Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Finch Rix (1848–1906)

by R. J. W. Selleck

This article was published:

Henry Finch Rix (1848-1906), educationist, was born on 12 January 1848 at Green's End, Woolwich, Kent, England, son of Thomas Rix, draper, and his wife Mary Ann, née Finch. The family migrated to Victoria in 1853 and Rix was educated at a Wesleyan school at Chilwell and the Flinders National Grammar School, Geelong, during the headmastership of G. W. Brown, later his superior in the Education Department.

Between 1867 and 1874 Rix taught in a National school at Ironbark Hill, Sandhurst (Bendigo), a Presbyterian school at Ballarat, and a state school at Carlton, Melbourne. After a brief period at Grenville College, Ballarat, he was mathematics master at Wesley College, Melbourne, in 1874-84. A 'nervous, quick-eyed man', he earned a deserved reputation as a distinguished and enthusiastic teacher whose popularity with the boys was not diminished because he played with the Carlton Football Club and because as sportsmaster he devoted much time to school athletics. Rix began an arts degree at the University of Melbourne in 1875; he had to study privately as his employment prevented his attending lectures, and he graduated in 1881.

Three years later he was appointed an inspector in the Victorian Education Department and worked for most of his career in the Beechworth district. He combined a genial nature with an intense, neurotic enthusiasm and, more than most inspectors, resisted the pressure for conformity. His most important work was done in the late 1880s and the 1890s when, as one of a small group of Victorian educationists, he tried to interpret the ideas of the New Education, suggesting reforms which drew heavily on the work of Pestalozzi, Froebel, Francis Parker and J. A. Hartley. On his visits to schools, through teachers' congresses (of which he was a pioneer), through his inspectorial reports and his other writings, Rix strove to change the ways of Victorian teachers and educational administrators. His books and pamphlets were aimed both at children and teachers, and though mostly concerned with arithmetic teaching, his best known was The Pictorial Method of Teaching the First Steps in Arithmetic (1897), which embodied ideas with wider application. He was an early advocate of school libraries and a supporter of the Arbor Day programme—demonstrating his views by planting plane trees at South Yarra near his home. He played an important but not very public part in the establishment of the royal commission on technical education chaired by Theodore Fink and the ensuing reorganization of the Education Department, particularly the establishment of the position of director of education for which he was an unsuccessful applicant.

By 1905, when he was promoted to senior inspector, the intensity with which Rix flung himself into his work and the instability of his temperament caused a severe nervous collapse. He was granted a year's furlough which, with characteristic unrealism and enthusiasm, he proposed to spend in England and Europe studying at first hand the educational ideas which he had been interpreting for Victorian teachers. However, he died at Prahran on 27 February 1906 of melancholia syncope. His wife Elizabeth, sister of Henry Sutton, whom he had married at Ballarat on 14 April 1876, and two daughters survived him; his younger daughter was the artist Hilda Rix Nicholas. Two annual prizes at the Melbourne Continuation School (later Melbourne High School) commemorate him.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid, Mar 1906, p 138
  • R. Griffiths, The History of Arithmetic Teaching in the Elementary Schools of Victoria (M.Ed. thesis, Monash University, 1983)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. J. W. Selleck, 'Rix, Henry Finch (1848–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 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]


12 January, 1848
Woolwich, Kent, England


27 February, 1906 (aged 58)
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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