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Brown, George Francis Graham (1891–1942), bishop in Jerusalem, was born at Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province in China, on 27 January 1891, the second son of George Graham Brown (1862–1945) and his wife, Eliza Catherine, née Fenton (1863–1928). His parents were pioneer missionaries with the China Inland Mission and in 1892 returned to Glasgow where they were members of Finnieston Free Church of Scotland. His father was a lifelong Presbyterian, whose uncle and grandfather had both ‘come out’ at the Disruption. Yet his mother was the daughter of a Church of England clergyman in Cornwall and guided her son towards Anglican ministry. He was sent to a kindergarten run by the Misses Pirret, and then to Glasgow Academy, before moving in 1903 to Monkton Combe School near Bath where he was head prefect. He won an exhibition to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 1910 to study history, gaining honours in both parts of the historical tripos and graduating in 1913.

When the First World War broke out, Graham Brown applied for a commission with a Scottish regiment, and was assigned to the 6th battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Owing to a surplus of officers, he was not deployed to France with the rest of his battalion in May 1915 and so escaped the heavy casualties at the battle of Loos, but was finally sent to the front in May 1916. After only ten days in the trenches, at Le Bizet near Armentières on the Franco-Belgian border, Graham Brown's night patrol came under enemy fire; a bullet grazed his head, knocking him unconscious into a shell-hole. He was left for dead, but managed to crawl back to his trench. His health never fully recovered from this trauma and it was initially thought he would not walk again. Although assigned as an adjutant to the 3rd (reserve) battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, based in Edinburgh and Ireland, he was eventually invalided out of the army in September 1918. Twice after the war his application for missionary service was rejected on medical grounds.

Graham Brown returned to Monkton Combe School as history master but made his greatest impression as a rowing coach, taking the school eight to the Henley royal regatta for the first time in 1920. After a year of theological study at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, he was ordained in 1922 as the hall's chaplain, then vice-principal, and was the surprise choice for principal in October 1925, aged just thirty-four and with no parish experience. He was appointed partly because of his reputation as a reconciler between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ evangelicals and Wycliffe Hall flourished under his leadership with record numbers of ordinands. There were, however, limits to the hall's theological diversity and Graham Brown's vice-principal, Verrier Elwin (later a prominent anthropologist in India), was forced to resign in 1927 for drifting into Anglo-Catholicism and submitting to auricular confession.

To celebrate Wycliffe Hall's golden jubilee Graham Brown took his students on a nine-week tour to Palestine during the long vacation of 1927, an experiment repeated four times over the next decade. They studied evangelistic methods among Muslims and Jews and the possibilities of ecumenism with Greek, Armenian, and Russian Orthodox Christians. During the pilgrimage of August 1929 the Wycliffe party was caught up in the sudden wave of violence that swept through Palestine and they volunteered en bloc as special constables to help keep the peace. One ordinand, Hallam Viney, was shot in the shoulder by an Arab sniper and critically wounded, while the young civil servant E. T. Best, who ran to his aid, was shot in the stomach and killed. After the initial fighting the Wycliffe students spent a week enforcing the curfew in Jerusalem, guarding buildings, escorting government officials, and transporting prisoners. They returned to England to a heroes' welcome and Graham Brown was appointed OBE in recognition of his leadership during the crisis. On 23 September 1929 he was married in Edinburgh to his second cousin, Jane Pasley Hay Graham Brown (1887–1976), daughter of Dr John James Graham Brown, and sister of the neurophysiologist Thomas Graham Brown; she had read medieval and modern languages at Girton College, Cambridge. Their only child, Francis (b. 1934), later studied at Wycliffe Hall and served as a clergyman in the Church of England.

Archbishop Lang of Canterbury chose Graham Brown as one of the nine Anglican delegates to meet with the Old Catholics at Bonn in July 1931. He went as a ‘watchdog’ (Jasper, 216) charged with protecting the interests of the evangelical constituency who were nervous about Anglican overtures towards unreformed episcopal churches, and he played a significant part in brokering the Bonn agreement, which allowed intercommunion to precede doctrinal union. Canon J. A. Douglas, who served with Graham Brown at Bonn, acknowledged that despite his evangelical convictions ‘there is nothing narrow in him … he has a big heart’ (Bible Lands, July 1932, 256). His proven ecumenical credentials and first-hand experience of Palestine made Graham Brown ideally placed to become the new Anglican bishop in Jerusalem after the death of Rennie MacInnes. He was consecrated at St Paul's Cathedral on 24 June 1932 by Archbishop Lang in conjunction with Henricus van Vlijmen, the Old Catholic bishop of Haarlem, and so became the first person in whom the Anglican and Old Catholic lines of succession were reunited. Bishop Headlam of Gloucester, preaching at the consecration, hoped that, in Jerusalem, Graham Brown would be able ‘to assuage the divisions of Christianity, and to introduce into an arena of ecclesiastical strife the moderating influence of a sober Anglicanism’ (Bible Lands, July 1932, 252).

For a decade Graham Brown oversaw a massive jurisdiction covering Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Iraq, as well as parts of Turkey. The keynotes of his episcopate were education and reconciliation. He told the Church Times (8 Feb 1935, 148): ‘The supreme opportunity of the Anglican Church in Palestine—perhaps, indeed, the greatest contribution our Church can make today to the Holy Land—is through her schools.’ He recruited his vice-principal from Wycliffe Hall, Julian Thornton-Duesbery (later master of St Peter's College, Oxford), as headmaster of St George's School, Jerusalem; established a diocesan board of education in 1934; and opened two new secondary schools in strategic cities, Bishop's School, Amman, and St Luke's School, Haifa. These schools were intended not only to provide Christian education but also to bring Muslim and Jewish children together. When security disintegrated in Palestine from 1936, Graham Brown recommended that Jewish immigration be temporarily suspended for the sake of peace and argued that a Jewish national home could not be defended on biblical grounds. On several occasions he was asked to act as mediator between rival factions in the region, whether Jewish Zionists and Palestinian nationalists or competing Christian churches.

On 23 November 1942 Graham Brown was returning to Jerusalem after ten days of ministry among British troops and local churches in Lebanon and Syria. At Ras al-Naqoura (Rosh HaNikra) on the Lebanon–Palestine border his party stopped to offer a lift to two passengers—an Arab Muslim policeman and a Jewish soldier with the French Foreign Legion. Shortly afterwards, at about 6 p.m. in the early evening darkness, the car was struck by a military train at a new level crossing near the village of az-Zib (al-Zeeb). In accordance with blackout regulations, neither the train nor the level crossing carried lights, and the car's headlamps were dimmed. The side of the car where Graham Brown was sitting bore the force of the impact and he died at the scene. Bible Lands thought it significant that at the time of the tragedy he was sitting alongside a Muslim and a Jew, representatives of two hostile communities he had striven to reconcile. After a funeral at St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem, Graham Brown was buried at the British cemetery on Mount Zion. In London, at the memorial service in St Paul's Cathedral, Archbishop Lang applauded his ‘burning zeal for the unity of Christ's Church’ (Bible Lands, Jan 1943, 1331).

Andrew Atherstone


A. Atherstone, ‘Anglican evangelicals, Old Catholics, and the Bonn agreement’, Internationale Kirchliche Zeitschrift, 97 (2007), 23–47 · A. Atherstone, ‘Evangelical pilgrims to the Holy Land: Wycliffe Hall's encounter with the eastern churches, 1927–37’, Sobornost, 30 (2008), 37–58 · Bible Lands: Quarterly Paper of the Jerusalem and the East Mission · R. A. Farah, In troubled waters: a history of the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem, 1841–1998 (2002) · R. C. D. Jasper, Arthur Cayley Headlam: life and letters of a bishop (1960) · The tribal world of Verrier Elwin (1964) · ‘In memoriam: Mrs Graham Brown’, China's Millions (Feb 1929), 29 · ‘In memoriam: Geo. Graham Brown’, China's Millions (Sept–Oct 1945), 39 · private information (2012) [F. Graham-Brown]


Wycliffe Hall, Oxford |  LPL, Church of England Council on Foreign Relations, Old Catholic papers · St Ant. Oxf., Middle East Centre, Jerusalem and the East Mission papers


Lafayette, half-plate nitrate negative, 1932, NPG, London · photographs, St Ant. Oxf., Middle East Centre archives