Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gorham, George Cornelius

GORHAM, GEORGE CORNELIUS (1787–1857), divine and antiquary, son of George James Gorham, merchant and banker, by Mary, eldest daughter of Thomas Graeme of Towthorpe, Yorkshire, was born at St. Neots, Huntingdonshire, 21 Aug. 1787, and baptised on 21 Sept. From 1793 he was educated in his native town under Thomas Laundy, a quaker. He entered Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1805, became Norrisian prizeman for an ‘Essay on Public Worship,’ 1808, third wrangler, second Smith's prizeman, and B.A. 1808, M.A. 1812, and B.D. 1820. In 1809 he resided in Edinburgh as a companion to a nobleman, and in the following year was elected a fellow of his college, an appointment which he held till 1827. Previous to his ordination in 1811, Dr. Thomas Dampier, bishop of Ely, instituted a private examination and threatened to withhold his consent for Gorham's unsoundness on the subject of baptismal regeneration. Gorham, however, stood firm, and the bishop gave way. For three years after his ordination he resided in Queens' College, taking private pupils and exercising his ministry in the neighbourhood of Cambridge. In 1814 he left college for the curacy of Beckenham, Kent. On 21 May 1818 he contested the Woodwardian professorship with Adam Sedgwick, receiving 59 votes against 186 given for his opponent. Botany he made his study, and his herbarium was sold to the Marquis of Buckingham for a considerable price. From 1818 to 1827 he was curate of the parish church of Clapham, Surrey, and in the latter year he married Jane, third daughter of the Rev. John King Martyn. In 1820 he published ‘The History and Antiquities of Eynesbury and St. Neots in Huntingdonshire and of St. Neots in Cornwall, with some remarks respecting the Saxon saints from whom these places derived their names.’ This is a work of much research, which holds its place as the best history of these interesting towns. He was curate of St. Mary's Chapel, Maidenhead, from 1840 to 1842, and curate of Fawley, near Henley-on-Thames, from 1843 to 1846. Lord Lyndhurst presented him to the vicarage of St. Just in Penwith, Cornwall, a benefice worth nearly 500l. a year, in 1846, and he was instituted in February by Dr. Henry Phillpotts, bishop of Exeter. In the following year he had a dispute with his bishop, on the nomination of a curate to St. Just. On 2 Nov. 1847 Lord-chancellor Cottenham presented him to the vicarage of Brampford Speke, near Exeter, worth only 216l. per annum, the exchange of livings being intended to afford the vicar in his declining years a less onerous charge, and to give him greater facilities for educating his family. The Bishop of Exeter having refused to institute Gorham to the vicarage until he had an opportunity of satisfying himself as to his fitness for the charge, the lord chancellor announced that he proposed to sign the fiat for the presentation to Brampford Speke. The bishop, however, insisted on his right to examine a priest before signing his testimonials, and the examination accordingly took place, on 17, 18, 21, and 22 Dec. 1847, and 8, 9, and 10 March 1848, when ‘by intricate, perplexing, and difficult questions he endeavoured to implicate the clerk.’ The exact point at issue was the teaching of the church of England on baptismal regeneration. Gorham's views were highly Calvinistic, and did not precisely agree with the teaching of either the high or the low church party. He held that the divine grace was not of necessity given in baptism nor in conversion, but that it might be conferred before baptism, in baptism, or at a later period in life. The bishop found Gorham a more learned and able theologian than he had expected to encounter, but nevertheless again refused to institute him (Examination before Admission to a Benefice, by H. Phillpotts, bishop of Exeter, ed. by G. C. Gorham, 1848; Examination before Admission to a Benefice by the Bishop of Exeter, by G. C. Gorham, 1848). Gorham then instituted a monition out of the registry of the court of arches calling upon the bishop to show cause why he should not institute him. The judgment of Sir Herbert Jenner Fust in that court on 2 Aug. 1849 was in favour of the bishop, whereupon Gorham appealed to the judicial committee of the privy council, by whom, on 8 March 1850, Fust's judgment was reversed (Gorham v. The Bishop of Exeter: a Report of the Arguments before the Privy Council, 1850, second edition 1850; Gorham v. The Bishop of Exeter: the Judgment of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, 8 March 1850, reversing decision of Sir H. J. Fust, by G. C. Gorham, 1850). The Archbishop of Canterbury (Sumner) on this occasion having acted as one of the members of the judicial committee, the Bishop of Exeter at his next visitation and on other occasions spoke of his grace in the most intemperate language. The Bishop of Exeter next applied to the court of queen's bench for a rule to prevent the court of arches giving effect to the decision of the privy council. On its being refused, 25 April 1850, the bishop made a similar application to the court of common pleas, by whom it was also refused on 27 May, and he then brought the matter in the same form before the court of exchequer. This court found on 11 June, as the two other courts had done, that the appeal from the court of arches was to the judicial committee of the privy council, and refused the bishop's application with costs (Gorham v. The Bishop of Exeter: Arguments before the Privy Council, the Court of Queen's Bench, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Court of Arches, by G. C. Gorham, 1850, five editions; The Great Gorham Case: a History in Five Books, by G. C. Gorham, 1850; A Letter on the recent Judgment, Gorham v. Bishop of Exeter, by G. C. Gorham, 1850). Thus ended this memorable dispute, which had lasted more than two years and a half, and Gorham was then instituted by the court of arches into the vicarage of Brampford Speke on 6 Aug. 1851. During the whole of this period the case had excited intense interest in the religious world, and upwards of fifty works were published treating on the subject. The doctrinal question originally raised was after all left unsettled. A public subscription was made to defray Gorham's law expenses, which were very heavy, and with the balance of the money he was presented with a silver tea service. He rebuilt and embellished Brampford Speke church. Gorham died at Brampford Speke 19 June 1857, being at the time of his death engaged on a work which was to have been entitled ‘Reformation Gleanings.’ Besides the books already mentioned he was the author of the following: 1. ‘An Essay on Public Worship,’ 1808. 2. ‘A Letter to the Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society with regard to the Apocrypha,’ 1826. 3. ‘An Historical and Critical Examination of the Book of Enoch,’ 1829. 4. ‘Memoirs of J. Martyn and Thomas Martyn, F.R.S.,’ 1830, the latter life by G. C. Gorham. 5. ‘Genealogical Accounts of Breton and Anglo-Breton Families of De Gorram,’ 1837. 6. ‘An Account of the Chapel, Chauntry, and Guild of Maidenhead,’ 1838. 7. ‘Account of the Appropriation of the Rectory of Eltisley, Cambridgeshire, to Denney Abbey,’ 1839. 8. ‘In the Court of Delegates, Feb. 21, 1715, Le Neve Boughton, Appellant,’ 1841. 9. ‘The Exeter Synod, a Letter to the Bishop of Exeter,’ 1851; second edition, 1851. 10. ‘The Church Discipline Act made an Instrument of Vexation to the Clergy in the Diocese of Exeter,’ 1856. He also in 1827 wrote in the ‘Christian Guardian’ on Ostervald's Bible, under the signature of ‘Vigil.’

[Bentley's Miscellany (1850), xxvii. 612–16, with portrait by Alfred Crowquill; Illustrated London News, 25 May 1850, p. 373, with portrait, and 27 July, pp. 76–8, with view of meeting at St. Martin's Hall, London, in opposition to Gorham; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. pp. 185, 1203.]

G. C. B.