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Robert John Gray (1840–1902)

For some time past the health of Mr. Robert John Gray, the late Railway Commissioner, has been extremely unsatisfactory, and when it was known yesterday that he had sustained another stroke of paralysis, the gravest apprehensions were felt. This occurred on Wednesday night, and yesterday morning, Dr. Hardie was summoned from Brisbane to Southport, where Mr. Gray and his family resided. In spite, however, of all that could be done for his relief, Mr. Gray sank gradually, and died at 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon. The news of Mr Gray’s extremely critical condition during yesterday morning was received in Brisbane with deep regret, and by none more so than by those with whom he had for so many years been associated in the Railway Department, and in other branches of the Public Service. As one gentleman remarked last night, after hearing of Mr Gray’s death, "He leaves this world with the very kindest feelings on the part of all the people with whom he was brought into contact, and perhaps no man ever administered the department with which he has been connected with kinder or more considerate feelings towards every member of the staff under him." Certainly the news of his death will be received with the keenest regret throughout the service, as was evidenced by the many sympathetic and regretful remarks heard yesterday when the serious nature of his illness became known.

Mr Gray was born at Huntingdon, New South Wales, in the year 1840, so that he was in his 62nd year at the time of his death. He was the son of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Gray, of His Majesty’s Rifle Brigade, and at one time Police Magistrate at Ipswich. Robert Gray was only 13 years of age when he went with his father to reside at Ipswich and it was there he completed his education. From 1859 to 1864, Mr Gray was engaged in pastoral pursuits on the Darling Downs, and in the Maranoa and Leichhardt districts, and subsequently in the North and South Kennedy, laying in a stock of knowledge of life and work in various parts of Queensland, which stood him in good stead when at a later date he entered the public service In June, 1865, he obtained a clerkship in the office of the Colonial Secretary, and in a little over four years he rose to the position of chief clerk in the department. In 1870 he was for a time Acting Under Secretary, during the illness of Mr A. W. Manning, and continued in that office until the appointment of that gentleman’s successor. Mr Gray was then appointed Immigration Agent, an office which, in those days of frequent shiploads of new arrivals, entailed many responsibilities, all of which were satisfactorily discharged by Mr Gray. At the same time he performed the duties of two or three other offices including that of Chief Inspector of Distilleries and visiting justice to Dunwich and St Helena. He continued to occupy this position until 1879, when he succeeded Mr F. Rawlins as Under Colonial Secretary. In this office it may safely be said that he earned and retained the entire confidence of each successive Government during his term, which lasted for ten years; and those members of the service, or of the public, who were brought officially into contact with him could always feel sure of fair and kindly treatment at his hands.

Mr Gray’s connection with the Railway Department dates from 24th June, 1889, when he was appointed one of the three Commissioners under the Act of the previous year. The appointment was for a term of seven years but in 1894 one of the Commissioners, Mr Johnston, retired, and in 1895 Mr Mathieson was appointed sole Commissioner. At this period, therefore, Mr Gray returned for a time to his old position, being appointed Under Secretary in the Chief Secretary's Department. But this was not for long, and when in the following year Mr Mathieson accepted the appointment of Railway Commissioner of Victoria, there was no hesitation in appointing Mr. Gray as his successor. In 1900 a bill was passed through Parliament extending Mr. Gray's office for three years, and at an increased salary, and it was on this occasion that the late Sir James Dickson, in defending him from the remarks of certain opponents, declared that "there was not an official in the whole of the British Empire who carried out his duties with more integrity, or more free from the slightest Government influence in connection with his duties." It was about this time that the illness, which has since proved fatal, first made its influence felt, and early in 1900 Mr Gray was laid aside for some months, experiencing a second attack in the following year. It will be remembered that on his return to duty after this illness, the employees of the Railway Department showed their gratification at his recovery by presenting him with a very handsomely illuminated address of congratulation. When, early in the present year, he vacated office with six months leave of absence, which expired on 30th September, it was amidst the regrets of the large staff of the Railway Department, and a general hope that he might long be spared to enjoy the pension upon which he retired. But it was not to be, and, as already stated, he has passed away within a month of the expiry of his leave of absence. Of his management of the railways of this country, it is needless here to speak in detail; but it may safely be asserted that the zeal and intelligence which he displayed in other branches of the public service were carried fully into his work for this important department, and in Robert Gray the country has always had an earnest and faithful servant.

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'Gray, Robert John (1840–1902)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

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