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- September 2018 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Admiral Sir George King-Hall, the last Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief of the Australia Station, was a proponent of an Australian navy and friend to Rear Admiral William Creswell. Sir George came from an eminent naval family of great readers and correspondents. He gave freely the benefits of his experience in the training and development of younger officers. The RAN’s biennial King-Hall Navy History Conference was named in his honour. The Naval Historical Society has recently been provided with a copy of unpublished personal diaries kept by the Admiral during his time in Australia, from which much of the material in this paper has been taken.
Early Family Life
George Fowler King-Hall was born on 14 August 1850. His father was Admiral Sir William King-Hall and his younger brother Herbert also became an Admiral. This well established naval family of a religious disposition had a keen interest in literature and education.
George married Olga Felicia Ker and they had three children; William joined the Royal Navy, and his sisters Magdalen and Louise became prominent writers. William, who was known by his middle name of Stephen, served in the RN during WWI.Post-war he resigned to establish a literary career and enter politics, and he served in the Ministry of Aviation Production during WWII. Post-war he lost his parliamentary seat to a bright newcomer and future prime minister, Harold Wilson. He joined the BBC and presented a programme for children on current affairs. Some of our readers may recall his gift of simplifying complex issues, which was popular with both children and parents. He was the third generation of this family of remarkable naval men to be awarded a knighthood.
George King-Hall’s service career had mostly good parts and he had excelled in many postings. But the navy during this period suffered a number of downturns when both ships and men were paid off and officers found themselves on half pay. William endured several years of career inactivity during the four periods he was on half-pay, which slowed an otherwise outstanding career.
A Good Will Gesture
In 1911 life for the then Vice Admiral George King-Hall (GKH) was at low ebb. He had yet another period on half-pay for nearly three years, and at 60 years of age a stark and unspectacular retirement was staring him in the face. But suddenly the gloom lifted and the sun shone through. A replacement Commander-in-Chief was needed for the Australia Station and, as this was a short-term farewell gesture before handing over to a local man, it was unlikely to appeal to a younger career orientated officer. King-Hall was a man of sound principles and good administrator, but to some an unusual choice owing to his strong Presbyterian views which included being a teetotaller. However, he was offered the job as a retirement present with the eventual perks of a knighthood and all the trimmings expected by a Commander-in-Chief, plus promotion to full Admiral. On hearing of his appointment the C-in-C designate writes: I thank my God for his Goodness to me and mine.
After the Governor-General, the Commander-in-Chief was arguably the second most important Imperial officer in the new federation of Australian colonies. But when taking up his appointment GKH knew this to be a bitter-sweet post of relatively short duration when his position would be abolished and command of naval affairs handed over to the newly formed Royal Australian Navy.
Just before taking the Australian appointment GKH had to worry about such items as buying a second hand carriage with sets of harness and shipping this to Australia, as befitting his rank and position. Their eldest son had just entered the naval college at Osborne House but two daughters still needed to complete schooling in England, which meant Lady King-Hall remained behind and joined her husband later.
Arrival in the Antipodes
Admiral King-Hall, with his personal staff, made the voyage in the P&O passenger liner RMS India with calls at Fremantle and Adelaide before arrival at Melbourne on 20 February 1911. Here he was met by Captain Tickell and later called upon Captain Creswell and the Minister for Defence, Senator Pearce, and Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson1.The latter had been doing great work reporting to the Commonwealth Government on future naval infrastructure requirements. Admiral Henderson advised GKH to be cautious owing to the fractious nature of recent relationships with the Imperial authorities caused by the indiscretions of Lord Dudley and a lack of tact displayed by Admiral Poore.
The King-Halls were charming and courteous hosts if somewhat austere. The Admiral, who was a member of the Temperance movement, noted strong drink was often a failing in Colonial society. His predecessor as C-in-C was Admiral Sir Richard Poore; it is unfortunate that Lady Poore is alleged to have put the newcomers down saying: I do not know how you will go with the new Admiral. He won’t have anything to do with dancing or go in for anything and only give lemonade. It remained to be seen how a moralistic Victorian would fare in a liberal colonial society now coming to grips with industrial socialism. This high office would also have been endorsed and monitored by their Lords of Admiralty, Prince Louis of Battenberg and Winston Churchill.
There was a strong political content to his work and many of his diary entries describe his dealings with leading politicians. He developed a close working relationship with the Governor-General, members of the Cabinet and Rear Admiral Creswell. In Creswell’s case he was helpful to the local man who, only two years his junior, he regarded as ‘able, but antiquated’. GKH was impressed with the clarity of Senator Pearce’s views and both he and Creswell were thankful to have a sympathetic C‑in‑C to deal with. It should be noted that Senator Pearce and King-Hall were of similar persuasions as the former was an ardent Congregationalist and teetotaller. Another leading politician at this time, Joseph Cook, who as Minister for Defence was instrumental in the appointment of the Henderson Commission and served as Prime Minister from June 1913 to September 1914, was a strict Methodist who tried to restrict the licensing of public houses. While friendly with senior politicians, King-Hall considered them too familiar with journalists and therefore could not be trusted with confidences.
Reading between the lines of his correspondence it appears he was well suited to these demands and his appointment was a wise choice. While some senior Royal Naval officers were aloof, this was not a trait of the King-Halls and their unpretentious manner went down well with Australians. However, his independent outlook and sympathy for local viewpoints did get him into trouble with the new First Lord, Winston Churchill.
An Admiral on a Budget
While GKH was well connected he had barely sufficient funds to cover expenses and could not entertain on the style of previous C-in-Cs who relied on family money. His diaries mention his promotion to Captain which allowed him to enter marriage in 1892 but shortly after the navy went into recession and he was 2½ years on half-pay. Again, after reaching flag rank there was another period on half-pay which so stretched his resources that the family moved across the Channel to reduce their living expenses.
The King-Halls were enchanted with their new official residence at Admiralty House and found the house and its grounds splendid. However the Admiral was trying to work out how to make income meet expenditure, with wages for domestic staff at £400 a year and running expenses for messing at £800 per year, without entertainment. Some savings were found; his under-employed groom and coachman was replaced when his coxswain was found to have equestrian talents and acted in a dual capacity. And a bluejacket was employed in lieu of a second footman. Later further savings were identified when Table Money was found to be non- taxable.
The most remarkable feature of naval pay rates during GKH’s career is that they did not change once in the 50 years that he served, in other words there was no inflation and the value of currency, then on the Gold Standard, was stable. An Admiral of the Fleet received £6 a day in 1865 and the same amount in 1913, a Sub Lieutenant received 5/- (25p) a day throughout the same period. In the early 1900s this system was under threat by a politicised industrial class seeking greater equality through increased wages. The system was brought to an end by the impacts of uncontrolled expenditure on armaments during WWI which was to bankrupt many European economies, and the purchasing power of the pound was halved during the War.
A description of King-Hall’s service and his rates of pay are shown in the attached table.
Date Rank Ship Annual Rate £Notes
|1865||Sub Lieutenant||Lord Warden||91|
|1876||Lieutenant (G)||Audacious||182||+ 36 as Lt (G)|
|1883||Lieutenant||Euryalus||219||10 years seniority|
|1889||Commander||Melita||365||+ 68 command pay|
|1898||Captain||Narcissus||501||+ 328 command pay|
|1900||Captain||COS in Med||602||Senior Captain|
|1904||Rear Admiral||Ireland||1,095||+ 784 table money|
|1908||Vice Admiral||Half Pay||593|
|1911||Vice Admiral||C-in-C Australia||1,460||+ 1642 table money|
|1912||Admiral||C-in-C Australia||1,825||+ as above|
The Political Situation
The Australian political scene in 1911 was a time of turmoil with relationships between the newly federated Australian states and Imperial authorities evolving, with older institutions holding on to power and new arrivals seeking to implement authority. From the commencement of Federation to the start of the Great War there were nine changes in administration of the Commonwealth Government.
The new C-in-C soon found himself involved in controversy as it was part of Labor policy to establish an independent Australian Navy. The Liberal opposition supported a campaign to raise money to build ships for the Royal Navy, the so-called Dreadnought Project. The Governor-General, Lord Dudley, made a speech in support of the opposition campaign, putting him at odds with the elected government. The G-G acquired a reputation of being anti-Labor which made him unpopular with at least half the electorate and relations with the Prime Minister were frosty.
William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley, was a rich aristocrat who became Governor-General in 1908. His private life left much to be desired, resulting in an estrangement from his wife, and he was famously known for debts and late payment of accounts. Due to his acrimonious relationship with Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher he asked to be recalled from office and in July 1911 was replaced by Lord Denman. Liberal PrimeMinister Alfred Deakin said of Lord Dudley: His ambition was high, but his interests were short-lived…He did nothing really important, nothing thoroughly, nothing consistently…He remained…a very ineffective and not very popular figurehead.
Statesman & Educator
Not only was Admiral King-Hall involved with his naval duties with a keen interest in his squadron, their state of training and preparedness for war, but also their integration with the new Australian naval ships. He frequently took passage with his ships during exercises and visits to various Australian states, New Zealand and the Pacific territories. With his wife he also undertook a demanding round of social calls which included schools, hospitals, churches, indigenous communities, factories, pastoral properties, institutions and reformatories. Add to these social engagements on public holidays, race days and regattas, and entertaining visitors at Admiralty House, they were a very busy couple. Church was rarely missed and he also played golf and enjoyed taking his wife to the theatre and the new novelty of the cinema.
It could be argued that many of the social engagements undertaken by the C-in-C might more properly fall within the province of the State Governor, especially those in NSW. Was GKH under orders to promote the image of the Royal Navy, or did he just see this as a social obligation, and a way of getting to know people? The two NSW Governors during his term of office, Lord Chelmsford and Lord Strickland, were both highly intelligent Oxbridge men who had trained at the Bar and were experienced and politically astute. This was a necessary attribute as the political situation in NSW was unstable and needed careful guidance.
The following summary, which is mainly taken from of extracts of his personal diaries, provides an understanding of his wide ranging interests.
27 February 1911 – went around the Dockyard at Garden Island. Saw all the prisoners, 18, nearly all Colonists serving 90 days for desertion. Then up harbour to inspect our magazines at Spectacle Island.
05 June 1911 – with daughter Louise visited the Ragged School, Lower Campbell Street. About 50 children there, parents either drunken, or immoral. Most of the children between 6 & 10. I had no idea in this favoured land, there was a need for Ragged Schools. (This must have created an impression as two weeks later there is further mention of entertaining at Admiralty House all 160 Ragged School children from the Sydney area.)
14 September 1911 – attended marriage of Lt Prichett of Challengerto Miss Kerr Clarke in Dockyard Chapel which was prettily decorated filled with friends and bluejackets. After the service a luncheon in the Sail Loft. I proposed the health of the parents of the Bride & Bridegroom in neat little speech. (There are several other mentions of the Sail Loft being used for parties and dances.)
19 September 1911 – not a very reassuring telegram from Admiralty, regarding French & German negotiations. Informed the G-G as his Secretary is going to Melbourne to see Minister for Defence, Pearce, & Prime Minister, Fisher. Powerfulto remain here and Encounterat Jervis Bay is returning. I have wired Colombo to order other ships if they can reach them by W/T to go to Singapore and coal. Prometheusto remain at Suva with Torch as the German Cormoranis there. I have made other war preparations regarding the German steamers.
26 February 1912 – (notes great disparity in pay levels with an Ordinary Seaman in the RAN earning more than a Petty Officer in the RN Squadron).
11 March 1912 – Captain Amundsen arrived in Framhaving returned from successful voyage and transit over the ice in being the first to reach the South Pole. Noted the careful planning3with all men experienced skiers and trained in Arctic conditions, and inclusion of very sturdy dogs trained in pulling sledges. Amundsen had depots at every degree of latitude between his departure point and the Pole and cairns spaced about 5 miles apart between every depot. At this stage fate of Capt. Scott’s expedition was unknown but it was feared it was not so well prepared.
30 March 1912 – with G-G drove by carriage to Centennial Park to witness the review by His Excellency of 18,000 Cadets. G-G rode around the grounds inspecting the six Brigades, one being Naval Cadets 650 strong.
29 April 1912 – (agreement reached that Admiral King-Hall takes command of Australian naval units with Encounterturned into a training ship for Commonwealth.)
10 September 1912 – Mr Arthur Jose the ‘Times’ correspondent to lunch. A very interesting man and strong supporter of the Labor Party. His letters are put in the ‘Times’ about once a fortnight. He does not think Lord Denman looked upon as an adviser to the Federal Government. (After the commencement of hostilities Jose joined the Intelligence Branch of the RAN and later wrote the naval volume of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918.)
This afternoon visited St Vincent’s Hospital with Olga and talked to about 20 of our men there. (This was the first of several visits to St Vincent’s.)
01 October 1912 –(First of a number of approaches made to the Admiral sounding him out about possibility of his taking a state governorship. GKH reluctant to have his name forwarded owing to lack of financial resources.)
05 October 1912 –(Prime Minister Fisher is guest at Admiralty House over the weekend. The Commonwealth proposes taking over Cockatoo Dockyard as they cannot get the NSW Government to move quickly enough.
He said the Australians would fight rather than let the Japanese in the country. I said in a few year’s time they would insist on being treated on equal terms with other nations and they meant to be masters in the Pacific.)
21 October 1912 – Trafalgar Day – went to Navy House where 150 Tingaraboys had been invited to tea.
28 October 1912 – Three RAN Torpedo Boat Destroyers arrive.
05 November 1912 – yesterday sent a telegram to Winston Churchill on the RAN and Commonwealth proposals. Had conference at Navy Office with Boards and Senator Pearce agreed to my proposals for the NZ Government to join with Australia in naval defence. Am anxious Mr Fisher should make a declaration as to RAN being placed under Admiralty control in war time. Have asked G-G to wire Colonial Office to back up my telegram.
06 November 1912 – Great Ball this evening at Government House Melbourne, several thousand asked. In procession we marched up the Ball Room which is larger than the one at Buckingham Palace.
07 February 1913 – Japanese Actzumoand Soya(late Russian Variag) arrived under Rear Admiral Tochinai with 75 cadets on board. Made and returned calls. We agreed the Americans were too far off from their bases to be feared by Japan. They intend having submarines for defence.
21 April 1913 – Capt. Hughes-Onslow, 2nd Member of Naval Board, came and had a long talk. He told me what a lot trouble the old ANF ratings were giving in Melbourne. I agreed with him that it would be HMS Cambrian a lot better to get rid of those men at once and not let them poison the minds of the RAN ratings.
22 April 1913 – visited Cockatoo Island and inspected the keel of Brisbane. Had a long talk with Mr Clark, the overseer lent by the Admiralty. The cream of the workmen who came out from England has returned home for better wages. Problem is that Unions will not allow piece work resulting in low productivity.
05 June 1913 – inspected RMC Duntroon where I was struck with the fine manly and open countenance of the Cadets, and their fine physique. They have very good quarters and huge expanse of open country with a magnificent climate. Later inspected site of new Federal capital and proposed infrastructure.
27 June 1913 – inspected all the Naval Establishments preparatory to turning over them to the Commonwealth on 01 July.
01 July 1913 – telegram from Admiralty, only to give Commonwealth use of Garden Island, and not Admiralty House.
28 July 1913 – Olga and children board Blue Funnel liner Nestorfor passage to England.
30 July 1913 – paid visit to Cockatoo and had talk with Mr Cutler the manager on the work. After pay increases production has doubled on Brisbanebut not increased on destroyers.
04 August 1913 – motored 45 miles to Geelong with Creswell, Drummond and Flag Lt. Visited RAN College, was extremely pleased at everything I saw. The Cadets most smart and intelligent, only been there five months, but quite equal to the Cadets at Osborne (UK) in every way, good manners and much due to Grant the Executive Officer and Captain Chambers. I gave them an address, which I felt was good, and also afterwards spoke to the Instructors and men.
09 August 1913 – went to Navy House and saw Onslow, Creswell & Manisty2, the latter spoke very strongly to me on the way Onslow was going on. There is much trouble going on there, Onslow is most excitable and unbalanced and Manisty is intemperate.
04 October 1913 – The Australian ships came in punctually to the moment, looking very well, the day beautifully fine. Masses of people on every point and on grounds of Government House and gardens. I was on board Cambrian. After salutes ships were secured.
Patey called on me, and I returned call. He then came to Admiralty House where Prime Minister and Navy Board had assembled, and was introduced to them, and they presented him to the G-G who was in another room. Afterwards all were entertained to luncheon.
After lunch Senator Millen and I had a long conversation about suspension of Capt. Hughes-Onslow and proposes having a conference with Patey and myself on the future composition of the Board. Yesterday Creswell and Manisty confided in me the former would like to leave, he is finding it too much.
05 October 1913 – the banquet last night was a great affair. The G-G and all speakers spoke very well, I spoke last. This morning, the Thanksgiving service took place at St Andrews Cathedral. I went up with G-G, Lady Denman and party.
08 October 1913 – Creswell came to see me and we had a long talk over the reconstruction of Navy Board and his future prospects. After lunch Patey came over and we talked over many subjects and were later joined by Senator Millen where we went over the formation of the Board.
13 October 1913 – At 09.30 Patey and staff came to take possession of Admiralty House, the Commonwealth being the ‘user’ of it for the time being. Joined my flagship (Cambrian) and slipped at 11.30. Much cheering and bands playing and out we went. I could not but be affected at the thought that the reign of the RN had come to an end as I took my last look at the fair city of Sydney. I feel my work is finished and Patey must now shoulder the task.
14 October 1913 – arrived at Port Stephens this morning and anchored outside the entrance. Went with Drummond in steam pinnace. We walked through the bush to Salamander Bay, a very fine stretch of water, to be the new submarine base. We all agreed that Port Stephens should be a great naval base, and also building yard – not Jervis Bay or Sydney. P. S. is a very fine harbour more extensive in some ways than Port Jackson, but a good deal of dredging is required.
15 October 1913 – arrived Two Fold Bay for shelter as gale is blowing other side of Cape Gabo and intend remaining until barometer, which is abnormally low, steadies itself.
19 October 1913 – At 07.30 secured alongside Pier (Melbourne). Later called at Government House and Creswell called.
21 October 1913 – Addressed officers and men of Cambrian. Then departed in Captain’s galley with Captain Drummond pulling stroke oar and the other oars manned by the senior officers. The men gave me such cheers. I felt deeply touched. As the galley arrived at the landing, my flag was taken down in the boat and struck on board Cambrianand so I finished my career as Commander in Chief of the Australian (sic)Station – on Trafalgar Day.
Admiral Sir George King-Hall handed over command of the Australia Station to Rear Admiral Patey in Sydney on 13 October 1913 and then sailed in HMS Cambrian for Melbourne. On 21 October at Port Melbourne he struck his flag and three days later on 24 October sailed for England. The remainder of the ships of the Royal Naval Squadron dispersed, with three transferring to the RAN and two remaining in New Zealand waters; one was sold out of service in Sydney.
The Admiral took passage in the Aberdeen White Star Line ship Demosthenes bound for the Cape. The Admiral travelled in comfort as three cabins had been placed at his disposal. Lady Olga had already taken passage so as to prepare their home in time for his return. GKH would spend some time at the Cape where his brother Rear Admiral Sir Herbert King-Hall was the Commander-in-Chief, Cape of Good Hope Station.
The Admiral arrived at London on 8 December 1913; a few days later he was invited to lunch with the Battenbergs and afterwards he briefed the C‑in‑C on Australian naval policy. Then he called on Winston Churchill and discussed policy on Australian and New Zealand naval affairs. A week later the Admiral was invited to an audience with the King at Buckingham Palace. So ended over fifty years of exceptional naval service. The great man died on 10 September 1939 aged 89.
Admiral Sir George King-Hall has been remembered in the biennial ‘King-Hall Conferences’ on naval history which were mainly held in Canberra from 1999 to 2013. These have since been replaced by the Seapower Centre working with ADFA through a Naval Studies Group producing a series of podcasts to improve naval history knowledge aimed at a wider and younger audience.
- Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson was engaged by the Commonwealth Government to advise on the future composition of the RAN and associated infrastructure – his report was received in March 1911.
- Paymaster Eldon Manisty had been secretary to Admiral Henderson’s visiting mission before serving as Finance & Civil Member and Naval Secretary of the Naval Board.
- The hull of the ship Framwas so well designed and shaped that it would be lifted up from pack ice and not crushed by it. Fram, the name meaning forward lifting, is now a museum ship in Oslo.