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Thomas Henry Braim (1814–1891)

by E. L. French

This article was published:

Thomas Henry Braim (1814-1891), schoolmaster and Church of England clergyman, was born in June 1814 at Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, one of four children of Thomas Braim, vicar of West Wittering, Sussex, and perpetual curate of Barlby, Yorkshire, and his wife Jane, née Caile, of Hampshire. After his father died he was sent to the Clergy Orphan School, Canterbury. His tutor, Rev. T. Wharton, impressed by his ability, recommended him as a pupil-teacher to Rev. P. A. Prince, B.D., head of a school at Mitcham, Surrey. He later assisted at the schools of Rev. Dr Barron, a Pestalozzian of Stanmore, Middlesex, and Rev. B. Peile of Hatfield, Hertfordshire. At 18 he entered St John's College, Cambridge, and read divinity.

Well regarded in Cambridge and experienced as a teacher, he was recommended in 1835 for the headmastership of the Hobart Town Grammar School, a co-educational establishment initiated by William Grant Broughton and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Braim arrived in Hobart with his wife Elizabeth, née Liley, in the Orissa on 19 December. Both worked hard, taking retarded classes in arithmetic in the evenings, and the school began well. As a liberal churchman, Braim was irked by the trustees' policy which obliged him to accept only those Anglican children whose parents sent them to St David's Church in his care on Sundays. So too was Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur, who proposed to establish another school on liberal principles and offered Braim the headmastership; feeling an obligation to his trustees, he declined. By June 1838 he was so dissatisfied that he resigned. He opened a private school in the disused Macquarie Hotel with many of his pupils from the Grammar School, only to be faced with strong competition from the school established by Arthur. In January 1839 he took charge of a proprietary school at Boa Vista, built by Dr James Scott, and two years later, when the Queen's School was proposed, Braim applied for the position of principal but it went to Rev. John Gell.

Frustrated, Braim went to Melbourne in the Thomas Crisp in March 1841. After an abortive attempt to open a grammar school in the Wesleyan Chapel, Swanston Street, he went to Sydney in the Sophia Pate with his wife and three children, intending to apply for the headmastership of Sydney College, where William Timothy Cape was due to retire in December. In an election which excited much public interest Braim, with youth on his side, testimonials from Broughton, Gell and Rev. J. B. Naylor and support from the Australian, defeated John Rennie (M.A., Edinburgh), proprietor of the Collegiate High School in Sydney.

Braim took up his post in January 1842. Drawing on Arnold for his corporate practice, on Pestalozzi for his pedagogics and on the English middle-class schools for his curricula, he introduced an enlightened school policy that won general acclaim. But in three years the enrolment fell from 267 to 60 pupils. His request for leave to visit England was granted by the trustees but with no guarantee that he would be reappointed on his return. In October 1845 he was readmitted to St John's College, Cambridge, to complete his divinity studies. Back in Sydney late in 1846 he found that he had lost the confidence of the trustees. The decline in enrolment was laid to his charge, perhaps unfairly in view of economic conditions, and it was publicly alleged that he had entered irregularly into an agreement with James B. Laughton, B.A., his second master and locum tenens, by which he would resume the headmastership. When the trustees named David Patterson as headmaster, Braim decided to move, on the advice of his brother Edwin, to Belfast (Port Fairy), Victoria.

He arrived at Belfast in the Essington late in 1846 with his family and his brother John, and at the invitation of William Rutledge prepared to open a school. It began with fifteen pupils, received a government subsidy in 1848 and grew. After representations by the Anglican community for whom he conducted divine worship as a layman, he was made deacon by Bishop Charles Perry on 25 June 1848, and ordained priest on 3 June 1849. His own school developed into a church boarding school, and in connexion with his church, St John's, Belfast, he opened an elementary school. He established country schools at Tower Hill in 1851, Farnham Survey in 1852, and Yambuk in 1858, and took a leading part in founding the Belfast Mechanics' Institute in 1856. His most ambitious work was the building of the 'thorough cathedral' (Bonwick's description) of St John's, a splendid copy of an English parish church, which was consecrated in 1865 free from debt. In 1854 he was collated archdeacon of Portland, with responsibility for the area bounded by Camperdown, Harrow, Nelson and the coast. His constructive and extensive work came under notice at Lambeth (D.D., 1857).

In 1865 he was given eighteen months leave to restore his health. He left for England on 1 March but did not return. In September 1866 he became rector of All Saints', Dorchester, rector of Bishop's Caundle, Dorset, in 1868, vicar of Ilsington, Devonshire, in 1875 and rector of Risley, Derbyshire, in 1879. He died at Risley on 14 October 1891. His first wife had died on 16 August 1860, and in November 1861 at Christ Church, Hawthorn, Victoria, he married a widow, Caroline Sarah Simpson; she died aged 96 at Brighton, England, in 1911.

Braim's colonial career lacked nothing in vigour and enterprise. Circumstances were against his attaining conspicuous success as a schoolmaster, but they were the raw materials of his success as a cleric. He was of a practical rather than scholarly disposition, yet well read and something of a writer. He completed in 1840 a draft of a work on the Aboriginals of Van Diemen's Land, which defended Arthur's policy. He published the first three issues of the New South Wales Magazine in 1843; the first Australian classical school-book, Eutropii Historiae Romanae (Sydney, 1844); A History of New South Wales from its Settlement to the Close of the Year 1844 (London, 1846); and New Homes: the Rise, Progress, Present Position and Future Prospects of Each of the Australian Colonies and New Zealand (London, 1870).

Select Bibliography

  • M. C. I. Levy, Governor George Arthur (Melb, 1935)
  • J. W. Powling, Centenary 1856-1956: St John's Church, Port Fairy (Ballarat, 1956)
  • Church of England Messenger, 1850, 315
  • Hobart Town Courier, 4 Dec 1835, 22 Jan, 2, 16 Dec 1836, 16, 23 June, 4 Aug 1837, 15 June, 2 Nov 1838, 28 June 1839, 2 Oct 1840, 26 Feb, 28 May 1841, 20 May 1845, 16 Dec 1846
  • Australian, 9 Aug 1836, 7, 14 Aug, 16 Nov 1841, 24, 26 Mar, 14, 16 Nov, 14 Dec 1842, 14 Jan 1844
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 9 June, 28 July, 11 Aug 1840
  • Port Phillip Gazette, 1 Sept, 19 Dec 1840, 3, 10 Mar, 21 Apr 1841
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Jan 1843, 17 Jan, 12 Dec 1844, 13 Sept 1845
  • Heads of the People, 26 June 1847, p 90
  • Portland Gazette, 28 Apr 1848
  • CSO 5/237/6071, 256/6653 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • reports of Sydney College, 1842-47 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • David Patterson papers, 1840-49 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

E. L. French, 'Braim, Thomas Henry (1814–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


June, 1814
Doncaster, Yorkshire, England


14 October, 1891 (aged 77)
Risley, Derbyshire, England

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