A Consummate Churchman and 'Very Civil Servant'


By David Farrer

July 9 2020St Paul speaks of “abounding in the work of the Lord”, a good description of Henry Speagle, who died on 1 June 2020, aged 92, as seen in so many ways, from his commitment as a Churchwarden at Mt Dandenong, to his major work for Tintern Grammar School. He was also:

  • a Synod representative of St Michael and All Angels Parish;
  • a Member of General Synod;
  • on the Archbishopric Election Board in 1981;
  • a member of the Council of the Diocese of Melbourne;
  • on the Council of Ridley College;
  • a Lay Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral from 1979-98; and
  • the Founding Chairman of the Prayer Book Society in Victoria.

Henry was a highly organised person, and attention to detail was crucial to him. That was essential for his major life work as an editor and was also a gift to the Church.

He was a self-deprecating but a very erudite man. His early mentor was Frank Archer, headmaster of Caulfield Grammar School, who greatly influenced Henry’s basic attitude to life, taught him to love the classics, fine prose and poetry, made him aware of public service in its many forms and also encouraged Henry’s emerging Christian sensibility.

Henry’s academic background was in classics (Philology). His primary degree and MA were from Melbourne University. After graduation, Henry tried his hand at teaching, but the classroom was not his vocation. Another of Henry’s mentors was Sir James Darling, who encouraged him to work in the Commonwealth Public Service.

You have only to read his book, Editor’s Odyssey: A Reminiscence of Civil Service: 1945 to 1985 to see how suited he was to the life of civil service.

Henry Speagle never did reveal much about his early life: the journey from a Jewish family in Munich to a place in Melbourne establishment is a remarkable one. It’s a great story of social mobility and of the crucial part played by education. The journey from Munich to Australia via Milan and Zurich was far from easy. There were family battles, stones thrown, conversion to Christianity (for Henry, a duck to water, for other family members more of a struggle). They were all baptised at Christ Church South Yarra in 1939.

His father was influential in Henry’s appreciation of literature: he was an urbane man who read widely and ran Speagle’s Bookshop in Collins Street.

Henry was always open to learn more about his faith. He responded to people across differences in theological perspective and enabled them to speak and listen with respect. His generosity of spirit helped those who knew him to live by St Paul’s counsel that we be “forbearing in love”, and “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

A great passion of his was the Prayer Book Society. He agreed with the author P.D. James, a former Vice-President of the UK Society, when she wrote:

“The Book of Common Prayer is a deep liturgical well from which generations have drawn life-giving and sustaining spiritual sustenance. It richly meets the needs of those who thirst for more than the earthly, visible, and tangible. The BCP helpfully illuminates the Scriptures and paves the way for personal reflection, repentance, and restoration.”

Henry loved life and the good things of life. His life reflected the words of a favourite writer, Evelyn Underhill:

“A spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of His (God’s) reality.” (from The Spiritual Life)

As we remember, our dear friend in Christ, we pray for Jean, his wife of 61 years, for his son Donald and his grandsons Wilf and Harry. We leave Henry with the final words from his epilogue in his devotional book Pools of Peace.

Blessed Lord.

Of thy mercy

Guide us to pause

And seek Thy will

On the wings of joy

In the land of everlasting peace.

* ‘A Very Civil Servant’ A review of Henry’s Editor’s Odyssey: A Reminiscence of Civil Service: 1945 to 1985 by Bishop Tom Frame.


A Light in the Hills: A History of St Michael and All Angels, Mt Dandenong (1990)

Village Pioneer (Iris Woolrich of Olinda) (1997)

A Garland of Memories (The windows of St Matthew’s Olinda and St Michael’s Mt Dandenong) (2003)

Editor’s Odyssey: A Reminiscence of Civil Service: 1945 to 1985 (2005)

Pools of Peace (2015)

This is an edited version of the homily preached at Mr Speagle's funeral service at All Saints' East St Kilda on 9 June by Bishop David Farrer, Bishop of Wangaratta from 1998-2008.