William Gratton Sharples, clergyman of the (Anglican) Church of the Province of South Africa, qualified as Master of Arts (MA) at some stage during his career. He was stationed in Oudtshoorn during at least 1908 to 1910. By 1917 he was the vicar of Formosa, Plettenberg Bay and in 1926 appears to have been stationed at Swellendam. During the late nineteen-thirties he was rector of Beaufort West and canon of St Mark's Cathedral, George. Outside the religious field he was particularly interested in anthropology, archaeology and geology.
Around 1914 Sharples excavated several caves at Robberg, near the town of Plettenberg Bay. The work was carried out under the indirect supervision (by an exchange of letters) of Dr L. Peringuey*, director of the South African Museum, who had not visited the site. Sharples recognised and preserved several grave-stones found overlying skeletons at Robberg and in the neighbourhood. The material he excavated went to the South African Museum. It included a prehistoric human skull found in severely disturbed deposits in a rock shelter on the Robberg peninsula. Professor M.R. Drennan* later described the skull as belonging to the Boskop type.
In later years Sharples discovered many new sites with stone implements or rock art around Beaufort West and Knysna. He described his finds in two published papers: 'Some further data with regard to the Victoria West industry' (South African Journal of Science, 1934, Vol. 31, pp. 527-534), in which he argued that the so-called Victoria West flakes and cores are natural rock fragments rather than implements; and 'Rock engravings near Beaufort West' (Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1937, Vol. 24, pp. 339-341). He also described 'Middle and other Stone Age industries at Beaufort West' in an unpublished paper read at the annual congress of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1935.
Sharples was a member of the Royal Society of South Africa by 1917. His letters and papers relating to his archaeological work were later presented to the University of Cape Town by his wife.