Orpen, Charles Edward Herbert (1791–1856), surgeon and clergyman, was born 31 October 1791 in Cork, third son of the Rev. Francis Orpen (d. 1805), vicar of Kilgarven, Co. Kerry, rector of Dungourney, Co. Cork, and later rector of Douglas, Co. Cork, and his wife Susanna (d. March 1830), daughter of Hugh Millerd, alderman of Cork, and Rebecca Millerd (née Newenham) of Coolmore. He initially trained as a surgeon and was a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in London and later the RCSI. Details of his medical education are scarce, but he was included in the RCSI's list of fellows in the college's second charter, granted by George IV. In 1814 he visited an institute for the education of deaf and dumb children in Birmingham and, convinced of the need for a similar institute in Dublin, set about collecting funds to establish one. He succeeded in securing the patronage of Lord Powerscourt, and in 1816 founded the National Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Claremont in Glasnevin. In 1818 he travelled to Paris to visit the deaf and dumb institute founded by the abbé de L'Epée, and he reorganised the Claremont institute along similar lines.
During the fever epidemic in Dublin in 1819, he worked among the city's poor and was shocked at their living conditions. He published a pamphlet on the subject and severely criticised Dublin landlords for the dangerous and unsanitary conditions of their properties. He also published The contrast between atheism, paganism and Christianity illustrated (1827) and The principles, plans and objects of the Hibernian Negro's Friends Society (1831). In 1832 he was candidate in the election for a new professor of medicine at the RCSI, but Dr John Kirby was elected to the chair.
A man of numerous interests, Orpen tended to move from one pet project to another. He educated his sons himself and, convinced of his own ability as a teacher, opened a school at Birkenhead in England. This venture soon failed as he was not a disciplinarian and simply could not control his more boisterous pupils. He took holy orders, and in 1848 travelled to South Africa, landing at Cape Town on 11 March. Ordained there (November 1848), he was appointed the first rector of Christ Church, Colesburg. He threw himself into his new role with enthusiasm, carrying out missionary work among the native population while also founding a relief society for old and sick ex-slaves. Establishing a public library at Colesburg, he stocked its shelves with his own collection of books. He constantly complained about the treatment of the native people by British and Dutch settlers, opposed the government's policy of sending convicts to the colony, and addressed an anti-transportation meeting at Simon's Bay (1849) which had gathered to protest against the arrival of a convict ship. Despite his own opposition to transportation, he realised that the protest might end in a riot and used his oratorical skills to persuade the crowd to disperse. It was largely due to his efforts that the incident ended without bloodshed. He died at Port Elizabeth on 20 April 1856.
He married (December 1823) Alicia Frances Coane (d. December 1869), widow of the Rev. Conolly Coane and eldest daughter of Maj. Henry Charles Sirr (qv), town major of the city of Dublin. They had seven sons and two daughters. Many of his sons later held government posts in South Africa. His fifth son was Richard John Newenham Orpen (1830–1913) who, with Sir Edward Shelley, carried out the first exploration of the Kalahari Desert.