The Rev Henry Plow Kane: School Master and Vicar

The Rev Henry Plow Kane, Second Vicar of St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Cheltenham. Courtesy Dennis Maynard.

In the early days of European settlement in Melbourne, when members of religious congregations were sparsely spread, clergymen often had the difficult task of serving several churches or places of worship. They had to travel over sand tracks or at least badly formed and potholed roads in horse drawn vehicles or on horseback. Breakdowns were not unknown and rain could make roads impassable. On his appointment to the parochial district of Cheltenham the Rev Henry Plow Kane was required to care for a congregation split between five centres of worship; St John’s East Bentleigh, St John’s the Less Little Brighton, Cheltenham, Dingley and Mordialloc. (Later both the Church of England communities at Mentone and Sandringham were included.) He took up this appointment at the invitation of the Bishop of Melbourne after some time as a headmaster of schools both in Launceston and Melbourne.

Born in about 1825 on the island of Corfu in the Mediterranean Sea to Benjamin Kane, an officer in the Ordinance Department and Caroline Kane (nee Plow), he travelled to Van Diemen’s Land in his early twenties. He became the tutor to the son of a Launceston merchant but after the Launceston Church Grammar School was founded in temporary accommodation on 15 June 1846 he was appointed the first headmaster. [1] Ordained a deacon in that same year he was licensed as a minister and chaplain at Paterson’s Plains and Allenvale. In March 1857 he undertook to serve at Evandale and Lymington in a temporary capacity. After his ordination as a priest on 11 May 1857 at Holy Trinity, Launceston, his parishioners at Allenvale urged him to take the role of rector on a permanent basis, but he declined as he felt his contribution at the school was of greater value than that of pastoral work. In October 1854 the Archbishop of Canterbury honoured his work as a teacher with a Lambeth Master of Arts degree. [2] Kane resigned his position at Launceston Church Grammar in January 1860 and later conducted a private school at Rostella where he educated the sons of many prominent Tasmanians until the 1870s.

Kane married Caroline Jeanette Neilley in 1847 and together they had a son, Henry Neilley Kane, born in 1858 and a daughter Emma in 1867. [3] Caroline and the children accompanied the Rev Kane in March 1873 to Melbourne where he intended to open a school. An advertisement in the Church of England Messenger indicates that Kane planned to initiate a school for young gentlemen in Wilson Street, North Brighton, in a building formerly occupied by a ladies college conducted by Mr and Mrs Vieusseux. The house, he claimed, was ‘replete with every comfort and convenience, noble schoolrooms, lofty and well ventilated bedrooms, supplied with baths.’ Located in the vicinity of the North Brighton railway station, a situation he wrote which ‘left nothing to be desired for health, recreation and the advantages of country life.’ In support of his statement he gave an impressive list of people, clerics, judges and businessmen, who were prepared to provide references on his behalf. [4]

Shortly after his arrival in Melbourne, the Bishop of Melbourne, the Right Reverend Charles Perry, granted Henry Kane a licence to preach and conduct services in the diocese. However he did not take up a parish or parochial appointment. While the North Brighton school venture may not have been hugely successful he was noted in the Sands and McDougall Directories of 1875, 1876 and 1877 as schoolmaster and resident at South Yarra College, in Darling Street, South Yarra, an undertaking that also failed. [5] In 1876 under the Rev Samuel Taylor of St Andrew’s Brighton, Henry Kane took up the responsibilities for services at St John’s the Less at East Brighton at the request of the bishop and parishioners. [6] In that same year he was listed as being present at the funeral service of Mary Attenborough at Christ Church Dingley. The following year he was appointed to the Cheltenham Parochial District serving as vicar of St Matthew’s Church of England at Cheltenham. However, as there was no parsonage there he continued to live in Brighton.

Henry Kane conducted his first service at Cheltenham on June 17, 1877 and was inducted into the parish on September 27, 1877. [7] Supported by a number of laymen he was responsible for the oversight of religious services at several centres. Sundays found him travelling between three venues to conduct morning, afternoon and evening services at churches that included St John’s the Less at Little Brighton, [8] Christ Church Dingley, All Souls Gipsy Village, St John’s East Brighton, St Matthew’s Cheltenham and St Nicholas’s Mordialloc. Assisting him was a team of laymen who conducted services when he was unable to be present. [9] Kane also served as a chaplain to the colonial military forces. The year following his appointment to Cheltenham he was conducting divine services at a military camp where music was provided by the band of the Engineers. The colonel of the regiment agreed that the collections taken during the services should be given to assist St Matthew’s Sunday School. With Kane’s absence from the district members of his team of loyal laymen conducted services at all centres. [10]

St Matthew’s Church, Cheltenham with Sunday School Hall, c1907. Courtesy Shirley Joy.

During Kane’s incumbency at Cheltenham two important events occurred in the life of the parish. One was the building of the Sunday School Hall and the second was the consecration of the church by the Bishop of Melbourne. Almost twelve months after the colonial soldiers contributed to the fund to build the Sunday School Hall the contractor informed the building committee that the frame and weatherboarding of the hall was complete and consequently the payment of a third of the contract price was authorised. In one month the building was expected to be completed. Arrangements were therefore made to collect the promised subscriptions to meet the second payment to the builder and also to seek help from Brighton residents. [11]

At the beginning of the new year of 1880 the Sunday School Hall was completed to the design of Chas Webb. The contractor W Goldstone was congratulated on the quality of his work and a musical evening was arranged to celebrate the occasion. There was a debt to be paid off on the building but it was hoped to eliminate this through the receipt of promised subscriptions. However, it was realized this would not happen immediately as the market gardeners had experienced a bad year. [12]

Attention of the congregation now turned to cleansing and restoring the church opened in 1867. It had suffered from water damage and the multiple uses it had to accommodate since that time. Charles Booker recalled as a seven or eight year old pupil there was no Sunday schoolroom. Sunday school was held in the church and it was rather inconvenient as church services were held twice a day on alternate Sundays so on those days Sunday School had to meet earlier in order to leave the church free. [13] In April 1880 the Guardians of the Church determined to proceed with the cleaning and restoration with the hope of rectifying the dingy and forlorn condition of the interior. Plans were made to provide seating in a uniform style. They also proposed to address the annoying habit of young men leaving their seats during the course of the service to lounge around in the porch door smoking. In addition, members of the congregation were asked not to bring their dogs into the church. [14]

The Bishop of Melbourne, the Right Rev James Moorhouse, consecrated the church on the evening on June 14, 1880. The Rev Henry Plow Kane and his lay helpers welcomed the bishop in a church that contrasted immensely from its former condition The church was clean, brilliantly lit, and carpeted. The font was presented by the Ladies’ Working Party of Brighton, and the plate and linen for Holy Communion by Mrs John Matthew Smith. [15] The service was a great success with a strong choir providing excellent musical support, the bishop preaching a forceful and eloquent sermon, and the collection amounting to £10 10s 7d. Refreshments of tea and coffee followed in the new Sunday School Hall. [16]

Six months after the consecration of the Cheltenham church, Henry Plow Kane, with his wife and daughter, left for England. [17] (His son, Henry Neilley Kane had earlier died from typhoid fever at South Yarra on February 4, 1874 prior to the Rev Henry Kane taking up the position at Cheltenham.) While in England Kane visited parishes on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. At the time of the English Census of 1881 Henry Kane was a guest in the household of the Rev Thomas Croft, vicar of the parish of Kimpton. Kane’s occupation on that occasion was noted as Incumbent of Dingley, Australia. His wife and daughter were not with him. Writing in June 1881 from Canterbury to his bishop in Melbourne, Kane informed the bishop that he had performed his tour of duty with SPG but he asked for an extension of his leave to remain in England until January 1882. He again wrote in September 2, 1881 indicating he would conclude his work for the SPG in October and planned to return to Australia in November or early December at the latest. [18] W Kemp of the SPG wrote to Melbourne on October 28, 1881 pleading with the bishop to extend Kane’s leave so that he could continue his work for SPG.

While in England and writing to the bishop, the Right Reverend James Moorhouse, Kane wrote that he had no news of affairs ecclesiastical. His letters from ‘Messrs Sharp and Greville were all about Little Brighton, Attenborough’s Dingley and so forth.’ His replacement in the district complained that another year as locum tenens would kill him and seemed anxious to give up the work. Kane said that the Rev Barley Sharp evidently had been working hard but suffered from the ‘rudeness of the people’. It seems that Sharp did not like the social life in Cheltenham a situation which came as no surprise to Kane. Kane indicated to the bishop that because of the size of the district and its potential future growth he had proposed to Sharp that they ‘should divide it, and the stipend, and work together as both were not totally dependent on the stipend provided’. The proposal was not looked upon favourably by Sharp. Mr James, a land speculator, pointed out to Kane that the railway was to be extended to Picnic (Sandringham) and when that was done he would have a tramway built to Beaumaris and south of Cheltenham. The whole coast would be settled with houses making it a fine district. Given this situation Kane advised the bishop that Gipsy Village or Picnic would be a good site for a parsonage. [19]

A note in the Brighton Southern Cross indicates that Kane left England as a passenger on the John Elder and resumed his duties in the Cheltenham parochial District in March 1882; his wife and daughter remaining in England. News was received from England the following month that his wife had died from congestion of the lungs, the care of his daughter being taken over by relatives in England. [20] On May 1, 1883 Kane married Alice Elizabeth Bradish in her mother’s home, Wattle Cottage, East Brighton. Alice was twenty years old and Henry was fifty seven. The minister officiating at the wedding was the Rev J Barley Sharp who had acting as incumbent at Cheltenham while Kane was in England. Sharp was later vicar of St Mark’s Fitzroy and Christ Church Brunswick.

It appears that Kane quickly settled back into his role of clergyman although when writing to the bishop from London, indicating he would return to Melbourne, he said ‘I can see that I have little to look forward to save hard work and poor pay. I am too old to make new friends and Mrs Kane has her mother in Melbourne.’ [21] The service register of St Nicholas’s Church in Mordialloc records him taking services there in 1884 and it is to him the credit is given for naming the church after St Nicholas. The Rev L Bull explained that it was Kane who first wrote the name of St Nicholas in the service book. Why St Nicholas was chosen is not clear but Bull, a subsequent vicar of the parish, saw it as most appropriate as St Nicholas was bishop of Myra a fishing village somewhat like the situation existing at Mordialloc and was the patron saint of sailors and all those trades associated with rivers. [22] The service register records that on 16 March 1884 the Rev Kane preached on the Widow’s Mite and added the remarks, ‘very cold morning, congregation most attentive.’ On another occasion after preaching on ‘Time and Eternity’ he added the note ‘Lovely day and very attentive congregation.’ At St John’s the Less at Little Brighton in November 1885 he gave a special sermon on ‘The Religious Education of Our Australian Youth,’ and at a children’s service in the afternoon he spoke on ‘The Lesson of the Flowers of the Field.’ [23]

On March 18, 1885 the Rev Henry Plow Kane replied to a letter from the registrar of the diocese who enquired whether he was willing to give up the East Brighton section of his charge. Kane in replying said ‘I shall be glad to do whatever the Bishop judges to be most desirable for the interest of the Church.’ [24] Several months later on December 11, 1885 he wrote to the bishop saying that he anticipated leaving for England in January of the following year and returning in July or August. A few days later he wrote again saying he proposed visiting Sydney and indicated the clergyman appointed in his place would be ‘heartily aided’ by his lay helpers. The Brighton Southern Cross, reported on January 1886 that Henry Kane after receiving medical advice was leaving the colony and that the Rev H E Potter would take charge of the parochial district in his absence. [25] Diocesan correspondence records contain letters written by Kane in October and November of that year indicating that he had made arrangements with Mr Potter to undertake his duties for twelve months. [26] There are no further records of Kane’s involvement with the church. At this stage Kane was sixty one years old.

Foott in her essay on Kane in the Australian Dictionary of Biography writes that Kane was a lonely man and that he entered into a business career for which he was unfitted. According to Foott, the company of which he was a director became bankrupt and Kane took this as a personal tragedy thus undermining his health. Records of the Court of Insolvency show in December 1890 that Kane had debts of £11,535 against assets of £10,523. Using promissory notes to finance his speculations Kane found he did not have the capital to redeem them when they fell due and the original investments turned out to be worthless. As a result the court ordered that the estate of Henry Kane be sequestrated for the benefit of his creditors. [27]

Kane’s business activities resulted in failure at a time when the financial market was getting into desperate trouble and the fortunes of many people were crashing. He had taken a one eighth share in the Richmond Vale Coal property of 4500 acres which was sold to him on the basis of the three seams of coal that it contained and the suitability of the land for agricultural purposes. Proposals for subdivision failed. He held shares in several gold mines including the St Clair Gold Mining Company, the Fearnot Company, Kembels Reef and Campbell’s Gold Mining Claim all of which became worthless. Nevertheless the banks and finance companies wanted the return of money they had advanced to finance Kane’s speculative endeavours. [28]

Henry Plow Kane died at his home, Rhyll, in Wellington Street, Brighton on 11 November 1893 at sixty eight years of age. One researcher described Kane as a man of novel ideas, a man of many parts at which he never quite succeeded but there is no doubt his ministry was a fruitful one. [29] Cause of death was given as general paralysis from which he had been suffering for eighteen months. At his death he left no real estate, only personal property valued at £1195 18 0 mainly tied up in life insurance policies with Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society. The executrix and sole beneficiary of his estate was his wife Alicia but, as she said, once all creditors were paid she doubted whether there would be any surplus remaining. [30] Henry Plow Kane’s profession on the death certificate was given as Clerk in Holy Orders. He was buried in the St Kilda Cemetery along with his son who had died nineteen years earlier. [31]


  1. Foott, B., ‘Kane, Henry Plow’, Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  2. Such degrees were conferred by the Archbishop of Canterbury under the authority of the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533. They were awarded in recognition of prior learning or experience but also served as a form of archiepiscopal honours system.
  3. Tasmanian Births Marriages & Deaths Records.
  4. Church of England Messenger, 3 April 1873.
  5. Cooper, J. B., The History of Brighton 1842 – 1925, (manuscript), c1925.
  6. Cornish D., A Short History of the Parish of St Mark’s East Brighton, 1950.
  7. Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Records.
  8. This church in Hawthorn Road, East Brighton was later renamed St Mark’s. More recently it has been demolished.
  9. C Grenville, G H Traill, F K Godfrey, R H Budd, J M Smith, W R Looker, C Le Souef, Wollaston.
  10. Brighton Southern Cross, 7 December 1878.
  11. Brighton Southern Cross, 15 November 1879.
  12. Brighton Southern Cross, 3 January 1880.
  13. Polites, S., Pioneers of Faith, St Matthew’s Cheltenham 1867-1992.
  14. Brighton Southern Cross, 17 April 1880.
  15. See Whitehead G J., John Matthew Smith: Pioneer and Philanthropist, Kingston Historical Website.
  16. Brighton Southern Cross, 19 June 1880.
  17. Brighton Southern Cross, 24 December 1880.
  18. Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Archives – Correspondence.
  19. Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Archives - Correspondence.
  20. Brighton Southern Cross, 29 April 1882.
  21. Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Archives – Correspondence.
  22. Bull, L W., Mordialloc Modes, page 19.
  23. Brighton Southern Cross, 28 November 1885.
  24. Correspondence Diocesan Archives.
  25. Brighton Southern Cross, 23 January 1885.
  26. Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Archives .
  27. The Argus, 1 January 1891.
  28. Commercial Bank of Australia Limited, The Land Credit Bank of Australasia Limited, Australian Financial Agency and Guarantee Company Limited, General Finance Agency and Guarantee Company, Herman & Co Financiers – VPRO 7591/p/0 Unit 13 File 150.
  29. Cooper, J. B., The History of Brighton 1842-1925 (manuscript) c1925.
  30. VPRO 28/p/2 Unit 372 File 53/450.
  31. Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
6 July 2008
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