Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Conybeare, John (1692-1755)

CONYBEARE, JOHN (1692–1755), bishop of Bristol, was born 31 Jan. 1691–2 at Pinhoe, near Exeter, of which place his father was vicar. He was educated at the Exeter free school. His father's vicarage was wrecked by the famous storm of 1703, and the father died about 1706 of a disorder caught on that occasion. Friends helped Conybeare to continue his education, and he was admitted at Exeter College, Oxford, 22 March 1707–8. He was elected a probationary fellow of his college June 1710, full fellow 14 July 1711. He graduated as B.A. 17 July 1713, and on 30 June 1714 was appointed prælector in philosophy by his college. On 19 Dec. 1714 he was ordained deacon, and 27 May 1716 priest. After holding a curacy for a short time at Fetcham, Surrey, he returned to Oxford, became tutor of his college, and soon obtained reputation as a preacher. St. Mary's was crowded when he was in the pulpit. A sermon on ‘Miracles’ published in 1722 went through four editions, and was followed by another on the ‘Mysteries’ in 1724. Bishop Gibson appointed him one of the king's preachers at Whitehall; and in May 1724 Lord-chancellor Macclesfield presented him to the small rectory of St. Clement's, Oxford. He was proctor 1725, B.D. June 1728, and D.D. Jan. 1729. Among Conybeare's pupils were two sons of Charles Talbot, then solicitor-general. Conybeare dedicated two sermons to the solicitor-general and his father, the bishop of Durham. His chances of preferment were injured by the death of the bishop in 1730. In the same year, however, he was elected rector of Exeter College. Tindal's ‘Christianity as old as the Creation’ was published in 1730, and excited a keen controversy. Conybeare's ‘Defence of Revealed Religion against the Exceptions of [Tindal]’ appeared in 1732, and was praised as one of the four ablest books produced on the occasion, the others being those of James Foster, Leland, and Simon Browne. Warburton called it ‘one of the best-reasoned books in the world.’ Conybeare is a temperate and able writer, but there is little in his book to distinguish it from expositions of the same argument by other contemporary divines of the average type. The Exeter rectorship was a poor one, and soon afterwards Bishop Gibson exerted himself successfully to procure Conybeare's appointment to the deanery of Christ Church. He was installed in January 1733, and on 6 June following married Jemima, daughter of William Juckes of Hoxton Square, London. At Exeter Conybeare effected many reforms, putting a stop to the sale of servants' places and restoring lectures. In 1734 he entertained the Prince of Orange at the deanery. Conybeare seems to have been energetic at Christ Church. In 1735 he published ‘Calumny Refuted, in answer to the personal slander of Dr. Richard Newton,’ who was endeavouring to obtain a charter for Hart Hall, a plan opposed by Conybeare. He afterwards published a few sermons. His hopes of a bishopric were lowered by the death of Charles Talbot, while lord chancellor, in 1737, and by Bishop Gibson's loss of influence at court. In 1750, however, he was appointed to the see of Bristol, in succession to Joseph Butler, translated to Durham, and was consecrated 23 Dec. of that year. His health was broken by gout. He died 13 July 1755, and was buried in the cathedral.

Mrs. Conybeare died 29 Oct. 1747. Two of five children survived him, Jemima (died 1785) and William, afterwards D.D. and rector of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. They were left without much provision, and two volumes of sermons were published by subscription for their benefit in 1757. As there were 4,600 subscribers, many of whom took more than one copy, the results must have been satisfactory. A pension of 100l. a year was bestowed upon his daughter Jemima.

[Life in Biog. Brit. on information from Conybeare's son William; Leland's Deistical Writers (1776), i. 124–6; Boase's Register of Exeter Coll. xxxv, lxiv, 62, 88, 94, 97; Wood's Antiq. Oxford (Gutch), iii. 442, 516; Reliquiæ Hearnianæ, ii. 771, 773, 845; Wordsworth's English Universities (1874), 61, 304.]

L. S.