George Cornelius Gorham

  (Redirected from Gorham Controversy)

George Cornelius Gorham (1787–1857) was a vicar in the Church of England. His legal recourse to being denied a certain post, subsequently taken to a secular court, caused great controversy.

George Cornelius Gorham
George Cornelius Gorham.jpg
Gorham in 1850
Born(1787-08-21)21 August 1787
St Neots, England
Died19 June 1857(1857-06-19) (aged 69)
Alma materQueens' College, Cambridge
ReligionChristianity (Anglican)
ChurchChurch of England
  • 1811 (diaconal)
  • 1812 (presbyteral)
Offices held

Early lifeEdit

George Cornelius Gorham was born on 21 August 1787 in St Neots, Huntingdonshire, to Mary (née Greame) and George James Gorham.[1] He entered Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1805, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree as third wrangler and Smith's prizeman in 1809.[2]

He was ordained as a deacon on 10 March 1811,[2] despite the misgivings of the Bishop of Ely, Thomas Dampier, who found Gorham's views at odds with Anglican doctrine.[3] Gorham's views on baptism had caused comment, particularly his contention that by baptism infants do not become members of Christ and the children of God.[4] After being ordained as a priest on 23 February 1812[2] and serving as a curate in several parishes, he was instituted as vicar of St Just in Penwith by Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter, in 1846.[5]


In 1847 Gorham was presented by the Earl of Cottenham, the Lord Chancellor, to the vicarage of Brampford Speke, a parish in a small Devon village near Exeter,[6] which has a parish church dedicated to Saint Peter.[citation needed] Upon examining him, Bishop Henry Phillpotts took exception to Gorham's view that baptismal regeneration was conditional and dependent upon a later personal adoption of promises made.[citation needed] The bishop found Gorham's view of baptism to be Calvinistic, making him unsuitable for the post.[7] Gorham appealed to the ecclesiastical Court of Arches to compel the bishop to institute him but the court confirmed the bishop's decision and awarded costs against Gorham.[8]

Gorham then appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which caused great controversy about whether a secular court should decide on the doctrine of the Church of England.[9] The ecclesiastical lawyer Edward Lowth Badeley, a member of the Oxford Movement, appeared before the committee to argue the bishop's cause but eventually the committee (in a split decision)[citation needed] reversed the bishop's and the Arches' decision on 9 March 1850, granting Gorham his institution.[10]

Phillpotts repudiated the judgment and threatened to excommunicate the Archbishop of Canterbury and anyone who dared to institute Gorham.[11] Fourteen prominent Anglicans, including Badeley and[citation needed] Henry Edward Manning, called upon the Church of England to repudiate the views that the Privy Council had expressed on baptism.[12] As there was no response from the church – apart from Phillpotts' protestations – they left the Church of England and joined the Roman Catholic Church.

Subsequent lifeEdit

Gorham himself spent the rest of his life at his post in Brampford Speke. As vicar, Gorham restored the church building, entirely rebuilding the tower, for which Phillpotts gave some money. He was an antiquary and botanist of some reputation, as well as the author of a number of pamphlets.[13] He died on 19 June 1857 in Brampford Speke.[14]


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Boase 1890, p. 243; Burke 1835, p. 590.
  2. ^ a b c "Gorham, George Cornelius (GRN805GC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Boase 1890, p. 243.
  4. ^ Gilman, Peck & Colby 1905.
  5. ^ Boase 1890, p. 244.
  6. ^ Boase 1890, p. 244; Eckel 1952, p. 276.
  7. ^ "Henry Phillpotts" 2016.
  8. ^ Judicial Committee of the Privy Council 1850, p. 2.
  9. ^ Erb 2013, p. lxxi.
  10. ^ Eckel 1952, p. 276.
  11. ^ Jordan 1998.
  12. ^ Strachey 1918, pp. 56–58.
  13. ^ Beeson 2002, p. 212; Gilman, Peck & Colby 1905.
  14. ^ Boase 1890, p. 245.

Works citedEdit

Beeson, Trevor (2002). The Bishops. London: SCM Press (published 2003). ISBN 978-0-334-02916-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Boase, George Clement (1890). "Gorham, George Cornelius". In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of National Biography. 22. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 243–245.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Burke, John (1835). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland Enjoying Territorial Possessions or High Official Rank but Uninvested with Heritable Honours. 2. London: Henry Colburn. Retrieved 14 December 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Eckel, E. H. (1952). "Review of Gorham and the Bishop of Exeter by J. C. S. Nias". Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church. 21 (2): 276–277. ISSN 0018-2486. JSTOR 42972116.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Erb, Peter C. (2013). Introduction. The Correspondence of Henry Edward Manning and William Ewart Gladstone. By Manning, Henry Edward; Gladstone, William Ewart. Erb, Peter C. (ed.). 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. xiii–cxx. doi:10.1093/actrade/ ISBN 978-0-19-957732-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Gilman, Daniel Coit; Peck, Harry Thurston; Colby, Frank Moore, eds. (1905). "Gorham, George Cornelius" . New International Encyclopedia. 9 (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 50.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
"Henry Phillpotts". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
Jordan, Andrew (1998). "George Cornelius Gorham, Clerk v Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter: A Case of Anglican Anxieties". Ecclesiastical Law Journal. 5 (23): 104–111. doi:10.1017/S0956618X00000065. ISSN 0956-618X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (1850). Gorham v. Bishop of Exeter: The Judgment of the Judicial Committee of Privy Council, Delivered March 8, 1850, Reversing the Decision of Sir H. J. Fust. London: Seeleys. Retrieved 14 December 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Strachey, Lytton (1918). Eminent Victorians. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Co. Retrieved 14 December 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further readingEdit

Gilman, Daniel Coit; Peck, Harry Thurston; Colby, Frank Moore, eds. (1905). "Gorham Controversy" . New International Encyclopedia. 9 (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 50–51.
Keble, John (2003) [1868]. Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service. Project Canterbury. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
Liddon, Henry Parry (1898). Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey. 3 (4th ed.). London: Longmans, Green, and Co. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
Nias, J. C. S. (1951). Gorham and the Bishop of Exeter. London: SPCK.
Phillpotts, Henry (1850). A Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from the Bishop of Exeter. New York: Pudney & Russell. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
Wolffe, John (2004). "Gorham, George Cornelius (1787–1857)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/11099.
Wood, James, ed. (1907). "Gorham, George Cornelius" . The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London: Frederick Warne.

External linksEdit