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Victorian Naval Forces Muster

for the Colony of Victoria. (muster range 1853-1910)*


Last Name:Kearns
First Name:Robert
Rank:Chief Gunner
Birth Date: 22-10-1854
Branch:Victorian Navy

Robert (Bob) Kearns

Chief Gunner

Chief Gunner Robert Kearns joined the Royal Navy in 1877 shortly before arriving in Victoria. He served as a commissioned officer in the Victorian Navy, and by 1940 was the sole survivor of the local Boxer rising Contingent. Kearns and John Cameron founded the Boys Naval Brigade movement of Victoria in 1903. This was disbanded in 1911 upon institution of compulsory training. Kearns approached the Premier, John Murray, with a proposal to purchase the Loch Ryan as a training ship for boys. The vessel was duly purchased and renamed John Murray.

excerpt from Deeds not Words, Wilson P. Evans,
The Hawthorn Press, Melbourne 1971

Joined the Victorian Navy in 1879 - Williamstown Chronicle, 1 August 1941

Retired 30 January 1914

Transferred to Retired List in May 1914 - Williamstown Chronicle, 30 May 1914


Training Ship John Murray.
Photo from Museum Victoria'.


A copy of Robert's warrant appointing him as Chief Gunner in the Victorian Naval Forces is on display at the Museum of HMAS Cerberus. Surprisingly it is dated 1st July 1904.

Click to enlarge.

Copy of Warrant courtesy of the Museum of HMAS Cerberus



Photo courtesy of Pam Fegen,
great grand-daughter of Gunner Kearns.

How Bob Kearns Conquered China by that murderous laugh of his.

Bob Kearns was a sailor bold & fierce
With a short thick beard & a love for the sea
And a laugh like the roll of thunder
And the voice as sweet as the roll of a drum
A face like an imp from Kingdom Come
And a mind that was bent on plunder.

When he sailed away twas a better day,
Publicans gave their houses away,
Australia was plunged into sorrow.
But Britain needed old Bob's support
So he sharpened his cutlass and felt as he ought
Determined to fight "Begorra".

He planted his foot, yea, both of them down
In a Taku fort, he swore with a frown
He'd settle the fate of the chow.
The Admiral sheltered behind some rocks
Engaged placing stones in the end of his socks,
Said Bob Kearns, by my sorol he can do it.

Ten thousand barbarians were gathered ashore
Turned his bold bad face to the Veldt,
Then he opened his mouth and laughed aloud,
And his yells thro' the enemy cut & ploughed
Like the hail of the Nordenfelt.
As the chaff is scattered before the gale
To far distant climes compelled to sail
Yea eer to the ends of the earth
So he scattered the chow with his fiendish laugh
Swept the enemy clear from the Allies path
And so won his Admiral's berth.

Now he sits on a bench quaffing galls. of beer
With his relations gathered from far and near
And this is the tale he tells.
I scattered the enemy from here to hell,
I settled old Li with a terrible yell
And defeated the rest wid me laugh.
No need to draw my cutlass ****
Or work the murderous maxim machine
I did it all wid my laugh.

From the diary entry on 5 September 1900 by William George Robertson, courtesy of the Sea Power Centre.


Height = 22 cm. Diameter = 38 cm.

Height = 77 cm. Diameter = 24 cm.

Bob's Souvenirs from China
Photographed courtesy of Pam Fegen

Gunner Kearns' China Medal
Australian National Maritime Museum 



One of this city's best known old identities, Mr Robert (Bob) Kearns, died on Tuesday evening, at his residence, 16 Railway-terrace, after a brief illness. Born at Arcklow County Wicklow, Ireland, 87 years ago, he arrived in the State and this city 67 years ago. He was the only survlving commissioned officer of the old Victorian Navy. He joined, the Royal Navy in Victoria 62 years ago and was absorbed into the Royal Australian Navy on the advent of Federation, retiring with the rank of Chief Commissioned Warrant Officer Gunner. He served as a member of Victorian contingent which served in China during the Boxer Rising, and was the founder of the Boys' Brigade. He was the oldest member of the Williamstown Football Club, and a prominent member of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. He is survived: by a granddauighter, hs wife having predeceased him over twelve months ago. The funeral, largely attended, at which a special car had to be used, for floral tributes, took place on Thursday afternoon, leaving his residence for crematiog at Fawkner. The coffin covered by the Union Jack was borne to the crematorium by ratings of the R.A.N. Commander A. Willett and Lieut. Milne represented the Minister for Navy and the Navy Departinent. Ernest W. Jackson was in charge of the funeral arrangements, and the Rev. James Walker held a service in the home and officiated at the crematorium.

Williamstown Chronicle, 1 August 1941















 Prot  5' 9½"  44"  Stout  Dark Hazel  left arm  

Details from Volunteer Listing kept by CPO Goding & held by grandson Lawrence Dilks, Williamstown. Compared with China Contingent List. Prepared by Ada Ackerly, Directory Williamstown Museum, c 1987.


Profile in The Australian Illustrated Enclclopaedia of The Boxer Uprising 1899-1901, Justin Corfield, Slouch Hat Publications, McCrae Australia, 2001.

* 1853 is given as the commencement date for the Victorian Navy as this is the year that Commander Lockyer (RN) went to Britain to superintend the building of HMCS Victoria.
Although the Victorian Navy ended in 1901 the career of Cerbeus etc continued. In 1910 the new ships started arriving & manning levels increased.

Information & photographs of men who served in the Victorian Naval Forces is eagerly sought. Please contact the webmaster.