Born in Pettigo, Co. Donegan in 1823, the son of a Wesleyan Methodist schoolmaster who was also a local preacher and class leader. After a period in commercial employment, he became a teacher at Hardwick St. Wesleyan day school (later the Wesleyan Teacher Training College), Dublin, where his headmaster the Rev W.O Groggan, a former missionary, encouraged him in his studies and he obtained both an MA and a Doctorate of Laws at Trinity College and revealed a family capacity for mathematics. In 1857 he attended Westminster Training College, London, to familiarise himslf with current educational methods.
Returning to Dublin, in 1865 he was appointed an inspector of National Schools in Ireland and then to the headmastership of Wesley College, Melbourne, one of the largest boarding school in the colony. He soon became known as one of Victoria's leading educationalists and was actively involved in community life, especially in the cause of public education. He became a member of the University Senate and of the Royal Society and in 1870 chairman of the Board of Education which controlled all government primary schools in the colony. His last public appearance was at Melbourne Town Hall on 19 December 1870 at the United Speech Day of the Church of England Grammar School, Wesley College and the Scotch College. He died from rheumatic fever a few days later.