Henry Payne, engineer and educationist, was the eldest son of Reverend James E. Payne of the London Missionary Society and his wife Charlotte Stephens. He was educated at the City and Guilds' Technical College at Finsbury, London, and gained practical experience for some years with Merryweather and Co., Greenwich, and in other places. In 1898 he was appointed as an assistant at University College, London, where he lectured in engineering and applied mathematics to 1903. He became a member of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1900. In April that year he married Charlotte W. Thompson, but they had no children.
In July 1903 Payne was appointed to the newly created post of professor of engineering at the South African College, Cape Town. There he most energetically equipped the engineering department and started courses. His inaugural lecture, delivered on 25 May 1904, dealt with "Engineering education" and was published in the form of a pamphlet in Cape Town. In June that year he became the first president of the South African College Engineering Society (from 1906 the Engineering and Scientific Society). His post was changed to professor of civil engineering in 1906, and from that year he also taught forest surveying and testing of timber at the new South African School of Forestry, established under the auspices of the South African College. Through his efforts the College's Diploma in civil engineering was recognised in 1910 by the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers as an acceptable qualification for associate membership. This made the College only the third educational institution outside Britain to be so recognised. In 1905 he was an examiner in mechanical drawing and mechanical engineering for the mining examinations of the University of the Cape of Good Hope.
Payne was an active member of the Cape Society of Civil Engineers from 1904. He served as honorary secretary and treasurer from July 1904 to the end of 1905, and as honorary treasurer in 1906 and in 1909. He was elected president for 1910, but resigned because he was leaving the colony. Two papers by him were published in the society's Minutes of Proceedings: "Rolling loads of 65 ft 130 ton engines and tenders for spans up to 210 feet" (1906), and "Reinforced concrete beam tests" (1908). By 1913 he was a life member of the society's successor, the South African Society of Civil Engineers. He became a member of the South African Philosophical Society in 1903, and by 1906 was also a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. At the First South African Irrigation Congress, held at Robertson in the Cape Colony in May 1909, he read a paper on "Some aids to irrigation", which was published in the Proceedings of the congress.
Payne left the South African College in December 1909 to take up a post as professor of engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, where he published further papers. He became president of the Melbourne University Engineering Society in 1910, president of the Victorian Institute of Engineers in 1914, a member of the first council of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1919, and was chairman of the Air Accidents Investigations Committee from 1926 to 1931. He was elected an honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1930 and remained at the University of Melbourne until his retirement in 1932.