Dad… a Dreadnought Boy

It was early summer 1928 as Harry Scarborough Crout took the train from Shipley Railway Station, Yorkshire, England and made his way to London.  He had just turned 16 and was off on his “Great Adventure” at last.

There was huge excitement amongst the lads of Windhill as they scoured the newspapers and posters for every little detail of “Australia’s Offer to British Boys” but Harry was the only one to take up the offer and become a “Dreadnought Boy”.

“… in response to a growing German naval presence in the Pacific in 1909, the government of New South Wales decided to help fund the construction of a dreadnought battleship for the Royal Navy.  A public fund was established and by the end of the year 90,000pounds had been raised.  But with fears increasing the governent decided to construct a ship of its own, so that financing a second battleship seemed of little value.

Money was offered back to donors but more than 80,000pounds remained in the kitty.  Unsure what to do with it the government decided to use half to build a naval college while the remainder would be used to fund a scheme to bring young boys over from ‘Britain and train them to become agricultural workers.  And so was born the Dreadnought Scheme.

The scheme would bring out British boys between the ages of 16 and 19 ‘of good character and physique’ at a rate of about 20 everyfortnight. Originally, the scheme was aimed at those more than 17 years of age and one ad talked of wanting ‘strapping young fellows’.  After the First World War the minimum age was reduced to 15, although there is evidence to show that lads as young as 14 made the journey.  The aim, according to one booklet, was ‘to fill Australia’s empty spaces with young people of white, essentially Anglo-Saxon stock’.  Put bluntly, it was a form of white colonisation.”

It seemed to Harry that his 16th birthday would never come.  Marie, his mother, was bitterly opposed her only child’s “hair-brained” scheme.  She had scraped together enough money to enrol him at Bradford Secretarial College in preparation for a career as a clerk but Harry had other ideas.  Finally she gave in to his cajoling, nagging and sulking and tearfully waved him away … never to see her only child again.

On 19 April 1928 Harry boarded the P. & O. Steam Ship “Ballarat” at the Port of London for Australia.  Clasped in his hand was a “THIRD CLASS (Steerage) PASSENGER’S CONTRACT TICKET”, in an eight berth cabin, from the Bradford Agents of Briggs Shipping Office at 89 Sunbridge Road, purchased on 23 March 1928 only 19 days after his 16th birthday.In his memoirs Harry writes,

” It was a mild and sunny day on the 13th June 1928 as the P&O Steam Ship Ballarat, laden with migrants (most British), was slowly escorted into Sydney Harbor by the usual flotilla of tug boats … as the ship slowly moved into its berth they gazed eagerly around at the many peninsulas fringing Sydney Harbour and the partly constructed Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The two pylons proudly rearing skyward and a section of the bridge reaching out from each one towards the great unfinished gap in the centre.”

He writes of his shipboard friendship with other Dreadnought Boys;

“Yorky, nicknamed because of the County he hailed from; Lanky, named partly because of his Manchester origin and partly because of his physique; Cock, the Londoner who had lived his boyhood within the sound of the bow Bells; Sammy, a Liverpool lad and two others who came from the Midlands.”

As the ship edged up to the wharf the Welfare officer, in charge of 40 boys, rushed them up to the top deck for some publicity shots.

“The camera crew were focussing their equipment and one of them called out, ‘Now then lads.  I want you to show the Australian people what a fine bunch of lads you are, and how happy you are to be in Australia.  Let’s see you laugh and cheer for the Aussie people.” 

Dreadnought Boys arriving in Sydney on the "SS Ballarat" - 1928

The welfare officer handed the boys over to Mr Johnstone, the Australian migration officer, who explained they would be sent to different parts of New South Wales and to different types of farm work.  Dad was one of 15 who voluteered for dairy farming on the North Coast of New South Wales largely because of descriptions of a warm climate, fertile soil, scenerery reminiscent of England, along with the explanation that,

“…you could start your own farm with less than you would need in the sheep and cattle country.”

Dad always joked that he grew up rather fancying himself as a “cowboy” but the type you see in “the pictures” riding horses and droving the cows, not milking them.

Systematic youth migration to Australia began early in the 20th century and continued for over seventy years, involving approximately 30,000 male and female school-aged immigrants under a number of schemes.  The Dreadnought Scheme was but one. For years I’ve tried to find which scheme brought Harry Scarborough Crout to Australia and finally had a breakthrough. The clue was in dad’s Certificate of achievement from the “Wollongbar Experiment Farm” in New South Wales where the Dreadnought boys were trained in farm work.  It was there I learnt about the Dreadnought scheme and my dad’s involvement.

The scheme began in 1911 and ran on and off for the next 28 years.  It was halted by the First World War, recommenced in 1921, then ceased again during the Great Depression for a period of six years.  In February 1915, 2,557 had arrived; when the last group arrived in September 1939, the total number of Dreadnought boys had reached 5,595. A wall plate behind the Orient Hotel in Kendall Lane, Sydney commemorates the Dreadnought scheme.  The memorial was erected by the Dreadnought Old Boys Association in 1984.

Harry Scarborough Crout died in South Australia, 18 January 2007, in his 95th year.  He lived a rich, varied and vibrant life, “jumping the rattlers” during the Great Depression, a gruelling pushbike across the Nullabor Plain (accompanied by his Dreadnought boyhood friend Sammy), earning pennies as a “pugilist” in travelling road shows, “stowing away” on coastal ships and “humping his bluey” for many a long mile are just a few of his adventures before settling down and raising a family.

Dad never found his “road paved with Gold”, nor returned to England a rich man.  In fact he never saw his homeland or his beloved mother again but was always proud of his achievements and believed his greatest achievement was his four Australian children.

~~~~~~~~~

 

 
Sources: 
Crout, Harry Scarborough.  My First Four Years in Australia (memoirs)
Kelly, Stephen, Australia’s Lost Boys. http://www.independent.co.uk

Further Reading:
Gill, Alan.  Likely Lads and Lasses: Youth Migration to Australia 1911-1983. Marrickville: BBM Ltd, 2005

(c) Copyright 2012  Catherine Crout-Habel. Seeking Susan~Meeting Marie~ Finding Family.

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