Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Percy Umfreville Henn (1865–1955)

by John Cardell-Oliver

This article was published:

Percy Umfreville Henn (1865-1955), clergyman and headmaster, was born on 21 January 1865 in Manchester, England, tenth child of Rev. John Henn and his wife Catherine, née Holcroft. Educated at Christ's Hospital, London, and with a scholarship at Worcester College, Oxford (B.A., 1887; M.A., 1890), he then considered taking holy orders but first became assistant master at Hurstpierpoint, one of the 'Woodard Schools'. Here, through his admiration of Rev. Nathaniel Woodard's work, Henn became enthusiastic about education within the Church. Ordained priest in 1891, he was appointed chaplain at Hurstpierpoint in 1892.

Henn's teaching talent was first recognized in 1895 when he became a very successful founding headmaster of Worksop College. After he resigned in 1899 because of differences with a new superior, the governing chapter of the school testified to the 'bravery and self-reliance' which had been the hallmark of his work.

Seeking a change, Henn arrived in Perth in January 1900 as a missionary. After a brief stay at Kalgoorlie, he moved to Geraldton as rector. There, on 3 April 1902, he married Jean Elliott; they had two sons and two daughters. Rector of Northam in 1902-05, he returned to England at the conclusion of his missionary term. After this he used his knowledge of the colonial Church as organizing secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester.

In 1909 Henn returned to Perth at the invitation of Bishop Riley to became headmaster of Guildford Grammar School, recently bought by the Church. His task was to oversee the first major attempt by the Church of England in Western Australia to provide secondary education since its loss of control of Bishop Hale's school in 1873. He sought both to build up Guildford Grammar and to develop Church education generally in the State. The Council for Church Schools, for the creation of which he was largely responsible, had oversight and management of Church of England schools in 1917-50. He worked closely with (Sir) Walter Tapper, the English architect, to design worthy buildings for Guildford but was frustrated by financial considerations. He nevertheless saw Guildford develop into one of the State's leading schools and secured its noble Gothic chapel through the gift of Cecil Oliverson. Henn became a canon of St George's Cathedral in 1921.

He retired as headmaster of Guildford and returned to England in 1925. He came back to Perth again in 1931 at the invitation of Archbishop Le Fanu to become founding warden of St George's College within the University of Western Australia. Henn retired permanently to Perth in 1933 and continued to take an active interest in Church affairs, especially education, until his death on 25 February 1955; his ashes lie in Guildford Chapel. His estate, valued for probate at £41,483, provided bequests for Christ's Hospital and Worcester College and a sum of £6000 for Guildford Grammar School, primarily to remove any burden of debt. The remainder of his estate was left for the benefit of his family. His An Autobiographical Retrospect was published privately in 1977.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander (ed), Four Bishops and Their See (Perth, 1957)
  • W. E. Henn, A Life So Rich (priv print, Perth, 1982)
  • J. A. Cardell-Oliver, ‘Percy Umfreville Henn: visionary headmaster’, in L. Fletcher, Pioneers in Western Australian Education (Perth, 1982)
  • West Australian, 26 Feb 1953
  • Henn scrapbook (PR 8435, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Henn papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Cardell-Oliver, 'Henn, Percy Umfreville (1865–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 January, 1865
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


25 February, 1955 (aged 90)
Western Australia, Australia

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