Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Francis Hills (1867–1948)

by J. M. Main

This article was published:

John Francis Hills (1867-1948), teacher and anti-conscriptionist, was born on 15 October 1867 at Great Tey near Kelvedon, Essex, England, son of John Harrison Hills, farmer, and his wife Lucy, née Barritt. He attended the Society of Friends' school at Bootham, York, in 1882-84 and then taught there. From 1884 he was an external student of the University of London (B.A., 1893). Hills was teaching at the Battersea Polytechnic in London in 1898 when he was appointed to The Friends' School, Hobart. He had been recommended as very capable and willing and for his love of games and natural history; he was a firm disciplinarian. This quality, together with his views on the nature and purpose of education, caused disagreements with the headmaster Samuel Clemes. Hills undertook further study at the University of Tasmania (M.A., 1908).

On 21 June 1900 at the Friends' Meeting House, Hobart, Hills married Alice Mitchell, a science graduate who also taught at the school. Following her appointment as lady inspector of state schools and teacher of domestic economy in Adelaide, they left Hobart in October. They established a private school at Semaphore in 1903, which became known as Largs Bay College. In 1915 Hills became assistant master at Woodville High School while his wife ran their school, called Holdfast Bay College in 1917-36. From 1919 until 1932 he taught at Unley and Norwood High schools. A quiet man, he was tall and angular. He felt intensely about social matters and spoke of them with such fervour and emotion that he trembled and stammered.

Hills was a devoted member of the Adelaide monthly meeting of the Society of Friends and shared their opposition to military training and participation in war. In 1909 the Commonwealth Defence Act had been amended to provide for compulsory drills for boys and a period of military training for youths between 18 and 20. Those whose religion forbade them to undertake military duties were to be allotted, as far as possible, non-combatant tasks. In 1912 Hills and a visiting English Friend, J. P. Fletcher, founded the Australian Freedom League to campaign against compulsory military training. The league quickly extended to other States and at one time claimed 50,000 members. Hills spoke often at public meetings and even paraded in a sandwich board at Victoria Park racecourse. The league was disbanded soon after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Hills was a delegate to the first interstate conference of the Australian Peace Alliance in Melbourne in 1916.

Of his many pamphlets the most powerful probably was Child Conscription: Our Country's Shame (1912) which not only condemned military training but, implicitly, war itself. These themes were reiterated in the small book Hills and Fletcher wrote in 1915, Conscription Under Camouflage, which was not published until 1919.

Predeceased by his wife in 1945, Hills died in Parkside Mental Hospital on 6 September 1948. They had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • L. C. Jauncey, The Story of Conscription in Australia (Melb, 1968)
  • J. Barrett, Falling In (Syd, 1979)
  • W. N. Oats, The Rose and the Waratah (Hob, 1979)
  • School Echoes, 25 Oct 1900
  • Norwood District High School Magazine, Oct 1933
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 22 Oct 1912, 27 Sept 1948
  • M. T. Shepherd, Compulsory Military Training: The South Australian Debate (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1976)
  • Friends High School Committee, report F4/1, 4/5, and minutes, 18 Aug 1898, 13 Aug, 12 Nov, 10 Dec 1900 (University of Tasmania Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. M. Main, 'Hills, John Francis (1867–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 October, 1867
Great Tey, Essex, England


6 September, 1948 (aged 80)
Parkside, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.