Graves, Charles (1812–99), clergyman, mathematician, and antiquarian, was born 6 November 1812 at 12 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, youngest child among four sons and one daughter of John Crosbie Graves, chief police magistrate of Dublin, and his wife Helena, daughter of the Rev. Charles Percival, rector of Bruhenny, Co. Cork. The poet Helena Clarissa von Ranke (née Graves) (qv) was his eldest sister. John Thomas Graves (qv), mathematician, was his brother. His early education was at a private school near Bristol. He entered TCD (1829) and went on to receive a classical scholarship (1832). As a student he played cricket for the university and became one of the founders of Phoenix cricket club (1830). His original intention was a military career, and so he became an accomplished rider and swordsman. However, his interest and ability in mathematics may have prompted him to change his mind; he obtained a gold medal in mathematics and mathematical physics (1834) and was elected a fellow (1836–66). Later he was appointed Erasmus Smith's professor of mathematics (1843–62), in succession to James MacCullagh (qv), who moved from mathematics to physics.
At the time the vibrant mathematical community at TCD included William Rowan Hamilton (qv), James McCullough, and Humphrey Lloyd (qv), with Graves the younger colleague. Many of their discoveries were read before the RIA and published in its Proceedings. Those of Graves related to several areas of mathematics: the theory of linear differential equations, the coefficients in the binomial theorem, and the solution of the equation of Laplace's functions. After Hamilton's discovery of quaternions other mathematicians attempted to devise similar systems. Graves brought out his own system of algebraic triplets, which, though curious, never amounted to much. The one mathematical book he published (1841) was a translation from French of M. Chasles, On the general properties of cones of the second degree and of spherical conics, to which he appended a number of new theorems, including his extension of the construction of an ellipse.
As well as mathematics, he was interested in archaeology and became an authority on Irish ogham inscriptions, for which he devised a key. His proposal (1851) to publish the old Irish brehon laws was adopted by the government, and he remained until his death a member of the commission set up to do this. A list of his mathematical and archaeological papers are found in RIA Minutes of Proceedings, xxii (Oct. 1900) (appendix), 332–5.
He was elected MRIA (1837), and served as secretary of the council (1846), secretary of the academy (1856), and president (1861). Other honours were FRS (1880), and an honorary DCL (1881) from the university of Oxford. The deaths in 1865 of his friends and colleagues William Rowan Hamilton and George Petrie (qv) occurred during his RIA presidency and he delivered separate éloges (tributes) to both men, published in the RIA Proceedings, attesting to their scientific and archaeological work respectively. His brother Robert Percival Graves went on to write a three-volume biography of Hamilton.
In 1860 he was made dean of Castle Chapel, Dublin, and in 1864 dean of Clonfert. Two years later he resigned his senior fellowship and gave up academic work to become bishop of Limerick, Ardfert, and Aghadoe (1866). He was one of the last bishops appointed before the disestablishment of the Irish church. According to his grandson Robert Graves, he got on well with his catholic counterpart in Limerick: ‘they cracked Latin jokes. . ., discussed fine points of scholarship, and were unclerical enough not to take their religious differences too seriously’ (Graves, 1957). The catholic bishop, Edward O'Dwyer (qv) (whom Robert Graves wrongly calls ‘O'Connell’), teased him once on the size of his family; Graves replied with the text about the blessedness of having one's quiver full of arrows, to which ‘O'Connell’ replied: ‘The ancient Jewish quiver only held six’ (ibid.).
Graves married (1840) Selina, daughter of Dr John Cheyne (qv), physician general to the forces in Ireland. They had five sons and four daughters. His second son was the writer, folklorist, and schools inspector Alfred Percival Graves (qv). Arnold Felix Graves (qv), his third son, was an early promoter of technical education in Ireland. During the 1850s Charles took the lease of the Bland residence in Parknasilla, Co. Kerry, as a summer holiday home. It remained the summer focus of the Graves clan for four decades before he bought the lease of the house and 114 acres of land, including islands (1892). Two years later he sold it, and Parknasilla became in 1895 the first hotel of the Southern Hotels Company (acquired by the Great Southern and Western Railway). The hotel staff used to refer to it as ‘the bishop's house’.
A courteous and genial man, with a liberal outlook, he had a reputation for being calm, even-tempered, but (according to Robert Graves) far from generous. Outside academia and religious matters, he was a keen and reputedly expert angler. He died in Dublin on 17 July 1899. His funeral procession was said to have been the longest ever seen in Limerick. A Latin inscription to his memory, written by R. Y. Tyrell, is found in Limerick cathedral, with English translation by his son Alfred and Irish translation by Douglas Hyde (qv). His portrait hangs in TCD, and he donated another to the RIA. As bishop of Limerick he presented a stained-glass window for the Fagel library, Long Room, TCD.