Henry E. Stainbank, son of Richard H. Stainbank and his wife Mary Essex, arrived in Natal in 1855. After a short period in Durban he settled at Coedmore (now in Bellair, a suburb of Durban). There he successfully cultivated coffee, becoming known as the "Coffee King" of Natal. In his early years he was active in the colonial volunteer forces, raising a squad of the Royal Durban Rangers at Pinetown. In 1858 he married Eliza Munro, with whom he had four daughters and three sons. About 1870 he became manager of the Natal Coffee Works in the Umgeni Valley, a post from which he retired in 1883 to settle in Durban. During these years he appears to have been active also in commerce, for in the Natal almanac for 1879 H.E. Stainbank & Co. are listed as storekeepers in Amanzimtoti. He wrote a booklet on Coffee in Natal: its culture and preparation (London, 1874, 78p). Later he wrote A summer's cruise on land in 1884-5 (Durban?, 1885?, 71p), a journal of a tour by ox-waggon undertaken with his family from Durban into the interior of Natal.
By early 1878 Stainbank was one of a number of persons interested in microscopy who met in Durban from time to time to discuss their hobby. In April of that year he arranged a meeting at which the Natal Microscopical Society was founded. Though he did not serve on the committee of the society for the first two years, partly because he planned to visit England in 1879, he succeeded Dr Julius Schulz* as president in 1880 and served in that position for at least two years. In June 1878 he addressed the society on "The microscope as a means of recreation" and in April 1879 delivered a paper entitled "Diatoms" [a class of unicellular algae]. He showed various specimens and described their propagation, motion, and silicious deposits. Around that time he donated 11 slides of diatoms to the society's slides cabinet.
Stainbank and his wife were both interested in collecting and cultivating indigenous plants and appear to have sent some parcels of plants to Kew Gardens, England. In March 1885 he took the botanist J.Medley Wood* to Byrne, north-east of Richmond, where the latter made a large collection. Stainbank was a keen supporter of the Durban Botanic Garden and by 1886 was a member of its management committee. He served also on the committee of the Durban Natural History Museum from its establishment in 1885 to at least 1897.
In 1886 Stainbank was elected to the Legislative Council of Natal as representative of the Durban constituency and in 1892 became Speaker of the House. He served on some parliamentary commissions, including the Forests and Rainfall Commission of 1888. After eleven years in Parliament he was defeated in the elections of 1897. One of his nephews later donated the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve of some 160 hectares near Durban to the Natal Province.