Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Oakley Vance (1828–1910)

by James Grant

This article was published:

George Oakley Vance (1828-1910), Anglican clergyman, was born on 25 May 1828 in London, son of Rev. William Ford Vance, vicar of Coseley, Staffordshire, and his wife Ann Arabella Atterbury, née Oakley. He was educated first at the Islington proprietary school under Rev. John Jackson (later bishop of London), then at St Paul's School, Southsea, and at King's College School, London. In 1846 he headed the opening scholarships to Lincoln College, Oxford (B.A., 1850; M.A. (Melbourne), 1856; D.D., 1886).

After eighteen months as a schoolmaster at Exmouth and probably Birmingham, Vance sailed for Australia in the Orestes, arriving in Melbourne on 5 December 1852. In October 1853 he was appointed a lay reader and on Christmas Day was ordained deacon by Bishop Charles Perry. Appointed as curate to Dean H. B. Macartney at St James's, Melbourne, he was responsible for the erection of temporary churches at Philipstown (Brunswick), Flemington and North Melbourne. In July 1854 he was transferred to St Paul's, Geelong, as curate to Archdeacon T. C. B. Stretch and on 31 December was ordained priest. On 6 March 1855 at Philipstown schoolhouse, he married Harriett Catherine Cresswell, daughter of a Melbourne solicitor.

In August 1855 Stretch proposed the establishment of a 'really good Grammar School in Geelong'; with his support Vance opened a school two months later which flourished so well that it was soon transformed into a 'Public School'. Trustees were elected, a portion of the government grant allocated for Church of England schools was obtained through Perry, and Vance appointed headmaster. The school took possession of its new buildings in April 1858, but a large debt remained. The opening of the Flinders National Grammar School in Geelong and economic depression precluded the increased enrolments necessary to service the debt, and creditors began to press. Vance tendered his resignation on 19 June 1860, and the school soon closed.

Vance moved to Castlemaine and conducted a school for a year. In January 1862 he was appointed to the charge of the parish of Chewton and in December was nominated incumbent of St Paul's, Kyneton, including Blackwood and Woodend. From January 1869 he acted as locum tenens for C. T. Perks at St Stephen's, Richmond, until nominated as vicar of Holy Trinity, Kew, in March 1870. Elected by one vote over H. H. P. Handfield, he was installed as dean of Melbourne and incumbent of St James's in December 1894, and continued in office until 1910.

As headmaster, Vance's deficiencies as an organizer had contributed to his school's collapse, but as cleric he was more successful. Perry appointed him to the Diocesan Council in 1869, and he was one of the three Melbourne clerical representatives to the first General Synod of the Church of England in Australia, held in Sydney in October 1872. In 1874 he was proposed for election by the Brisbane Synod to succeed Bishop Tufnell but, while the clergy favoured the election of a colonial clergyman, the laity favoured delegation to England and the matter was resolved by the Australian bishops translating Bishop Hale from Perth. Vance was elected a canon of St Paul's Cathedral in 1879 and appointed rural dean of East Melbourne in 1894.

Vance had proved a stimulating teacher at Geelong and maintained his literary and scholastic interests as editor of the Church of England Messenger in 1877-1900, and as matriculation classical examiner for the University of Melbourne. To promote local theological education he acted as registrar in Australia for the University of Trinity College, Toronto, and in 1891 helped to found the Australian College of Theology. Other interests included the presidency of the Christian Social Union and of the Guild of Church Musicians. In 1896 he was described as 'solidly built, broad as his views, with a thorough English face and good-humoured and pleasant manner'. He died of heart failure at the deanery, East Melbourne, on 25 August 1910, survived by his wife and eleven of his fifteen children. He was buried in the Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Church of England Grammar School, Geelong, History and Register, Jubilee 1907 (Geelong, 1907)
  • P. L. Brown, Geelong Grammar School (Geelong, 1970)
  • Church of England Messenger (Victoria), 2 Sept 1910
  • Geelong Grammar School, Corian, June 1971, Apr 1974
  • Australasian, 16 May 1896.

Citation details

James Grant, 'Vance, George Oakley (1828–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 May, 1828
London, Middlesex, England


25 August, 1910 (aged 82)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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