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Herbert Denys Hake (1894–1975)

by Michael D. De B. Collins Persse

This article was published:

Herbert Denys Hake (1894-1975), headmaster, was born on 8 November 1894 at Bournemouth, Hampshire, England, elder son of Edwin Denys Hake, preparatory-school headmaster, and his wife Marianne Jane Mease, née Toyne. Denys was educated at Haileybury College, Hertfordshire, where he excelled at cricket, rackets, fives and athletics, and in 1913-14 was head of school. He served (1914-19) in India and Mesopotamia with the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, rose to captain (1916) and was mentioned in dispatches. A pensioner at Queens' College, Cambridge (B.A., 1921; M.A., 1927), he took a third in history and represented the university at hockey (Blue), rackets (half-Blue) and cricket. In 1920-25 he averaged 15.91 runs in 38 innings for Hampshire and played against the visiting Australians in 1921. He was runner-up in 1929 in the amateur rackets championship of England.

From 1921 to 1938 Hake was a master at Haileybury College (except in 1927-28 when he taught at St John's College, Johannesburg, South Africa, and in 1936-37 when he directed tours of English schoolboys to Australia and Canada). He was a firm but kindly housemaster (from 1931), knowing his boys individually and, wherever possible, their families. Tall, lean and athletic despite an arthritic limp, he was a striking figure with reddish-gold hair, penetrating blue eyes and a quiet but authoritative voice. He was sane, cheerful and full of lighthearted fun.

In 1938 Hake was appointed headmaster of The King's School, Parramatta, New South Wales. On 27 December, the eve of his departure for Australia, he married Elizabeth Cecilia Barton (1909-1991) at the parish church, Clapham, Yorkshire. A talented singer, she had been Haileybury's first dietitian, and was to strengthen his confidence at critical moments. King's was at a low ebb when Hake took office in January 1939 as its first lay head. Numbers, down from 438 to 266 since 1930, were to rise by 601 in his time. He set about a gradual liberalization, such as his friend (Sir) James Darling was implementing at Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Victoria, and which Hake's predecessor C. T. Parkinson had failed to achieve.

World War II delayed reform, as did the conservative staff appointed by Parkinson's predecessor E. M. Baker. After 1946 Hake chose younger men, some from England, who brought a more moderate style without rejecting the 'healthy hardiness' seen as the school's chief characteristic. Helped and encouraged by Elizabeth, he fostered music, drama and art, influencing King's through senior boys whom he selected as monitors less for their sporting prowess than their personal quality. He liked games to be played for pleasure, not ultra-competitively. The austerities of boarding school life were softened, and the sources of discipline shifted towards individual conscience and common sense.

Intelligent rather than intellectual, Hake was a quietly committed Christian who combined personal humility with a strong, if unconscious, moral authority. He was gentle in his handling of people and tenacious in pursuing his larger ends. The largest, for the school, was to move it from restricted sites spread round Parramatta. Having failed in his attempts to relocate it at Mount Keira and Penrith, he surmounted old-boy opposition sufficient to break a lesser man, and was relieved at the support accorded to the school's gradual transfer, from 1954, to nearby Gowan Brae, formerly owned by Sir James Burns. Hake stayed on as headmaster until December 1964 to ensure continuity.

Hake was a commanding figure in the Headmasters' Conference of the Independent Schools of Australia and its chairman in 1952-54. Appointed O.B.E. in 1961, he was a fellow (1962) of the Australian College of Education and belonged to the Australian Club. In holidays he and his family escaped happily to a cottage on Mount Wilson. His retirement—spent there and at Glenhaven—saw his serenity tested by increasing lameness and blindness. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died on 12 April 1975 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and was cremated. Portraits of Hake by Nea Wimbush and (Sir) William Dargie are held respectively by his family and T.K.S. where Hake House commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Waddy, The King's School, 1831-1981 (Syd, 1981)
  • W. Blunt, Married to a Single Life (Salisbury, Eng, 1983)
  • J. W. Hogg, Our Proper Concerns (Syd, 1986)
  • M. L. Loane, This Goodly Heritage (Syd, 1990)
  • Haileyburian, 1910-14, June 1975
  • The King's School Magazine, May 1975, May 1977, June, Dec 1991
  • Times (London), 19 Apr 1975
  • Canterbury Cathedral (England) Archives
  • The King's School archives, Parramatta, Sydney
  • Hake genealogy (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael D. De B. Collins Persse, 'Hake, Herbert Denys (1894–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 6 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


8 November, 1894
Bournemouth, Dorset, England


12 April, 1975 (aged 80)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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