Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Gray, Benjamin Kirkman

GRAY, BENJAMIN KIRKMAN (1862–1907), economist, son of Benjamin Gray, congregational minister, by his wife Emma Jane Kirkman, was born on 11 Aug. 1862 at Blandford, Dorset. He was educated privately by his father, and read omnivorously on his own account. In 1876 he entered a London warehouse, but found the work distasteful. His father vetoed, in 1882, a plan which he had formed of emigrating, and from 1883 to 1886 he taught in private schools, at the same time eagerly pursuing his own studies. Of sensitive and self-centred temperament, he interested himself early in social questions.

In September 1886 Gray entered New College, Ivondon, to prepare for the congregational ministry. He paid much attention to economics and won the Ricardo economic scholarship at University College. In 1892 he went to Leeds to work under the Rev. R. Westrope at Blgrave (congregational) Chapel. But congregational orthodoxy dissatisfied him, and in 1894 he joined the Unitarians. He served as unitarian minister at Warwick from that year till 1897. From 1898 to 1902 he was in London, engaged in social work at the Bell Street Mission, Edgware Road, and studying at first hand the economic problem of philanthropy. His views took a strong socialistic bent, and he joined the Independent Labour Party. But a breakdown in health soon compelled his retirement from active work. Removing to Hampstead he devoted himself to research into the history of philanthropic movements in England. In 1905 he lectured at the London School of Economics on the philanthropy of the eighteenth century. He died of angina pectoris on 23 June 1907, at Letchworth, whither he had been drawn by his interest in the social experiment of the newly established Garden City. His ashes were buried there after cremation. In 1898 Gray married Miss Eleanor Stone, who edited his literary remains.

'The History of English Philanthropy from the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the First Census' (1905) and 'Philanthropy and the State' (published posthumously, 1910) are substantial embodiments of much original research and thought. Gray traces through the social history of the nineteenth century a uniform tendency, whereby the effort of the individual is replaced by that of the State. In spite of his strong socialist convictions he writes with scholarly restraint and fairness, and throws light on tangled conditions of contemporary life.

[A Modern Humanist: miscellaneous papers by B. Kirkman Gray, with a memoir by H. B. Binns and Clementina Black, 1910.]

G. S. W.