Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Henry Brune Atkinson (1874–1960)

by Herbert H. Condon

This article was published:

Henry Brune Atkinson (1874-1960), clergyman and orchidologist, was born on 17 March 1874 at Gordon, Tasmania, son of Rev. Henry Dresser Atkinson and his wife Sarah Ann, née Ward. Descended from English clergymen, his father had known Truganini who, legend suggests, nursed Henry Bruné. They lived in various rural and coastal parishes where his father encouraged an interest in natural history, particularly orchids. He was educated at Stanley State School, the Church Grammar School, Launceston, and the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1899).

Atkinson was ordained deacon at Holy Trinity Church, Launceston, on 24 March 1901 and priest at St David's Cathedral, Hobart, on 17 September 1902. In 1904 he went as vicar to Ringarooma and Derby, where he met Helen Bertha Knight of Christchurch, New Zealand, a great-niece of Jane Austen; they were married there on 21 June 1905. In 1906-10 he was curate to his father at Evandale. He completed the building of St Peter's Church at the Nile; he took up motor-cycle racing, moved to Forth and Leven parish in 1910 as rector before going in 1911 to Devonport. Here he developed into an excellent preacher, enjoyed cricket, golf and rifle-shooting and became a Freemason. From 1914 he was an elected member of the diocesan council; he was also a representative in the general synod of the dioceses of Australia and Tasmania.

In 1916 Atkinson became rector of Holy Trinity Church, Hobart, where he attracted large congregations, established branch churches and extended buildings. Next year he took part in a national mission of repentance and hope to Grafton and Brisbane dioceses. In Hobart he irritated sections of the public and clergy by his vigorous preaching against poverty and the city's slums, but in 1920 he was chosen to accompany Bishop Robert Hay to the Lambeth Conference in England. While he was away his parish was administered by Rev. Herman Rupp who revived Atkinson's interest in orchids. On his return he began to collect and classify the Tasmanian varieties, eventually recording twenty-four previously unknown species. Caladenia atkinsonii Rod. was named after him. In 1919-25 he was vice-warden of the university senate and in 1923 was elected to the Royal Society of Tasmania.

In 1924 Atkinson became archdeacon of Darwin, and in 1928 of Launceston and Darwin centred on Hagley, where he added a graceful spire to the Gothic church of St Mary. He was now responsible for all Tasmania north of Conara, the west coast and Flinders and King islands. In 1942-44 he administered the Tasmanian diocese during the absence of the bishop and after his death. He was revered for his work on the boards of Anglican schools in Launceston.

Atkinson retired to Launceston in 1949 to his garden, shells, music and books, but he continued preaching until the last week of his life. Survived by his daughter, he died at Riverside, Launceston, on 16 June 1960, two months after his wife; his ashes were placed in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • Church of England Year-Book, Diocese of Tasmania, 1906, 1955
  • Church News (Hobart), Mar 1914, Nov 1928
  • Tasmanian Mail (Hobart), 16 Aug 1920
  • Mercury (Hobart), 25 Sept 1942, 17 May 1944
  • Examiner (Launceston), 17 June 1960
  • Diocese of Tasmania, Clerical Registers, 5/223-224, 229, 684, 760, 6/216, 500 (Church House, Hobart)
  • private information.

Citation details

Herbert H. Condon, 'Atkinson, Henry Brune (1874–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 5 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


17 March, 1874
Gordon, Tasmania, Australia


16 June, 1960 (aged 86)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.