Frank Hawson

Frank Hawson was the 12 year old son of Henry Hawson who became a victim of the inevitable clash between the British invaders and the indigenous inhabitants of South Australia.

In the very early days relations between the British colonists and the local aboriginals seemed smooth, but early clashes soon occurred, many quite violent.

One of the first clashes was with the Hawsons. When the British started taking over the Aboriginal land, and pushing them away from their hunting grounds, naturally there would be trouble. Many early settlers seemed to make arrangements to provide the local Aboriginals with food. This was an agreement which Aboriginal peoples used to indicate that a visitor was welcome to pass through their land, for a time. It was like a trading agreement. It was not meant that the visitors could now own the land, the land still belonged to the Aboriginals living there.

For the British people it was most seen as an agreement so that the Aboriginals would no longer hunt on what they would have still considered as their land.  That land now had domestic sheep and cattle, animals that were extremely easy to hunt, but had few kangaroos or wombats. Also, their usual foraging food, a mainstay of their diet, would have been eaten by the grazing animals. The situation would have very quickly become desperate for the local Aboriginals.

Frank Hawson memorial distant
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Left: Memorial to Frank Hawson, located in Port Lincoln, South Australia.
Photo by IE Dawson, 2008.
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Henry Hawson may have had such an arrangement; aboriginals would come to the shepherd huts and be given food.

On 5th October, 1840, an aboriginal group came to one of the Hawson shepherd huts asking for food. At the time only one of the younger sons, 12 year old Frank, was in attendance.  No doubt the boy was very scared.  What  happened we do not know; the aboriginal men were most likely asking for food as part of their agreement (as outlined above) but maybe there was not enough food in the hut at the time. Whether the fault was with the boy or the Aboriginal men is not known. It may well have been a misunderstanding.

Some sort of disagreement certainly did occur and ultimately Frank was speared by one of the aboriginal warriors. He survived the immediate attack and did get help, a doctor was called, but he ultimately died.

There is a newspaper account of the incident written almost 100 years later which emphasizes the bravery and manliness of the boy in the face of these ‘savages.’ How accurate it is, is unknown.  This can be read via the National Library’s TROVE site.

A monument to remember him was erected in Port Lincoln and still stands today. The community decision to erect this monument is recorded in the South Australia Register, 10 June 1910, page 4e:

In respect of Hawson Swamp Frank Hawson’s (younger brother of Captain Hawson) grave 

At a meeting of the progress committee attention was drawn to the neglected state of Frank Hawson’s lonely grave which was about 200 yards south of Kirton Point Jetty… The grave which is hardly recognisable and difficult to find among the low, tangled mallee scrub is marked with reverence by a few admirers of the brave young lad who, after burning off the two spear ends that had passed through his body, crawled into the house and awaited death with cheerful resignation… It lies nearly in the centre of a surveyed street. There is a desire on the part of those interested in this old-time and strangely pathetic incident of early settlement that Frank Hawson’s memory should be perpetuated by a suitable monument… And to this end it has been decided that public subscriptions should be invited and the school children, to whom the story of the lad’s end has been made known through a school publication, should be given an opportunity to contribute towards a fund to carry out this worthy object effectively.

Frank Hawson memorial

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Left: Inscription on the Memorial to Frank Hawson, located at Port Lincoln, South Australia.
Photo by IE Dawson, 2008.

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Frank Hawson has been mentioned in various other websites:
 National Library of Australia – Picture Australia
This shows several photographs regarding the event
Has the original newspaper article
Monument Australia
Contains the public monuments and memorials which have been erected to commemorate the conflict between indigenous Australians and immigrant settlers. (WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this theme may contain images of deceased persons.)
Role play of Eyre Peninsula Aboriginal history (PDF)
This is some educational material helping to illuminate how the British “settlement” was so traumatic for aboriginal people.  Within it is mentioned the death of Frank Hawson.

(c) 2020, Irene Hogan


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