Life in Australia:
A comprehensive account of Thomas RIX's life in Australia can be found in the Wesleyan Methodist Church's 'The Spectator', Volume XVIII, Number 25, 19/6/1891, page 585 and Number 26, 26/6/1891, page 609, a reprint of which can be read here.
Many superb anecdotes of this First Family (FF) transcend time in a gloriously vivid and personal memoir handwritten in the late-1950s or very early-1960s by FF grandchild Harcourt REEVES (1875-1967) for FF great grandchild Rix WRIGHT. A small selection of these follows.
New Experiences for New Settlers and Old Settlers in 1850s Geelong
"My dainty little Grand mother told me - Oh Harcourt I used to be terrified when those ugly black women used sometimes come & press their big broad noses against the window & peer in at us. And if I had to go up the street & have to pass a little company of black men with their spears and their blankets that they had acquired from the whites tied round their necks & hung down their backs of course some had some portion of the white mans clothing but we never came to any harm they were not savage blacks - She told me of their first washing day in Australia. Grand mother had never been taught the art of the wash-tub neither my Aunt Fanny her daughter and having obtained washtubs and washboards etc set to work - their friend and neighbour Mrs Grundy went along in the afternoon - being a practical woman to see how they were manage & she found them sitting on the improvised bench with their face bathed in tears surveying in some distress their skinned knuckles the victims of the washboard. It must have been some bitter pill after a life for one who had really only or mostly lived a comparatively a life of luxury where the most arduous work was tending her babies and supervising at the meal table & the daughter a student only at a ladies' College."
"Harry Rix married Elizabeth Sutton of Ballarat a highly talented young lady her high standard of oil painting was well recognised by the high lights in art of Melbourne in her later days. Her beautifully rich Mezzo Soprano voice would enthral me in my very early boyhood and arouse within my being a something that perhaps was born to the members of the Reeves family some by gone centuries ago.... In our little home in 'Merrimu Park' I so well remember & not without pride & admiration the blending of the voices Mezzo.S. Lizzie Rix and Ellen Reeves - nee Rix - my dear mother a lyric soprano how they made the School House ring with their duets and the robust voices of 2 strong men One a six (6) foot black bearded man H.F. Rix the other a golden blonde James Reeves (my father) full bearded & as curly as a water dog not tall but strongly built but following the examples of their wives they left a happy impression on a little boy quite (80) eighty years ago that he has not yet forgotten."
The life of Thomas' and Mary Ann's second-eldest son, school-teacher Henry Finch RIX, is recorded comprehensively in the Victorian 'Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid', 20/3/1906, pages 138-141. In this official memoir, it is claimed that "The present great forward movement in State education, initiated by the Director (Mr. Tate), owes much to Mr. Rix's scholarship, skill and clear-sightedness."
In a similar vein, the 'Australasian Schoolmaster', in one of three tributes to Henry RIX in its 21/3/1906 edition, wrote "He was a man that Victoria could ill afford to lose, and we should cherish his memory." (page 175).
Geoffrey Blainey, in 'Wesley College. The First Hundred Years' (Robertson & Mullens Ltd., 1967), recorded that, after eight or nine years teaching at Wesley, RIX became "a government inspector of schools" and "proved himself one of the most creative and visionary educationalists in the country." (page 52).
R.J.W. Selleck, in his 'Frank Tate : a biography' (Melbourne University Press, 1982), described RIX, to whom he makes twenty-one references, as a "gentle, enthusiastic and anguished man" (page 168). Selleck also writes about RIX here.
The following, regarding Henry Finch RIX, is copied from an early version of 'Bright Sparcs', an online publication of the University of Melbourne:- "Rix was an inspector in the Victorian Education Department from 1885 until his death. He was a pioneer of teachers' congresses, an early advocate of school libraries and a supporter of the Arbor Day programme and played an important part in the establishment of the royal commission on technical education chaired by Theodore Fink. Born 12 January 1848. Died 27 February 1906. Educated University of Melbourne (BA 1881). Taught between 1867 and 1874 in a National school at Ironbark Hill, Sandhurst (Bendigo), a state school at Carlton, and Grenville College, Ballarat. Mathematics master, Wesley College, Melbourne 1874-84, inspector, Victorian Education Department 1885-1905, senior inspector 1905. Two annual prizes at the Melbourne Continuation School (later Melbourne High School) commemorate him."
Beyond his passion for education, Henry RIX also was a strong, proud and articulate advocate of a federated Australia. The 'Rix-Finch Collection', a companion of this page, contains a link to Henry's 'Australia Forever. A Federation Song'. It comes as no surprise that his was a musical contribution, and published by Suttons!
In the following, Harcourt REEVES' heart bursts with pride in the presence of his uncle, Henry RIX:-
"On one of my visits to 'Eurobin' his home (I hd come down from the North after overlanding some cattle) he was at that time in the throes of getting a book ready for the publisher & was hard pushed for time - asked me if I wrote plainly & if so could I help him - I'd try - I can never forget his words of praise & thanks. I was only in my middle teens but it was of such a character I shall never forget - Some years after I had married & we had a son We were living near Geelong and one day a big broad shouldered man came swinging along with a powerful stride - it was Henry Finch Rix B.A. Senior S. School Inspector who had made such advances to the benefit of the Educational Cause that he had been named for the Directorship & had stood back in favor of another man. he had come to see us - My father was with us at the time & they had always been chums - what a reunion. we even coaxed Harry & James to sing one old duet - the night was full of music my wife a competent accompanist & a good mezzo - I did something in the vocal way myself our baby son lying quietly & listening in his bassinet as he always did - It was truly 'The End of a perfect day', and I lent my voice in harmony to the last few bars as my wife completed her song. He was thrilled. We went North soon after that - It was the last time we saw Henry Finch Rix."
Henry Finch RIX's younger daughter, Emily Hilda (1884-1961), was a renowned artist who worked and exhibited in Australia and in Europe as 'Hilda Rix Nicholas'. She married Major George Matson NICHOLAS in 1916. Tragically, Major Nicholas was killed in action six weeks after their wedding.
In 1928, Emily Hilda married Edgar WRIGHT and "settled into a life of creative domesticity on his property, Knockalong, at Tombong in the Monaro district." ('Sydney Morning Herald', 23/7/1991). The life-work of Hilda Rix Nicholas also may be read in 'The Bulletin', 2/10/1990, page 102. Of sad interest in this latter account is the recording of her sister's, mother's and husband's deaths within two and a half years of the outbreak of the first world war.
Harcourt REEVES' mother was FF fourth-eldest daughter Ellen REEVES (nee RIX). She married James REEVES in 1875. Ellen died on 28th March, 1911 at Armadale, aged fifty-nine.
FF second-eldest daughter Mary Ann RIX, married George MINNS in 1867. She died on 30th August, 1918 at Prahran, aged seventy-seven.
'A Century of Victorian Methodism' (ed. Rev. C. Irving Benson, Spectator Publishing Co., 1935) records that George MINNS was born in Tasmania (confirmed on George and Mary Ann's marriage registration extract) in 1841, was ordained into the Wesleyan Methodist ministry in 1867 and died in 1884. On pages 199/200, Rev. A. Wesley Amos has this to say about George, who, for a number of years, was a missionary in Tonga:- "The first Australian-born minister to be sent from Victoria was the Rev. George Minns. He rapidly acquired the language, read the prayers on the fifth Sabbath after arrival, and preached his first sermon on the twelfth. He approached his work in an excellent spirit, remarking in an early letter:- 'My experience has convinced me that the happy and useful missionary is he who lives near to God, and attends only to the duties of his appointment.' He had a particularly difficult appointment at Mua, where French Papists had caused conflict. During his ministry a gracious visitation of the Spirit of God was experienced, and many people came under His influence. Minns was forced by domestic affliction to return at the end of his seventh year, and to spend three years in Victoria. As soon, however, as his health was restored, nothing could dissuade him from returning to the loved land of Tonga, where he served for a further term of three years, at the end of which time, broken in health, he came home, so weak as to be unable to take a Circuit appointment."
Unfortunately, no dates are given for these periods of time. However, some intelligent guesses can be made. George and Mary Ann's eldest two children, John and George, are not registered on the Victorian Birth Register. Extracts from their death registrations reveal that they were born circa 1871 and 1873 respectively ... in Tonga, possibly? The births of the next two children, Fanny and Ida, are registered in Victoria - in 1876 in Belfast (now known as Port Fairy) and 1878 in Sebastopol. These details suggest that George and Mary Ann were living in Victoria for three years between circa 1875 and 1878, it appearing that George was stationed by the Wesleyan Methodist Conference at Port Fairy and Sebastopol during that time. It seems from all this that George and Mary Ann first went to Tonga very soon after George's ordination, spending seven years there before returning with two young sons. Following 1878, they returned to Tonga with their enlarged brood of four children, ultimately coming back to Victoria in 1881/2. George, in ill-health, lived only a short time after this and died, according to the Victorian Death register, in Echuca in 1884.
George and Mary Ann MINNS' son, George Bickford MINNS later was married in Tonga, to Marion Eddy RETALLACK in 1902. Of George Bickford MINNS, Harcourt REEVES writes:- "In passing it may be interesting to note that the late Bickford Minns was first cousin (as is the writer) to the late Hilda Rix Wright and gave her away at her wedding in Wesley Church Melbourne." Harcourt also makes reference to G.B. MINNS being "late City Architect of Melbourne".
The following, from the centenary history of Melbourne's Wesley Central Mission (page 29), likely refers to George Bickford MINNS' sister Ida Bertha MINNS but this is yet to be verified:- "...clerical work became feminised and Bertha Minns, 'capable, thorough, entirely trustworthy and devoted to her work', became Derrick's secretary until her marriage in 1914." (Howe, R. & Swain, S., The Challenge of the City, Hyland House Publishing P/L, 1993). If indeed this is Ida Bertha MINNS, the RIX family connection with Wesley Central Mission was to continue in 1928 when her cousin Henry Rix COGHILL succeeded her 'boss' A.J. Derrick as Mission Secretary, remaining in the position for twenty-five years. (Note:- The Victorian Birth Register records "Bertha Ida MINNS" marrying Joseph Charles CARTER in 1915.)
Three of Thomas and Mary Ann RIX's children were born in Australia. They were Alfred Steward, Bertha and Adeline, who died at Ballarat in 1868, aged six.
RIX FAMILY MONUMENTAL INSCRIPTION (Graves 0518 and 0520, Methodist B Compartment, South-west quarter, St Kilda Cemetery, Melbourne, Victoria):- "Sacred to the memory of Thomas Rix who departed this life 20th April 1890 aged 76 years. ‘To be with Christ, which is far better.’ Also of his wife Mary Ann who died 20th May 1896 aged 79 years. Asleep in Jesus. Also Henry Finch Rix B.A. son of the above and beloved husband of Elizabeth Rix who died 27th February 1906 aged 58 years. Perfect and upright one that feared God and eschewed evil. Job 1:1. Also Thomas Rix son of the above Thomas and Mary Ann Rix who died 3rd July 1919 aged 76 years. At rest. Also Alfred Steward Rix son of the above Thomas and Mary Ann Rix who died 16th February 1924 aged 69 years. At rest. Also Bertha Rix daughter of Thomas and Mary Ann Rix died 3rd July 1953 aged 96 years."
Following is an excerpt from a letter written (7/7/1995) by Martyn SMITH to Arthur COGHILL, both of whom are great great grandchildren of FF Thomas and Mary Ann RIX.
It relates a modern sequel to a common detail of Thomas RIX’s 1853 departure from England and his 1890 death in Australia:-
"I spent some time in the archives of the Uniting Church in Australia yesterday following up some family history regarding Henry RIX. I had been looking forward to this because I was sure that I had read somewhere that he had played a significant role in designing the main sports oval at Wesley College and its surrounding flora. I felt sure that I had read this whilst doing some research two or three years ago in the U.C.A. archives in Melbourne. I can tell you now that I still have not found that reference but what did happen yesterday astounded me!
"When I was inquiring about this matter with the archivist I forgot which Rix it was that I was wanting to know about! Was it Henry or was it Thomas? I just plain forgot! ‘Not to worry,’ the archivist said, ‘there are some incomplete indexes that I can look up. There might be something listed about either or both of them.’ He did this, of course, and, whilst there was no reference to Henry, there was to Thomas!
"In the Methodist Church’s ‘The Spectator’ of 19th June and 26th June, 1891, there appears a detailed and glowing memorial tribute to Thomas Rix, who died on 20th April, 1890, written by one ‘H.F.R.’, no doubt Henry Finch Rix, his son. It is a long tribute. I started to read it and came to the point where Thomas, his wife and five surviving children depart England for the Colony of Victoria in 1853.
"‘H.F.R.’ describes how three touching presentations given to Thomas Rix upon his leaving England impressed his new acquaintances when he arrived in Geelong. One of the presentations was a Bible, containing a supplement of Wesleyan hymns and a gold embossed plate expressing the presenters’ appreciation. The words of the plate are quoted verbatim in the tribute. This was the Bible about which I wrote to you in late April!! You have a photo-copy of the plate. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Here, in ‘The Spectator’ of 1891, was a detailed, precise reference to the very Bible I had sitting on my bookshelves at home!
"I left everything on the desk in the archives, rushed home (20 minute round trip on foot), took down the Bible and returned to the archives. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life! To think that I had come across this reference by accident of my forgetfulness, and to think that I was holding in my hand the very item so meaningfully and fully noted in this tribute to its original owner, written 104 years ago -- literally breathtaking! Additionally, later in the tribute, ‘H.F.R.’ lists the numbers of Thomas’ favourite hymns which, as he was declining in health just before he died, he read repeatedly in the hymn supplement of his treasured Bible. To hold the Bible open at the pages of these hymns and to read them, as Thomas did, was another touching moment!
"Arthur, I am sorry to have ‘gone on’ but I know you will appreciate this marvellous coincidence."
1. The Bible central to this anecdote was given to me by my mother, Beth SMITH (nee COGHILL), in 1956 when it became apparent that one was needed for ‘Divinity’ lessons when I commenced at Wesley College Melbourne as an eleven year-old pupil at the beginning of that year. Unaware of its full significance then, I was no better informed in July, 1995, when I visited the U.C.A. archives. Fortunately, I had not discarded the Bible during the intervening years!
2. Henry RIX did design the main sports oval at Wesley College. The ‘Education Gazette and Teachers’ Aid’ detailed in ‘Life in Australia’ above quotes, on page 140, RIX’s colleague at Wesley, Mr Frank Goldstraw (later Headmaster of Wesley and then of Toorak Grammar School), thus: ".....the front grounds were mere bush; so Mr Rix spent one midsummer vacation in surveying the space, and drawing out plans for the conversion of the paddock into a convenient and handsome cricket ground. This scheme, though shelved for the time, was realised in later years."
Revered by Wesley Collegians for at least the last one hundred years as the ‘Front Turf’, this ground forms the College’s distinctive St Kilda Road frontage. A teacher of Mathematics at Wesley, Henry RIX, known to the students as 'Pax', also was in charge of sports, editor of the school magazine and a strong proponent of the foundation of the school's first society for its past students.
3. RIX's Wesley College connection re-emerged in 1892 when he drafted a Bill for the registration of teachers. Writing in 'Adamson of Wesley' (ed. Felix Meyer, Robertson & Mullens Ltd., 1932), Frank Tate, Director of Education, Victoria, 1902-1928, records that the ".....Bill was drafted by the late H.F. Rix, an enthusiastic inspector of schools, in association with Adamson....." (page 159). L.A. Adamson was a teacher at Wesley in 1892 and later became the College's longest serving (1902-1932) and most famous Headmaster.
RIX's draft was the forerunner of legislation, ultimately enacted in 1905, that enabled Tate to claim in 'Adamson of Wesley' that "Victoria is in the fine position - almost unique in the Empire - of having a system of Registration of Teachers and Schools." (page 158).
4. After receiving (from Rix WRIGHT, Hilda Rix NICHOLAS' son) a copy of Harcourt REEVES' excellent memoir quoted elsewhere on this page, Martyn SMITH replied (22/6/1999):-
"My own grandfather's love of Wesley College, even though he never attended it, has a clearer meaning for me now that I can put dispersed pieces of the Rix family story together.
"I strongly suspect that Thomas Rix snr, who took 'a prominent part in our'" (Wesleyan Methodist) "'Education Committee' (Dr Waugh in 'Spectator' memoir to TR) in the late 1850s and early 1860s, was active in the preparations for the 1865 founding of Wesley.
"This would have led to Henry F. Rix's celebrated career at the school (1873-1882) and, I suspect, Harcourt's boarding there in the 1890s.
"I also have a strong suspicion that G. B. Minns attended the school as did his son G.A. Minns.
"Well I remember my grandfather (who was instrumental in me attending Wesley in 1956) telling me about Henry Rix, after whom he had been named - Henry Rix Coghill - in 1880. He told me also how he would go across to Wesley as a boy (he lived in Alfred Street, like his grandparents, Thomas and Mary Ann) to watch the boys playing cricket, wishing he could join them. I have a slight memory of him telling me he occasionally scored for their matches. I suspect, over one hundred years later, that cousin Harcourt was his great ally in all this in the early '90s."
Life Before Australia:
A comprehensive account of Thomas RIX's life before Australia can be found in the Wesleyan Methodist Church's 'The Spectator', Volume XVIII, Number 25, 19/6/1891, page 585 and Number 26, 26/6/1891, page 609, a reprint of which can be read here.
Martyn SMITH's 1995 letter detailed above contains the following synopsis of the pre-Australia information contained in ‘The Spectator’ account:-
"Thomas Rix was born at Great Yarmouth on 18th August, 1813 and at the age of 14 became an apprentice draper in Diss, Norfolk. His Christian denomination was Independent but he followed his drapery master into the Wesleyan Methodist Church, becoming ‘earnestly religious’ (so ‘HFR’ writes) in 1834. In 1838, Thomas established himself as a draper and silk merchant in Woolwich and, in 1839, married Miss Finch. Hearing about the discovery of gold in the colony of Victoria, he and his family left for Victoria in January, 1853 for an intended stay of five years. Along with the Bible mentioned above, Thomas’ various admirers presented him with a valuable cigar box and a book on Astronomy just before his departure."
Harcourt REEVES (see 'Life in Australia' above) writes about Mary Ann RIX (nee FINCH):-
"She told me the fol - when I was at Wesley I boarded there & that is how I got to know more of her young days than I otherwise would have done" (Note:- At the time, grandparents Thomas and Mary Ann lived just five minutes walk from Wesley College, at 2 Alfred Street, Prahran. No doubt boarder Harcourt found a ready respite there on many an occasion - although his reference to boarding is ambiguous. He may mean that he boarded with his grandparents. Supporting this notion, Wesley's enrolment records indicate that he commenced at the school on 11th February, 1890 as a "Day Scholar". Teenager Harcourt probably provided a much-needed and comforting listening ear for Mary Ann for quite a long time following Thomas' death in April, 1890.)
"She must have been very attractive in her maiden-hood I conclude. Her father was a young English officer at Waterloo 1815 but was killed & her mother died shortly after Her uncle who had also been in the Battle of Waterloo lost a leg & was returned & made Keeper of the Keys of the Queens Arsenal at Woolwich - I cannot say exactly what that title or name conveys but they seem to have been in a fairly good position socially & Mary Ann was taken & brought up by them She told me that when she was walking out with her nurse she often met - incidentally - the little girl with her nurse who was to become Queen Victoria. They would curtsey and walk on - It seems the little princess used to visit her Uncle there occasionally as a girl and the estate was close or next I believe to the Finch property perhaps that should have been put the other way The property belonging to the Duke of Kent. The remarkable thing about the whole thing that (my Grand Mother) then a little girl Mary Ann Finch & Queen Victoria were exactly the same age & there must have been some little acquaintance as Grand mother had a written invitation to Queen Victoria's corination."
Harcourt REEVES' recollections regarding Mary Ann's father, mother and uncle contrast with information noted on a RIX family tree (source unknown) and details retrieved from the International Genealogical Index. The family tree records Mary Ann being born on 29th September, 1816 at Woolwich, Kent. The IGI records her baptism occurring on 27th October, 1816 at "William Street-Wesleyan Methodist, Woolwich, Kent, England", her father being "Richard Finch" and her mother "Elisabeth". The family tree records Mary Ann's father to be "Richard Finch", a "Messenger to Board of Ordnance London" who died on "27th November, 1857" at Woolwich, aged eighty-two. Mary Ann's mother is shown on the family tree as "Elizabeth Smallcomb", who died in "1842".
The family tree and the IGI combine to provide quite a bit of information about Thomas and Mary Ann RIX's ancestors and a summary follows here:-
Thomas' parents were Thomas RIX and Frances ROGERS who married on 5th October, 1809 at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Thomas snr was a woollen cloth merchant in Great Yarmouth. He died on 30th January, 1837, aged seventy. He is buried at Yarmouth. His wife Frances died on 12th October, 1832 aged sixty-one (or -seven) and also is buried at Yarmouth. Mary Ann's parents, detailed above, married on 19th April, 1804 at "Saint Mary-St. Marylebone Road, St. Marylebone, London, England" according to the IGI, which records "Elizabeth SMALLACOMB" as the spelling of Mary Ann's mother's name. Elizabeth's parents (Mary Ann's maternal grandparents) were Richard Smallcomb, a malster, and Elizabeth Wicks. According to the IGI, which records "SMALCOMBE" as Richard's surname, they married on 8th July, 1774 at "Tormarton With West Littleton And Acton Turville, Gloucester, England" (IGI). Elizabeth died on 8th January 1840, at Woolwich, aged ninety.
Two of Thomas and Mary Ann's children died in England before the family's migration to Australia. They were Alice (1845-7) and Frederick Steward (1849-52.)
(NOTE: 'Related Links', in 'Family Contact' immediately below contains THE RIX-FINCH COLLECTION of four images and nineteen online links related to the lives of Thomas and Mary Ann RIX.)