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AYERST, WILLIAM (1830–1904), divine, born at Dantzig on 16 March 1830, was eldest son of William Ayerst, vicar of Egerton, Kent. Educated at King's College, London (1847–9), he became in 1849 scholar and Lyon exhibitioner of Caius College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. with a third class in the classical tripos and junior optime in 1853, and M.A. in 1856. Ordained deacon in 1853 and priest in 1854, he served the curacies successively of All Saints, Gordon Square (1853–5), St. Paul's, Lisson Grove (1855–7), and St. Giles'-in-the-Fields (1857–9). Whilst working as a curate he won the Hulsean prize at Cambridge in 1855 and the Norrisian prize in 1858. In 1859 Ayerst went out to India as rector of St. Paul's School Calcutta. In 1861 he was appointed to a chaplaincy on the Bengal ecclesiastical establishment; served as senior chaplain with the Khyber field force from 1879 to 1881, and received the Afghan medal. Returning to London, he was appointed by the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews principal of its missionary college and minister of the Jews' Episcopal Chapel, Cambridge Heath, but accepted in 1882 the vicarage of Hungarton with Twyford and Thorpe Satchville, Leicestershire. In 1884 he opened at Cambridge a hostel, Ayerst Hall, designed to aid men of modest means in obtaining a university degree and theological training. He resigned his living in 1886, but served as curate of Newton, Cambridgeshire, from 1888 to 1890, and continued his work at Ayerst Hall until 1897.

In 1885 the church party in Natal, which had stood by Bishop Colenso after his deposition from the see of Natal, and continued after his death an independent ecclesiastical existence, formally applied to the English archbishops through the church council of Natal for the consecration of a successor to Colenso. The request was refused. After some delay, Ayerst accepted the offer of the bishopric, and again attempts were made to obtain consecration. This, in spite of Ayerst's persistency, was definitely refused by Archbishop Benson on 21 Oct. 1891. During his later years Ayerst lived quietly in London, where he died on 6 April 1904.

Ayerst married (1) in 1859 Helen Sarah Hough Drawbridge, by whom he had ten children, of whom three sons and a daughter survived him; and (2) in 1893 Annie Young Davidson. He published 'The Influence of Christianity on the Language of Modern Europe' (1856) and 'The Pentateuch its Own Witness' (1858).

[Guardian, 13 April 1904; A. C. Benson's Life of Edward White Benson, 1899, ii. 484–511; C. F. Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the S.P.G., 1901, p. 334; Cambridge University Calendar; private information.]

A. R. B.