GRAY, Charles (1696-1782), of Holly Trees, Colchester, Essex

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



26 Feb. 1742 - 13 Mar. 1755
1761 - 1780

Family and Education

bap. 20 Sept. 1696, s. of George Gray, glazier and alderman of Colchester, by his w. Elizabeth. educ. Colchester g.s.; G. Inn 1724, called 1729. m. (1) 1726 Sarah (d. June 1751), da. of John Webster, wid. of Ralph Creffield, 2da. d.v.p.;1 (2) 1755 Mary, da. of Randle Wilbraham, s.p.

Offices Held

Alderman, Colchester 1734; bencher G. Inn 1737, treasurer 1755; recorder, Ipswich, 1761-76; trustee of the British Museum.


Gray was disinherited by his father, and it was from the family of his first wife that he derived a great part of his substance. As a barrister he had a large practice, and he was moreover ‘steward of many local manors, very lucrative appointments’.2

In Newcastle’s ‘State of Elections’, March 1754, the note is placed against Gray: ‘A Tory, who will probably succeed, though strongly contested.’ He was returned on scrutiny and unseated on petition. In 1761 he was returned unopposed on a compromise with I. M. Rebow. He did not receive Newcastle’s summons at the beginning of the autumn session. But on 1 Nov., Lord Barrington, asked by Newcastle to consider who in the Commons ‘would make proper commissioners of accounts’, named Gray among the unexceptionable men who ‘will do you no harm’.3 Fox listed him in December 1762 among those favourable to the peace preliminaries. As a Tory and completely independent, he was marked by Jenkinson in the autumn of 1763 as ‘doubtful’; but no vote of his against the Grenville Government is recorded. In July 1765 Rockingham classed him as ‘contra’; and he voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766. In November 1766 Rockingham listed him as ‘Tory, perhaps not ministerial’, which was accurate: Gray voted against the Government on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. ‘No partisan of either side can be a judge of the state of the nation’, wrote to him his friend and relative, T. Falconer, 20 Jan. 1770. ‘Your cool judgment will determine rationally.’ And on 4 Apr.: ‘As you regard all parties with an equal eye ...’4

In 1768 Gray and Rebow were re-elected after an expensive contest against the Scottish banker Alexander Fordyce. On 4 Apr. 1770 Falconer was grieved to hear that Gray’s health suffered from the strain of the session, which suggests both that he attended Parliament and that he no longer felt equal to it. In 1774 he seems to have considered retiring—Falconer wrote to him, 6 May 1775:5

The town of Colchester had the best reasons to persist in its former choice, and your declining the first offer was a happy circumstance to make their selection of you more honourable than any preceding one.

At the end of the Parliaments of 1768-74 and 1774-1780, Gray was classed by Robinson as ‘pro’; over the royal marriage bill, March 1772, as ‘pro, present’, and over the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779, as ‘pro, out of town’. Yet during the 12 years 1768-80 he does not appear in a single division list, though 14 name those voting on the Government side. The Public Ledger wrote about him in 1779: ‘A very old man, who has not attended these two years.’ And Robinson in his electoral survey of July 1780: ‘It is apprehended Mr. Gray is too infirm and too old to stand again.’ He now retired, having already in 1776 resigned the recordership of Ipswich ‘on account of his age and infirmities’.6

Only four speeches definitely known to be his are recorded 1761-80: 29 Mar. 1762, on the game bill (see extracts from his parliamentary notebook, HMC 14th Rep. IX, Round); 7 Feb. 1764, when Gray proposed, ‘reduced into a question’, a scheme put forward by his father-in-law, Randle Wilbraham for amending the Cider Act;7 6 Apr. 1770, to move to bring in a bill to empower the Speaker to order writs during a vacation;8 and 16 May 1774, for a duty on hawkers.9 The original notebook, which has not been traced, might disclose more about his parliamentary activities; the printed extracts show a preponderant interest in legal questions and election petitions.

Falconer’s letters indirectly point to interests which they had in common: they were Hebrew and classical scholars, antiquaries and numismatists; humanitarians with a real feeling for the poor, for their condition and education, and for the suffering of negro slaves and the condition of indentured labour; interested in the propagation of Christianity, and painfully aware of the barrier which the ill-treatment of natives by white settlers raised against it. Altogether Gray was a cautious, conservative reformer; as is also shown by the pamphlet he published in 1751, Considerations on Several Proposals lately made for the Better Maintenance of the Poor. He even favoured a modest measure of electoral reform.

Gray died 12 Dec. 1782.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Baptisms in Dutch Church at Colchester (Huguenot Soc. xii), 76.
  • 2. Essex Review, lvii. 184; lxi. 92-6.
  • 3. Add. 32930, f. 257.
  • 4. HMC 14th Rep. IX, Round, 303, 304.
  • 5. Ibid. 306.
  • 6. Add. 25335, f. 65.
  • 7. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 8. Harris to Hardwicke, 6 Apr. 1770, Add. 35609, f. 173.
  • 9. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 259, f. 58.