Sunday 28 March 2021

The Hawkes Bay Lads


This note appears in the ‘Remarks’ column for August 1914, in the ‘List of Ships Bringing Boys’ in the Dreadnought Boys Register. It seems to be the only Trust reference to them, and relates to a little-known aspect of the Dreadnought Scheme.

In the years prior to World War 1, the Australian state governments were strongly encouraging immigration. 1911 and 1912 were boom years, but during 1913 recruitment of migrants became more difficult and emphasis was put on bringing young people to Australia. New South Wales and Victoria had entered into a joint arrangement with the Commonwealth Government, in which the Commonwealth did the specific advertising for these States in UK. A lot of groundwork was done to ensure the flow of migrants, especially for agricultural work.

On 11 June 1914, SS Hawkes Bay left England bound for Melbourne, filled with 883 migrants recruited for Victoria. These included 430 lads listed as farm students, who were headed for farm placement on arrival. Of them, 53 had been successfully allocated to dairy farmers in the south and east of Victoria, but for the other 377 there was a problem.

From about April 1914, poor rainfall had given way to drought. This particularly affected the wheat growing areas of South Australia, the Wimmera and Mallee districts of Victoria and the Riverina in the New South Wales. This drought was to last until broken by good rains near the end of 1914. With no prospect of crops, with water shortages and limited income, the farmers in the wheat districts of Victoria were not able to take on additional workers. The 377 lads who were intended for these farmers, had nowhere to go.

The Victorian Government approached New South Wales about the lads and, on 13 July 1914, Premier Holman announced that New South Wales had agreed to accept the 377 boys who were coming on the Hawkes Bay. He noted that the lads would be treated as Dreadnought Boys. The NSW Government would be responsible for them, and they would be sent to Pitt Town Farm (Scheyville) for training. He saw no difficulty in finding employment for them in country areas, when they were ready.

When the Hawkes Bay actually berthed in Sydney there were only 352 lads aboard, because 25 boys were able to stay in Victoria with relatives or friends. The names of the 352  are known, along with the ages of most of them. There is nothing recorded about their subsequent placement.

The SS Hawkes Bay arrived in Sydney on the 4th of August 1914. On the very next day, news of the Declaration of War between Britain and Germany reached Australia. The first Allied shot in the war was fired at midday by Australian artillery at Fort Nepean on Port Philip, in Victoria, when the German ship Pfalz attempted to leave. It is little wonder that records of these boys are so hard to find.