John Cox Bray

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John Cox Bray

Sir John Cox Bray KCMG JP (31 May 1842 – 13 June 1894) was a prominent South Australian politician and the first native-born Premier of South Australia (1881–1884).

Early life[edit]

Born in East Adelaide, South Australia, Bray was the second of four sons (with two daughters) of early immigrants to the new colony. His father, Tom Cox Bray (1815–1881), was a native of Portsmouth, Hampshire, and his mother, Sarah Pink (1813–1877), was from the same county (her father, William Pink (died 1853), also settled in Adelaide, and was employed as a labourer in the Survey of South Australia). The couple were married at St Mary's parish church, Portsea, Hampshire, on 22 July 1838, just prior to their embarkation for Australia in the Prince George.

In the early years in Adelaide, T.C. Bray worked as a shoemaker, following in the footsteps of his own father, William Bray, who, rather than being a captain in the Royal Navy as is traditionally claimed, in fact, worked as a cordwainer and cabinet maker prior to his early death in 1816, aged about 26 years.

The Bray family appears to have moved to the Portsmouth area from the Isle of Wight, in contradiction to the very garbled accounts of their origins to be found in Burke's Colonial Gentry (1891–1895), volume 2, under "Bray of Adelaide", and in the American Supplement (1939) to Burke's Landed Gentry (1937 edition), now renamed Burke's American Family Records with British Ancestry, and found under "Bray" (covering the career and descent of Professor William Crowell Bray (1879–1946), head of the Chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley, who belonged to the Canadian branch of the Bray family which had been established in Upper Canada in 1839 by William Bray, J.P., R.N. (1814–1882), a gunnery officer in the Royal Navy, and the elder brother of T.C. Bray).

Educated at St Peter's College, Adelaide and in England, Bray read law in South Australia, and was called to the South Australian Bar in November 1870. Meanwhile, his parents, elder brother and sisters returned to England, due to an improvement in their circumstances said to be the result of T.C. Bray's having inherited shipping interests from his paternal grandfather, possibly George Bray (elsewhere called Charles Bray), who had disapproved of his son's marriage to Ann Cox (1789–1840), later Winship, daughter of a farmer from Southsea, Hampshire.

Once in England, the family lived in comfort first at Blackheath in Kent, and later at Harrogate, the Yorkshire spa town in which Mrs Bray died. The elder son, Thomas William Bray (1840–1887), was sent to Clare College, Cambridge, and later became an Anglican clergyman. He was father of Sir Denys Bray (1875–1951), K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E., C.B.E., sometime Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, and Indian delegate to the League of Nations during the British colonial period.

T.C. Bray lived the rest of his life as a gentleman, moving to Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire in Scotland, where he had descendants in the mid-1980s. He died in Scotland and his will was proved in Scotland and South Australia. Descendants include Sir John Henry Kerr, colonial governor in India, David Russell, classical guitarist, and Piers Sellers, astronaut.

Political career[edit]

In Adelaide, J.C. Bray practised law only briefly, as a solicitor, before being elected to the South Australian House of Assembly as M.P. for East Adelaide on 14 December 1871, a constituency he held until his retirement from politics on 6 January 1892.[1]

Bray served as Minister of Justice and Minister of Education in the 3rd Blyth ministry (15 March 1875 – 3 June 1875). He also served as Attorney-General (June 1876 – 26 October 1877) in the Colton ministry, when he was responsible for introducing an "Act to Provide for the formation and registration of trades unions", the first such legislation in Australia. He served as Leader of the Opposition to the Morgan ministry (October 1877 – 24 June 1881), and Premier and Chief Secretary of the Province of South Australia (24 June 1881 – 23 April 1884), and Premier and Treasurer of South Australia (23 April 1884 – 16 June 1884). At the time, he was the longest-serving premier of the colony. He visited England and the United States from 1884 to 1885, returning to serve as Chief Secretary of South Australia (14 October 1885 – June 1887), and Treasurer (8 June 1886 – 7 June 1887) in the 1st Downer ministry. He was acting Premier during Downer's absence in England until June 1887. Due to his popularity, Bray was elected Speaker (served 31 May 1888 – June 1890), after which he refused renomination to that office. He was Chief Secretary in the 2nd Playford ministry (19 August 1890 – 6 January 1892), when he left politics, sparking the East Adelaide by-election, which saw the first Labor MP elected in South Australian history.

Bray attended the Sydney Intercolonial Conference in 1883, and was one of seven South Australian representatives at the first Federal Convention at Sydney in 1891.

Late life and legacy[edit]

Bray was appointed Agent General for South Australia in London (served 29 February 1892 – April 1894), resigning early because of ill health.

On 13 June 1894, he died at sea between Aden and Colombo aboard the Oceana en route for South Australia. His obituary appeared in The Times (London) of 19 June 1894.

Bray was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) by Queen Victoria in the New Year's Honours List for 1890. His wife, Alice Maude née Hornabrook, Lady Bray, survived him until 1935. They had three sons and one daughter.

Bray's descendants continue to include people prominent in Australian politics and the Australian judiciary.

Bray was the first native-born South Australian to serve as premier, speaker, and agent-general for the colony.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "John Cox Bray". Former Member of Parliament Details. Parliament of South Australia. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William Morgan
Premier of South Australia
24 June 1881 – 16 June 1884
Succeeded by
John Colton