Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Joseph Hawkins (1898–1976)

by Robert Hyslop

This article was published:

Thomas Joseph Hawkins (1898-1976), public servant, was born on 15 November 1898 at Carlton, Melbourne, second of ten children of Thomas Hawkins, a detective in the police force, and his wife Mary Frances, née Nash, both Victorian born. Educated at St George's School, Carlton, and St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, young Tom was appointed a staff clerk at Navy Office on 16 August 1915, two years after the formation of the Australian fleet. He studied part time at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1921; LL.B., 1926). Slim and 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, in 1921-29 he played first-grade district cricket in turn for Fitzroy and Carlton as a medium-fast bowler.

During his career, which was to be wholly in naval administration, Hawkins was associated with seventeen ministers for the navy and fourteen chiefs of Naval Staff, beginning with Rear Admiral Sir William Creswell. By 1939 Hawkins had risen to head 'N' Branch and in that capacity contributed to the part played by the Royal Australian Navy in World War II. He provided the secretariat to the Naval Staff, and was responsible for the main signal office and its cyphering work. In 1948 he succeeded G. L. Macandie as assistant-secretary and in 1950 took over from A. R. Nankervis as secretary of the Department of the Navy. Hawkins was appointed C.B.E. in 1955.

Endowed with intellect, he could be impatient with lesser minds, and his fiery denunciations of shoddy work were legendary. Hawkins had a high regard for the naval profession and remained watchful for any denigration of its civilian element by those who were poorly informed. As secretary, he ensured that the navy's requirements were properly formulated, then strenuously protected the service's interests against the claims of other government departments. Some naval officers mistook his fighting qualities for hostility, but most—outstandingly Vice Admiral Sir John Collins—valued his support.

Hawkins's experience with ministers for the navy underwent a startling change when Senator (Sir) John Gorton assumed the portfolio in 1958; whereas his predecessors had conducted business from a distance, Gorton immersed himself in the whole range of naval affairs, working full time in Navy Office which was moved to Canberra in 1959. Hawkins earned Gorton's approbation for accommodating this massive change.

At the Church of St John the Baptist, Clifton Hill, Melbourne, on 16 August 1924 Hawkins had married Kathleen Monica Burke, a graduate of the University of Melbourne who taught French in secondary schools. Gently and with humour, she softened her husband's tempestuousness. She lived until 1994, gracious and much loved by their four sons and three daughters, and many 'grands' and 'great-grands'. After his retirement in 1963, Hawkins had returned to Melbourne where he continued his lifelong attachment to the Catholic Church, becoming the parish accountant at East Brighton and a director (1964-76) of the Villa Maria Society for the Blind. He died on 18 September 1976 at Malvern; following a service conducted by his brother Fr James Hawkins, S.J., he was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Hyslop, Aye Aye, Minister (Canb, 1990)
  • M. Pratt, interview with T. J. Hawkins (transcript, 1956, National Library of Australia)
  • R. Hyslop, interviews with Sir John Gorton and Sir John Collins (transcripts, 1988, Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Hyslop, 'Hawkins, Thomas Joseph (1898–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 November, 1898
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


18 September, 1976 (aged 77)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.