Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gray, Robert (1825-1887)

GRAY, ROBERT (1825–1887), ornithologist, born at Dunbar on 15 Aug. 1825, was the son of Archibald Gray, a merchant of the place. He was educated at the parish school, and at the age of fifteen (information received from the late William Sinclair) he became an apprentice in the branch of the British Linen Company Bank. Five years afterwards he went to Glasgow, where he entered the head office of the City of Glasgow Bank. Here he attained the position of inspector of branches, an appointment which had an important influence upon his scientific pursuits. From early years he had been addicted to the study of natural history. He soon adopted ornithology as his specialty, and wrote largely on the subject. During his frequent journeys for the inspection of the branch offices of the bank, he diligently availed himself of his extended opportunities for studying bird-life and adding to his collection of specimens. The note-books, which he filled in remote country inns during evening hours, after the day's work was ended, and their illustrations by his skilful pencil, formed the basis of his ‘Birds of the West of Scotland,’ published in 1871, a work, now out of print and scarce, which embodies in an eminently pleasant and readable form the results of years of observation.

Not less worthy of remembrance are Gray's labours in connection with various learned societies. In 1851 he was one of the founders of the Natural History Society of Glasgow. He contributed to the ‘Proceedings’ of that body, was its treasurer from 1854 to 1856, and was elected its secretary in 1858, a post which he resigned in 1871, when he was appointed agent of the branch of the City of Glasgow Bank in St. Vincent Street, Glasgow. On 8 April 1856 he had married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Anderson of Girvan, a lady much interested in science, who formed an extensive and valuable geological collection illustrative of the fossils of the silurian rocks of the south of Scotland, and materially aided her husband in his ornithological pursuits. In March 1874 Gray entered the service of the Bank of Scotland as superintendent of branches, Edinburgh, and eight years later he became cashier there, an appointment which he retained during the rest of his life. In Edinburgh he again devoted himself to the interests of science. In 1882 he was elected vice-president of the Royal Society there; but it was in connection with the Royal Physical Society that he made his influence most distinctly felt. This society, one of the oldest scientific bodies in Edinburgh, had ‘fallen into one of its periodic fits of depression,’ when, in 1877, Gray accepted its secretaryship. He entered on his duties with great energy, and, by his courtesy and singular charm of manner not less than by his power of organisation and his excellent business faculty, he was successful in introducing needed reforms, in attracting new members and inspiriting old ones, and, finally, in placing the society upon a satisfactory footing as an active scientific body, issuing printed ‘Proceedings.’ At the time of his death, which occurred suddenly in Edinburgh on 18 Feb. 1887, Gray was engaged, in conjunction with Mr. William Evans, upon a volume dealing with the birds of the east coast of Scotland.

[Obituary notice by Dr. R. H. Traquair, F.R.S., in Proceedings of the Royal Soc. Edinb. vol. xv.; Minute Book of Royal Soc. Edinb.; Parochial Register of Dunbar; obituary notice in Proceedings of Natural Hist. Soc. of Glasgow, vol. ii., new ser.; information received from Gray's family and personal information.]

J. M. G.