Henry Kirk

Photo courtesy of Adventist Heritage Center, Australia.

Kirk, Henry (1875–1968)

By Gilbert M. Valentine


Gilbert M. Valentine, Ph.D. has served internationally in teaching and senior administrative roles in Adventist higher education in Europe, Asia, the South Pacific and North America. He has written extensively in Adventist studies and has authored several books, including biographies of W. W. Prescott (2005) and J. N. Andrews (2019). The Prophet and the Presidents (2011) explored the political influence of Ellen White. He has also written for the Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (2013).

First Published: January 29, 2020

New Zealand born Henry Kirk served as a teacher in mathematics at the Australasian Missionary College in New South Wales, Australia. For a brief time in the early 1920s he held the position of principal at the college and later became principal of New Zealand Missionary College at Longburn.

Background and Early Life (1875-1912)

Henry Kirk, known as Harry to his friends, was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on November 18, 1875, one of six siblings. His father, William James Kirk (1849-1932), had been born in Liverpool, England. His mother, Catherine Leslie (1844-1899), was of Scottish ancestry. William and Catherine Kirk lived for a time in Australia where they married in 1871, but then returned to New Zealand to settle in Petone, near Wellington, where William Kirk worked in the printing industry as an electrotyper.1 Henry Kirk attended local public schools and on the completion of his education became a state school teacher. Later, he apparently entered the New Zealand government civil service. One of his brothers became a Wesleyan minister.2

On July 10, 1901, at the age of 26, two years after the death of his mother, Kirk married Catherine Sarah June Lusty (1880-1966) of Kaiapoi, Canterbury, the daughter of British immigrants. Harry and Catherine Kirk had three children, Dorothy Jean (b. 1907), Frank Leslie, (1908), and Mabel (1913).3 In 1911, the couple came into contact with Seventh-day Adventists. They were baptized in 1911 and shortly afterwards Kirk took up literature evangelism work, selling The Great Controversy in the Wellington district.4

Teaching and Administration (1913-1923)

In September 1912, Kirk was invited to teach mathematics at the fledgling Adventist college in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, and moved there with his family in mid-December that year.5 He began his teaching under the principalship of George Teasdale who was also appointed in 1913. With the outbreak of World War I, the college faced new challenges and Kirk found himself, along with ten or so fellow faculty members and another ten staff and work superintendents, serving at an institution about to enter a decade of financial and staffing instability. Teasdale was dismissed as principal in late 1914 because he was perceived to be reducing the industrial training component of the curriculum and having too “commercial” a focus to his administration. Joseph Mills replaced him, but also served only for one year. Then in 1916, the role of principal was abolished and Mills was removed from office. The position of principal was replaced by a business manager to whom a headmaster reported regarding academic matters. J. M. Johanson became the first business manager, with F. L. Chaney the first headmaster. When Chaney left in mid-1916, Charles H. Schowe became headmaster. Kirk’s mathematics classes, along with English classes, became a focus of debate as to whether they should be shaped to prepare students for public examinations. A three-year period of reemphasis on the industrial work program ensued, accompanied by experimentation with unorthodox teaching timetables and calendar schedules, in an effort to achieve financial stability.6 This put pressure on the academic subjects and heightened tensions with administration as Schowe attempted to raise academic standards and seek state accreditation for students completing high school studies. The college continued to fall into debt and enrollment dropped by 20%.7

In mid-1917, with the departure of Johanson to mission service, South Australian Conference President Ludwig D. A. Lemke was called to lead the institution now as both business manager and principal. Tensions continued among faculty, trustees and administrators with conflict over academic standards, such as whether the study of Shakespeare should be taught to help prepare students to sit state certificate exams. At the end of 1918, Schowe resigned as headmaster as a result of the conflict and Henry Kirk was appointed to the role.8 Kirk, who had already been assured that he could return to New Zealand to teach at Longburn, was reluctant to accept the appointment at Avondale and at first declined. But, in the absence of other alternatives, he was pressed to take the role.9

At the end of 1919, Ludwig Lemke was transferred to other administrative work and forty-five-year-old Kirk, who had impressed church leadership with his quiet achievements, was again pressed into service, this time in the expanded role of principal. It was a difficult time to take on school leadership because, after a year of sharp inflation, in 1919 the country quickly descended into a severe recession which lasted until 1923.10

Aware that he did not carry the academic qualifications ideally needed to lead the college and that school finances were not healthy, Kirk was reluctant to accept the role and agreed only after being granted a short visit back to New Zealand. He served as principal for two years and struggled all the while with budgets because, during the recession, the college continued “running behind financially.” In order to contain the losses being incurred by “heavy increase in the cost of supplies” during 1919 and 1920, tuition fees were increased for 1921. Kirk apologized for this, but argued that it was necessary.11 More drastically, at the Australasian Union Committee’s urging, he limited the enrollment of “industrial” students wanting to completely earn their way through college without any cash payments. Only those over the age of twenty would be admitted to this program. Kirk also limited the number of “part industrial” students. Furthermore, the twelve hours of manual labor required of all full fee-paying students in the industrial departments would no longer be remunerated. Even “part industrial” students would have to work a further six hours in another department without pay. Kirk urged students and their families to look at the new arrangements “not as work given free of charge” but as “experience gained,” and in harmony with Ellen White’s counsel.12 The new strategies did not work. Enrollment plunged by 43% and the deficit continued to grow. Some observers also felt that Kirk had not been a strong enough disciplinarian and that “rowdiness” in the boys’ dormitory was getting out of hand.13

The Australasian union president and chair of the college board, C. H. Watson, aware of the need to find a more experienced leader who could pull the college through its difficulties, canvassed General Conference colleagues for suggestions during his attendance at Spring Council meetings in Washington DC in April 1921. He returned to Australia with the announcement that the widely experienced, but retirement-aged educator, W. W. Prescott, would take over as principal at the end of the 1921 academic year.14 Following graduation at Cooranbong, Kirk moved back to New Zealand where he became the principal of the College at Longburn.15

Unfortunately for Kirk, the economic recession continued to bite, and during 1922 and 1923 the New Zealand Missionary College also continued to sustain financial losses.16 C. H. Watson’s earlier search overseas for experienced American educators had also located twenty-seven-year-old Erwin E. Cossentine of Minnesota who was willing to undertake mission service. At the end of 1923, Cossentine replaced Kirk as principal at Longburn.17 Fortunately for Cossentine, the economic recession ended in 1923.

Public School Teaching and Retirement (1924-1968)

According to his daughter, Dorothy Robson, Kirk felt rather sore over his experience in Adventist education.18 The following year found him teaching at a government rural elementary school in the hamlet of Hukanui near Ekatahuna, an hour from Longburn, on the eastern flanks of the Tararua range. He later took a teaching appointment at Parkvale School, another rural government school at Carterton near Masterton in the southern Wairarapa district of New Zealand.19

After two decades of public-school teaching, Kirk retired in Masterton where he and his wife actively supported their local Adventist church. Katherine Kirk became energetically involved in welfare projects. In 1966, the couple moved to Wanganui to be near their daughter Dorothy. Katherine Kirk died in July 1966.20 Although in his early 90s, Kirk continued attending Wanganui Adventist church each Sabbath, walking one-and-a-half miles each way from his home, and he continued to be involved in his discipline, writing book reviews and working mathematics problems. He died on September 1, 1968. After services in the Wanganui Seventh-day Adventist church he was buried in the Aramoho cemetery.21


Kirk’s service to Avondale as a mathematics teacher and principal helped it transition through financially difficult times and through a period when skilled and qualified personnel were in short supply


“Actions Taken by the Union Conference Council…” Australasian Record, September 16, 1912.

“Brother H. Kirk…” Australasian Record, January 6, 1913.

“Closing Days of the College Year.” Australasian Record, December 26, 1921.

Hodgkinson, R. L. “Katherine Kirk obituary.” Australasian Record, September 12, 1966.

Hook, Milton. Experiment on the Dora. Cooranbong New South Wales: Avondale Academic Press, 1998.

Kirk, Henry. “College Students for 1921.” Australasian Record, December 27, 1920.

New Zealand Electoral Rolls: 1853-1981. Digital image. Ancestry.com, accessed October 7, 2019, https://www.ancestry.com.

Personnel Files. South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Wahroonga, New South Wales.

“Report of the Secondary Schools of the Australasian Union Conference,” Australasian Record, October 4, 1926.

“The Recent Meetings of the Union Conference Committee.” Australasian Record, November 15, 1915.

Robson, Dorothy to Gilbert M. Valentine. April 20, 1981. Private letter. Personal collection of Gilbert M. Valentine.

Slade, F. M. “Henry Kirk obituary.” Australasian Record, October 7, 1968.

Valentine, Gilbert M. interview with Mrs. E. A. Reye, November 20, 1980. Copy in author’s possession.

Valentine, Gilbert M. W. W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2005.


  1. 1905 New Zealand Electoral Roll, Hutt, Wellington, digital image, “William James Kirk,” Ancestry.com, accessed October 7, 2019, https://www.ancestry.com.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Henry Kirk, Personnel Files, South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Wahroonga, New South Wales.

  4. Ibid.

  5. “Actions Taken by the Union Conference Council…,” Australasian Record, September 16, 1912, 2-3; “Brother H. Kirk…,” Australasian Record, January 6, 1913, 8.

  6. For an account of these difficulties see Milton Hook, Experiment on the Dora (Cooranbong, New South Wales: Avondale College Press, 1998), 99-111.

  7. Ibid 107-108.

  8. Ibid, 110.

  9. “School Faculties,” Australasian Record, October 11, 1918, 36; Australian Union Conference Minutes, June 15, 1919.

  10. “The Great Depression,” National Museum of Australia, accessed October 7, 2019, https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/great-depression.

  11. H. Kirk, “College Students for 1921,” Australasian Record,” December 27, 1920, 5.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Gilbert M Valentine interview with Mrs E. A. Reye, November 20, 1980. Copy in author’s possession.

  14. Gilbert Valentine, W. W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005) 286.

  15. Rhae Allbon, “Closing Days of the College Year,” Australasian Record, December 26, 1921, 4-5.

  16. “Report of the Secondary Schools of the Australian Union Conference,” Australasian Record, October 4, 1926, 21.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Dorothy Robson to Gilbert M. Valentine, April 20, 1981, private letter, personal collection of Gilbert M. Valentine.

  19. 1928-1963 New Zealand Electoral Rolls, Masterson, Wellington, digital images, “Henry Kirk,” Ancestry.com, accessed October 7, 2019, https://www.ancestry.com.

  20. R. L. Hodgkinson, “Katherine Kirk obituary,” Australasian Record, September 12, 1966, 15.

  21. F. M. Slade, “Henry Kirk obituary,” Australasian Record, October 7, 1968, 15.


Valentine, Gilbert M. "Kirk, Henry (1875–1968)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F7YQ.

Valentine, Gilbert M. "Kirk, Henry (1875–1968)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F7YQ.

Valentine, Gilbert M. (2020, January 29). Kirk, Henry (1875–1968). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F7YQ.