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Hawker, Bertram Robert (1868–1952)

by Dirk Van Dissel and Mary E. B. Van Dissel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Bertram Robert Hawker (1868-1952), Anglican clergyman, educationist and benefactor, was born on 29 March 1868 at Llandudno, Carnarvonshire, Wales, youngest of sixteen children of George Charles Hawker, who had been born in London and become a politician and grazier in South Australia, and his wife Bessie, née Seymour, from Ireland. Bertram was educated at Glenalmond School, Perthshire, Scotland (1882-86), and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (B.A., 1891; M.A., 1896). He worked with the poor in the East End of London and was made deacon in 1894. After serving as a curate at Stone, Kent, he was appointed honorary chaplain to the bishop of Adelaide in 1895. At St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide, on 23 July 1896 Hawker married Constance Victoria, daughter of Sir Thomas Buxton, the governor of South Australia. Returning to England, Hawker held curacies in Surrey and Cumberland before being ordained priest on 10 June 1900. For the next four years he was vicar at Isel, Cumberland, his last Church appointment. From 1908 he lived on the Buxton estate, Runton Old Hall, near Cromer, Norfolk.

In 1905, while holidaying in Sydney, Hawker had visited a special school for young children of families living at Woolloomooloo. Convinced that similar institutions were needed in the depressed residential districts of Adelaide, he arranged a series of demonstrations of kindergarten methods at The Briars, his parents' home in the Adelaide suburb of Medindie, and in the Exhibition Building. He claimed that 'childhood play was a powerful vehicle for the formation of social responsibility, ethical awareness, selfdiscipline and other personal and citizenship qualities'. In September he chaired a meeting at the University of Adelaide which founded the Kindergarten Union of South Australia to educate the children of the poor. Its first kindergarten, for children aged 3 to 6, was opened in Franklin Street in February 1906 and was followed by others, all free and privately funded. Independent from the state education system, the kindergartens could be flexible and innovative.

Hawker travelled to Rome in 1911 and called at Maria Montessori's casa dei bambine. Impressed with what he saw, he returned to England and set up a Montessori school near his home. Montessori's principles were also adopted by the K.U.S.A., to which Hawker donated £500—£100 for its building fund and £400 to enable the principal Lillian de Lissa to study in Europe and the United States of America. In 1914 she stayed with Hawker and was opening speaker at the Montessori conference he organized at East Runton.

After World War I he performed voluntary work in Vienna for the Save the Children Fund, London. From 1924 he was a patron of the International Student Movement and he also helped Kurt Hahn to establish (1934) Gordonstoun School, Moray, Scotland. Hawker continued visiting South Australia until 1938, usually staying at Bungaree station where his family affectionately called him 'Uncle Bolshie'. A gentle, sensitive man with a sense of fun, he disliked publicity and never accepted a salary, financial reward or recognition for his work. He liked cooking, gardening and riding; much of his income came from a conserving factory at Lubeck, West Germany, in which he held shares. Survived by his wife and one of his two sons, he died on 14 October 1952 at Thaxted, Essex. His estate was sworn for probate in England and South Australia at £86,197.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Dowd, Adelaide Kindergarten Teachers College, 1907-1974 (Adel, 1983)
  • T. T. Reed, Anglican Clergymen in South Australia in the Nineteenth Century (Gumeracha, SA, 1986)
  • World's Children, Nov-Dec 1952, p 227
  • Department of Education (South Australia), Pivot, 6, no 3, 1979
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 Oct 1952
  • Times (London), 21 Oct 1952
  • private information.

Citation details

Dirk Van Dissel and Mary E. B. Van Dissel, 'Hawker, Bertram Robert (1868–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hawker-bertram-robert-10456/text18545, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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