HAWKER, Harry George (1889-1921)


HAWKER, Harry George (1889-1921)
aviator
was born at Moorabbin, Melbourne, Victoria, on 22 January 1889. His father, George Hawker, was a blacksmith who was also a fine rifle shot. Harry Hawker was educated at Melbourne suburban state schools, and at a very early age began to work in the business of Hall and Warden, motor and bicycle agents. He afterwards joined the Tarrant Motor Company, became a good mechanic, and then, tempted by the fact that he was to have a workshop of his own, entered the employment of Mr de Little at Caramut. In 1911, having saved a little money, he went to England with the ambition of learning to fly. With much difficulty he obtained work in motor companies at a low rate of pay, but he gained great experience with the different types of motors, and at the end of June 1912 obtained an engagement with the Sopwith Company at £2 a week. He soon learned to fly, obtained his aviator's certificate, and then became an instructor. A few months later, on 24 October, he made a British record that stood for several years, by making a flight lasting eight hours twenty-three minutes. On 31 May 1913 he broke the British height record by reaching 11,450 feet, and six weeks later won the Mortimer Singer £500 prize, the conditions being that he was to make six out and home five mile flights to one mile out at sea, landing alternately on water and land. On 25 August 1913 Hawker started on a flight round Great Britain with a call at Ireland. On the third day after passing round Scotland engine trouble led to his descending a few miles short of Dublin. When the machine side-slipped into the water his companion, Kauper, had his arm broken, but Hawker escaped unhurt. They had travelled 1043 miles in under 56 hours, the actual flying time being 21 hours 44 minutes, a world's record for a seaplane in those days. Towards the end of the year Hawker designed the Sopwith Tabloid biplane, a small machine capable of performing all kinds of evolutions, and with the high speed for the period of 90 miles an hour. He took this machine to Australia and made successful exhibition flights early in 1914 at Melbourne and Sydney. Returning, to England he arrived there in June.
When the 1914-18 war began Hawker enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service, but was retained by the authorities and employed testing various types of machines. Altogether he tested 295 machines and made many suggestions for their improvement. In March 1919 he went to Newfoundland to attempt a flight across the Atlantic, but bad weather prevented a start being made until 18 May. Hawker was accompanied by Lieut.-commander C. Mackenzie Grieve and soon after the start strong northerly gales began to blow them off their course; there was no visibility, and it was some time before they discovered that they were 150 miles south of their intended course. Radiator troubles developed and the aviators were obliged to come down below the clouds and look for a ship. They fortunately found the Mary, a Danish tramp, and making a successful landing on the sea, a boat was sent to them and they were rescued. There was no wireless on the Mary and six days passed before she was able to communicate with land. In the meantime the fliers had been given up for lost and the news of their rescue was received with much enthusiasm. Both men were personally congratulated by King George V and given the Air Force Cross, and the Daily Mail gave them a cheque for £5000.
In 1920 Hawker took up motor-racing with success, but in July was again in the air. He was not, however, in good health and was receiving treatment for his back. In November the H. G. Hawker Engineering Company was formed and Hawker showed ability as a designing engineer, especially in connexion with his streamlined racing car, the "first 100 miles an hour light car". He had agreed to pilot a Nieuport Goshawk biplane in the aerial Derby to be held on 16 July 1921, but on 12 July his machine took fire while on a practice flight and he was killed. He married in September 1917 Muriel Peaty who survived him with two daughters.
Hawker was a sturdily built man of medium height, a teetotaller and non-smoker, always cheerful and completely modest. He was a remarkably fine mechanic and a great pilot, possibly the greatest of his period. He had several serious accidents over and over again escaping with comparatively little injury. But these accidents were not the result of any carelessness or incompetence. It was still early days in the history of aviation when Hawker first appeared, and his business was to test the capabilities of the machines of the period. He was fearless as a pilot, constantly inventing new feats, and his experience and mechanical knowledge had an important influence on the early development of flying.
Muriel Hawker, H. G. Hawker, Airman; Hawker and Grieve, Our Atlantic Attempt; The Times 13 and 14 July 1921; The Argus, Melbourne, 14 July 1921.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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