Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Payne (1871–1945)

by C. E. Moorhouse

This article was published:

Henry Payne (1871-1945), engineer and educationist, was born on 9 March 1871 at Calcutta, India, son of Rev. James Edward Payne of the London Missionary Society and his wife Charlotte, née Stephens. Educated in England at Bedford Modern School and the School for the Sons of Missionaries, Blackheath, he received his engineering training at the City and Guilds Technical College, Finsbury, London, and practical experience with Merryweather & Co. Ltd of Greenwich.

Appointed lecturer at University College, London, in 1898, Payne was in 1900 admitted to membership of the institutions of Civil and of Mechanical Engineers. On 5 April 1900 he married Charlotte Wilson Thompson at the Congregational Church, Lewisham; they had no children.

In 1903 Payne moved to the South African College, Cape Town, where he was involved in building and equipping the engineering school. He was appointed to its Corporation Chair of Civil Engineering in 1905, then late in 1909 to the chair of engineering in the University of Melbourne, vacant since the death of Professor W. C. Kernot.

From his arrival in Melbourne in February 1910, Payne was active in the rebuilding and re-equipping of the engineering school for which a three-year grant of £30,000, was made by the Victorian government. The official opening took place in May 1914. Payne directed the reorganization of the courses in civil, mining and mechanical engineering, and reintroduced electrical engineering which had been abandoned several years before because of financial stringency. These courses were recognized by the English Institutions in 1913. His engineering school remained adequate, for the increasing numbers of students who undertook its courses, throughout his deanship. At his retirement in 1932 the university council recorded its sense of the able manner in which he had fulfilled the duties of his office, noted his success in securing substantial recognition of engineering graduates by employers and conferred on him the title of emeritus professor, at the time a somewhat rare distinction.

A man of widespread professional interests and activities, Payne supported the Melbourne University Engineering Society (president, 1910) and the Victorian Institute of Engineers (president, 1914). He represented the Institution of Civil Engineers in Victoria, chairing its local committee in 1924-25. A member of the first council of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1919, and chairman of its Melbourne division in 1929, he was active in its promotion.

Payne was appointed to Commonwealth government committees concerned with munitions during World War I and aircraft construction; he also chaired the Air Accident Investigations Committee in 1926-31. He encouraged electric welding research, materials testing, and the development of architecture and aeronautics, supporting the acquisition of a wind tunnel for the school in 1921, and became an honorary fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1930. He was involved also in the activities of local engineering firms, such as Kelly & Lewis and McColl Electric Works, and bodies such as the Allied Societies Trust. For twenty-four years he was a director of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd.

Payne was of medium height and solidly built, with carefully trimmed black hair and beard. Dignified in manner and precise in speech, he was respected as a man of principle, and liked by colleagues and by his students to whom he acted as counsellor, on occasion providing financial assistance from his own resources. A devoutly religious man, Payne took an active part as a deacon in the affairs of the Independent Church, Collins Street, and supported the Student Christian Movement, presenting it with some acres of land from his property at Healesville, where he had indulged his love of the Australian bush in vacations and in retirement. Payne died in hospital at Richmond after a long illness on 28 March 1945, and was cremated. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, vol 6, Oct 1934, p 356, vol 9, June 1937, p 247, 283, 322, vol 33, Apr-May 1961, p 154
  • Institute of Civil Engineers (London), Journal, vol 25, Nov 1945, p 80
  • Institute of Mechanical Engineers (London), Journal, vol 154, 1946, p 235
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 Mar 1930, 17 June 1932, 28 Mar 1945
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Dec 1944, 29 Mar 1945
  • University of Melbourne Archives.

Citation details

C. E. Moorhouse, 'Payne, Henry (1871–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 March, 1871
Kolkata, West Bengal, India


28 March, 1945 (aged 74)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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