BENJAMIN KANE, INSPECTOR of NATIONAL SCHOOLS, MELBOURNE (1834-72)
This stampless entire was addressed to Benjamin Kane Esquire, Acting Inspector of National School Board, Melbourne on 28 April 1853. It was sent from Lake Colac, as shown by the framed red ‘PAID/ LAKE COLAC’, and was rated by a manuscript red ‘2' (2d being the inland letter rate)as well as the manuscript ‘Free’. The reverse (not shown) had back-stamps of Colac and Melbourne (Figure 1).
Benjamin Francis Kane was born in Kent, England, son of Benjamin Kane of the Royal Ordnance Department, Plymouth, and his wife Caroline, née Plow. He migrated to Van Diemen's Land in 1849 to complete his education and to become an assistant master at Launceston Church Grammar School under his brother, Reverend Henry Plow Kane. He also edited a newspaper in Launceston before moving to Victoria, where on 10 February 1852 he was appointed to the Colonial Secretary’s Office. On 15 March he was chosen from sixteen applicants as secretary and clerk in the new Board of national Education, with a salary of £200, which was raised within 3 months to £300.
Although by 1861 the National Board was educating only 14,000 children in its 187 schools compared with the rival Denominational Board’s 77,500 children in 484 schools, Kane had responsible duties for his age and limited experience. By 1853 he had become acting inspector for the National schools and was responsible for setting up the emergency tent schools in gold-mining districts. The next year he became chief inspector and in 1855 a member of the Board for Teacher Training. As the gold fever waned, friction between the two systems became more evident.
The Denominational Board complained in 1861 that while the National Board was teaching only 20 per cent of the colony’s children, it was receiving 30 per cent of government funds. Kane, whose salary was £200 less than his counterpart in the Denominational Board, made out a case for equal pay to officers of the two boards, but without success. In 1862, the rival boards were abolished under Heales’ Education Act. R.H. Budd, head of the Denominational Board was was appointed inspector-general of the Common Schools Board at a salary of £1000 and Kane became secretary at £700. In 1872 he conducted a survey which revealed that religious instruction, the issue in dispute throughout the period, was being given in only 14 per cent of the schools under the Common Schools Board.
A bachelor, Kane boarded at Joliment. He, with six friends including Marcus Clarke and Frederick Haddon, founded the Yorick Club* in May 1868. Kane was described as a highly popular and enthusiastic ‘Yoricker’ - he was the club’s first honorary treasurer and succeeded Clarke as secretary in October. In 1869 he was best man at Clarke’s wedding and he died in Jolimont at the young age of 38 on 8 December 1872 of acute hepatitis, and was buried in the Anglican section of the Melbourne cemetery. Three weeks later, the Common Schools Board was displaced by the Department of Education, under ministerial control.
* A Bohemian association given to plenty of drinking and pranks around Melbourne Town Hall as well as the pursuit of literary interests.
This paper is based in its entirety on the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.