Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of History and Politics


This thesis examines the campaign for a naval defence of Australia and the role of its most significant advocate. William Rooke Creswell is recognised as a dominant force in the foundation of the Australian Navy. This thesis is neither a naval history, nor a biography of Creswell. It is about the influence of people and events on the status and direction of Australia, expressed through achieving that defining symbol of a maritime state, a naval defence.

The campaign for a naval defence would be caught up in the aspirations for, and of, a commonwealth for Australia – in its destiny and identity. In creating a commonwealth out of six self - governing colonies, common defence was given as a reason for its being, entwined with a doctrine of self - preservation, but with a relaxed and comfortable attitude about subsidised British naval protection.

This thesis seeks to establish both the nature of Creswell’s contribution to the foundation of the Australian navy and the reasons why the process of its formation was such a protracted and fraught process. Major factors working against this process were the expense of a navy and the infrastructure to support it, a small and isolated population, the intransigence of the British government and Admiralty, and the differences of opinion among Australian politicians over whether and how an Australian Navy should come into existence.

Creswell as a former Royal Navy officer understood and accepted the significance of Britain and of the Royal Navy in the defence of Australia. Yet he remained undaunted in his career - long self - imposed mission of a navy for Australia. His achievement was a naval defence with warships appropriate to Australian conditions and requirements and an infrastructure to support the fleet. It was Creswell who more than any other individual.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.