traversed it from end to end.

No time was lost on the arrival of the Bishop in selecting his future home, which he fixed at Bishop's Court, Protea, and in making himself fully acquainted with the Church affairs as far as he could. He preached in the Cathedral, and at Rondebosch, Wynberg, Simon's Town, and other places, and held meetings to explain the objects of his Mission, his plans and his hopes for it. At some of these he advocated the cause of schools, the formation of congregations, the building of churches, gave of his own means towards them all, and asked for help from the colonists. As soon as possible he held confirmation at Cape Town and in the neighbourhood. Ordination took place in July; and on the 2nd and 3rd August he convened a provincial synod at Protea, when steps were resolved upon for the commencement of something like Church organisation. All this was not done without a visible effect upon his health, and he had to cease from work for some time from Trinity Sunday. After the synodical meetings and preachings, and holding one or two meetings, he, on Thursday, August 24th, 1848, says, "This day I commenced my first visitation of the diocese, intending to go through the colony, and to remain out till the early part of December." He was gladly welcomed everywhere. By Tuesday, Oct. 3, he had reached and left Port Elizabeth. His journal has this entry: "This is my birthday. I have now commenced my thirty-ninth year." On the 5th he was at Graham's Town, and King William's Town the next evening. On the 12th his lordship held his first synod of the clergy of the Eastern Province at Graham's Town. "We discussed," he writes, "the same topics as had been previously debated in the Western Province--the formation of the Church Society, Church Ordinance, Marriage Law, Education Question." At meetings afterwards in the town, he advocated the formation of funds for churches, schools, pastors, widows and orphans, missionaries, college scholarships, training of teachers, book society. On the 8th November he reached Colesberg, and put up with Dr. Orpen and that gentleman's family. The Doctor ordained deacon by the Bishop at the district church on 12th. Sunday, 21st, left Graaff-Reinet; 24th, arrived at Beaufort; George Town, Dec. 2; Riversdale, 8th; Worcester, 11th; Tulbagh, 15th; Paarl and Stellenbosch, 16th; Malmesbury, 19th; Durban, 21st; and arrived at Protea at 3.15 p.m., welcomed by Mrs. Gray, who rode out some distance to meet the Bishop. He had now travelled nearly 3,000 miles; and, he adds, "I left home enfeebled and worn; I return in strength and health."

In his absence there had been several notable arrivals for his lordship. His first Dean of Cape Town, the Rev. W. A. Newman, landed Sept. 22. In November the Rev., now Bishop Merriman (with his family), arrived in the "Gwalior" to fill the office of Archdeacon of Graham's Town. [649/650] With him came the Revs. Messrs. Thompson, Henchman, and others, with the Rev. Mr. White, long the able and excellent Principal of the Diocesan College at Woodlands, and now Archdeacon of Graham's Town. From that time forward the Church's condition was one of struggle, growth, strength, and firm founding. Before eight years had passed, nineteen new parishes had been formed, eleven places of worship in and around Cape Town opened, three dioceses--the Cape, Graham's Town, and Natal--with the requisite officers, formed out of the one See. To these have been added St. Helena, Bloemfontein, Maritzburg, Zululand, and Central Africa, each with its Bishop. The one great diocese which at first extended over 250,000 square miles, by the Bishop's computation, he has in twenty-five years lived to see mapped with an almost complete organisation for the educational and spiritual necessities of an unfettered Episcopal Church in South Africa, with laws for its own internal good government. To enable him to effect all this, under God's blessing, he had a firm reliance in the Great Guide of his life; and by his labours, by word and by deed, he made his lines of travel as lines of moral and religious light whose tracks could not be easily obliterated. The heart of Basutoland, the wilds of Namaqualand, the capital of Natal, and the condition of James' Town, were equally familiar to him by personal inquiry among them. But, in providing for their direct wants, he did not neglect their very highest interests, as for Christian free men. In the law courts of the colony and the mother country he struggled to maintain what he believed to be the highest right in matters of faith and doctrine as well as of discipline in the colonial churches. This was his aim in our Supreme Court, in the Queen's Privy Council, in the meetings at the Universities, and in the great Pan-Anglican Assembly at Lambeth. He was as the eye, the light, and the stay of the Church which he may be said to have founded. He repeatedly visited England to recruit; at the same time he made his visits the occasion for promoting the great object of his life. But all these labours, all these travels, killed him. His last visitation in Namaqualand was full of untold physical trials, which were far beyond his strength. Weak when he started on that trip, only a few months ago, he was ill-fitted to have to crouch in his wet clothes the whole night upon the wet earth, between the bare walls of a roofless mud-hut, with nothing but a couple of macintoshes between him and the muddy floor, and only the wet night air for his further surroundings. The ear would be pained, and the heart ache, did the reader hear but the faintest of that good Bishop's sufferings in the performance of his duties. But he would not wish them to be detailed, and therefore we pass them over. The Apostle Paul's summary of his perils are an apposite picture of the Paul of our Church. After this last tour, the consequences of all he had undergone told their sorrowful tale by repeatedly prostrating him; and he become more anxious than ever to [650/651] complete what work he could for the province in general, and the diocese in particular. He therefore wrought incessantly, even when he should have rest. He was closing his days to rejoin her who had been as "the apple of his eye," who from the first had been his fellow-founder of the Church of South Africa, and whose labours were too early closed on the 27th April, 1871, when she was in the 57th year of her age. He looked into every office in which his functions were concerned. And it will be a loving remembrance by many that he held a confirmation so recently as the 13th August, when 170 persons were confirmed by him at the Cathedral. At the prorogation of Parliament he had appeared attenuated and weak. At the confirmation he was so weak as to be obliged to sit for the solemn laying-on of hands. He was, therefore, not one to endure the fall he had from his horse without serious consequences ensuing; still he attended meetings of officers for the institutions under Miss Arthur and the Sisters; and on the 23rd of August he took to his bed for the last time. On Saturday evening, the 31st August, he partook of the Holy Communion for the Sick, and fully participated in the solemn services which he selected, and which were read to him. During these he repeatedly expressed a desire for "rest," and, realising the promise, "I will give thee rest," words which are inscribed upon the tomb of her whom he loved so tenderly, he lay down, with his head resting upon his left hand, as in sleep, and immediately after the reading of the Commendatory Prayer for the Sick, he sank, imperceptibly, to his everlasting rest, at six o'clock on Sunday morning, September 1st, when he had nearly completed the sixty-third year of his age.

To use the words of the very Rev. the Dean in the Cathedral service that morning, "The death of the Bishop is a wide-spread calamity. It stuns the lamenting hearts of those who really knew him. He was a generous public and private benefactor. His boons were literally showered upon many." In his death not the members of his own communion alone feel the great loss which they have sustained, but the clergy of all denominations say, "In him we lose a friend and a brother."

He has lived long enough to have almost perfected his Church system. He has done all things so well, that by his removal he has left no confusion in his wide-spreading office. All is in order. He has lived down all prejudices, and his motives had been at last understood and appreciated by all. He was in all respects a true High Church gentleman. He was no lover of what Dean, now Bishop, Douglas would term man-millinery; on the contrary, he disliked it. And he was not only "no Ritualist," in the vulgar acceptance of the expression, but rather deprecated the introduction of anything calculated to wound the feelings of those who did not wish for so-called Ritualistic accessions into our places of worship. But he was firm in upholding the doctrines of the Church, content to leave minor matters to be dealt with by the respective vestries [651/652] and congregations. As a private gentleman he was unsurpassed in his hospitalities, and many a story have we heard indicative of his gentleness and tenderness of heart to little children, to the sick, to the poor, to those who confidingly sought his counsel and advice. As a citizen he took his fair share in those public movements which have called upon the colonists, from time to time, to express their opinions and exert themselves for general as well as for local benefits; and he never flinched at giving utterance to his views where evil might be staved off or good promoted for the people and the land of his adoption. As the Rev. Mr. Phillipson said of him in the pulpit at Wynberg on Sunday, "there was but one Elisha," and there will have been but one Bishop Gray. He has stamped his mark upon the Church and upon the colony for ever.

His funeral took place on Tuesday, 3rd September. Every public and private mark of respect was then shown to his memory; thousands flocked to his funeral, including men of every rank and class, from the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor downwards, with ministers of all denominations, men of all shades of opinion; and at 4 p.m. his remains were placed in a separate vault, beside the tomb of his late inestimable wife, in the Claremont Cemetery, amidst the tears of his friends and the sorrowings of a bereaved people.




"As we drew near to the village the sun sank beneath Table Mountain amidst the most gorgeous clouds, shading gradually from dark purple to the most rich gold. I have never seen so fine a sunset in Africa. A still finer sunrise I once did witness in the Karroo. This evening seemed to me almost a prophecy of work done in that dark land, and the sun of my life setting. Would that it had been done better! God grant that when my sun goes down it may be amongst such radiant glories as that which the eye has this day beheld,"--Extract from the Bishop of Capetown's Journal, see Letter by R. H. F. in "Standard," Oct. 8.



There, in the solemn glory of the west,
He read God's oracle of love and death:
Heard in the calm this voice, "The Master saith,
Now is the time at hand, and thou shalt rest;"
Then fell on sleep. O happy warrior, blest
By all the toil and tumult of a life
Spent in the very fore-front of the strife!
[653] Confessor, soon to hear thy name confessed
Among the white-arrayed before the throne
By the dear Lord, for whom betrayed again,
'Mid friends' defection and the world's disdain,
How greatly didst thou dare to stand alone!
Most blessed! for heaven and earth shall pass away,
But not His Word, nor thy reward, O Gray.


And now, or ere that sunrise of the End
How sweet the glowing eve of thy repose
I' the spiritual land whose hills enclose
God's garden! through what valleys doest thou wend
With many a new and many an ancient friend,
Those other martyr-heroes of the past!
If there thou seest thine archetype at last,
Him of the North, how do your spirits blend!
Remembering how hard it was to dare
"Against the world," and now before the Lord
Reckoning the sweetness of His love's award.
Have Cyprian, too, and Austin met thee there,
And given thee their great welcome, with one mouth
Hailing thee "Athanasius of the South"?


O rapt Elijah, might thy mantle fall
On other prophets of this silken time!
When few dare call a heresy a crime,
Though it impugn the very All in All;
When more ignoble fears our hearts appal
Than any perils of a brother's soul;
When all too seldom falls the thunder-roll
Of James and John, or that clear trumpet-call
Which, amid counsels soft or cynic sneers,
Ever with no uncertain sound alarms
The sleeping Church, and wakes her sons "To arms"
Where the One Faith the Holy Sign uprears.
O that our cautious hearts from thee may learn
There is a time when true love must be stern!


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