- Barton, J.P., Midshipman, RAN
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- April 1993 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
8. The Colonial Naval Defence Act allowed for self-governing colonies to acquire, maintain and operate their own warships. These vessels were however to be at the disposal of the Royal Navy in a time of war. The Act gave the colony the power to provide and train seamen to serve in these ships. This Act was a way in which the Imperial Government could save money while still ensuring the defence of the colony. The Act also solved the problem of whether foreign powers would recognise colonial warships outside their colonial waters.
STATE NAVAL FORCES
9. As a consequence of the Colonial Naval Defence Act the next step towards the formation of the Royal Australian Navy was the creation of State Naval Forces. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland developed the largest colonial naval forces. These States maintained the only sea-going warships. South Australia possessed one warship, the PROTECTOR. Western Australia and Tasmania did not form naval forces of their own but both had military units.
10. The Australian Defence Act of 1887 and the subsequent creation of the Australian Auxiliary Naval Squadron in 1891 were also factors leading towards the creation of the Royal Australian Navy. Between the years 1869-1903 there were numerous negotiations between the Imperial Government and the Colonial Governments. The Imperial Government wanted the Australian colonies to contribute financially to their naval defence rather than the cost being totally borne by Britain. The Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Squadron, Rear Admiral George Tryon, was tasked with the job of conferring with the Colonial Premiers on the question of taking responsibility for a larger share of their naval defence. The Admiralty wanted the States to pay for the cost of construction and maintenance of the ships, yet they would be under the control of the Commander-in-Chief, Australia Station and manned by the Royal Navy. Tryon could not get the States to agree to this proposal, although the States did agree that some contribution should be made towards the cost of the naval defence.
AUSTRALIAN AUXILIARY SQUADRON
11. In 1887 the Australasian Defence Act was formed. This Act allowed for the British Squadron to be supplemented with the Auxiliary Squadron, The ships in the Squadron would be built and paid for by the British and ownership would remain with the Imperial Government. The ships were to remain with the Australian Station and permission from the Colonial Governments must be obtained before they could do otherwise. The Colonial Governments agreed to the conditions and there was an expectation that there would be training opportunities for Australian sailors. However, the Australian Auxiliary Squadron was a failure. The Admiralty found it difficult not to have complete control of a squadron. The Australians felt. that they were not getting the deal that they were promised by Tryon. The situation came to a head in 1900 when ships were removed from the Australian station to go to the Boxer Rebellion. Federation occurred and Australia became the Australian Commonwealth. The failure of the Auxiliary Squadron was a factor leading to the development of an Australian navy.
12. On 1st January, 1901 the Australian Commonwealth was born. Federation was a factor leading to the creation of the Royal Australian Navy. With the birth of the nation feelings of national pride were running high, but there were also feelings of loyalty to the Mother Country. At this time there were changes in the traditional power balances. The Japanese, Russians and Germans were all becoming stronger. Of particular concern to Australia was the growing Japanese power in the Pacific. An amalgamation of the ships and personnel of the State navies occurred on 1st March, 1901. The ships were now known as the Commonwealth Naval Forces, although they were administered separately by each state. Britain conceded that the future would see the formation of an Australian Navy, but it wasn’t going to happen in the immediate future. Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Sir John Forrest followed the Admiralty line regarding an independent Australian navy. Strong feelings towards the formation of a navy were growing.
COMMONWEALTH DEFENCE ACT
13. The next step toward the creation of the Royal Australian Navy occurred on 1st March, 1904 with the creation of the Commonwealth Defence Act. This allowed for the necessary legislation to administer the country’s defence forces. To take charge of naval matters the position of Naval Officer Commanding Commonwealth Naval Forces was formed. However this position was abolished and replaced with the Director of Naval Forces. The Board of Naval Administration consisted of the Minister for Defence, Director of Naval Forces, a Finance member and a Consultative member. The Director of Naval Forces, Captain W.R. Creswell, who became known as the “father of the RAN”, as suggested by the name given to him, was an instrumental factor in the creation of the Royal Australian Navy.