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Hixson, Francis (1833–1909)

Captain Francis Hixson, late R.N. died at his residence Wordsley, Double Day, yesterday morning. In November last one of his sons (Mr Harley Hixson) died, and the captain never quite recovered from the shock of that bereavement. He is survived by three daughters, Mrs. G. E. Fairfax, Mrs. J. O. Fairfax, and Mrs M. McCay (wife of Dr. McCay of Calcutta) and three sons Messrs F. W., E. M. and H. O. N. Hixson.

Captain Hixson belonged to the type of British sailor which has made the Empire famous. He was born at Swanage, Dorsetshire in 1833. As a youngster, he joined the navy and soon gave indication of more than ordinary ability. He came to Australia in H.M.S. Havannah as a junior officer in 1848, and in the same cruiser visited the islands. Afterwards he was appointed navigating master to H.M.S. Herald then employed in the survey of the Australian coast and he rendered valuable services in determining the positions of the dangers now shown on the Admiralty charts. For nine years Master Hixson was on survey duty on the Herald during which time he won distinction and credit. Those were the days of tough sailors, and none were tougher than Master Hixson. The cruises to the Pacific generally lasted from nine to ten months. The hardships were many. Poor food and strenuous living constituted the order of the day. Only the fittest survived and the fittest were the best men in the British Navy.

Captain Hixson has often told of the smartness of his men. On arrival in Sydney Harbour the Havannah used to carry her stunsails right up to Fort Denison. She would then be swung round, a salute fired, the sails furled and the anchor let go, while the smoke still hung round. Captain Hixson loved to tell the story and he always found attentive listeners. One mission on which Captian Hixson was sent by slothful officialdom has often been the subject of comment. Too late his ship was ordered to New Caledonia to hoist the British flag. When the Herald arrived there the French were in full possession.

Captain Hixson was awarded the Royal Humane society's silver medal in 1858 for his plucky rescue of an A.B. who fell overboard in Shark Bay, Western Australia. The danger of sharks was a commonplace, but the captain who was then acting as second master on the Herald jumped overboard and supported the drowning tar till a boat arrived. Cantain Hixson left the Imperial Navy in 1863 to take up the appointment of Superintendent of Pilots and Lighthouses for New South Wales.

The Marine Board of New South Wales was incorporated in 1871 and Captain Hixson was unanimously appointed its first president. That position he filled with credit until the board was superseded by the present Marine Court of Inquiry. The while he sat, his influence and charming personality carried great weight. It was said of him that his justice was always tempered with mercy. Even a skipper deprived of his certificate felt bound to admit that he was heard with more than sympathy, and that the adverse stroke of the pen was made at all events by a gentleman. Thus was Captain Hixson beloved by all who came in contact with him. The sailors named him Dad on account of the fatherly interest he took in them and they spoke of him with genuine regard.

On December 9, 1871, Captain Hixson made one of the party sent to record observations in the transit of Venus. In 1893 he represented New South Wales at the Intercolonial Maritime Conference at Hobart.

It was Captain Hixson's connection with the New South Wales Naval Brigade that brought him most prominently before the public. He was its father and watched it grow from infancy till it attained a high state of efficiency. The Naval Brigade was enrolled in 1863, shortly after Captain Hixson relinquished his connection with the navy. He was sworn in as its first officer and the Government of the day appointed him to the command. The first muster of the brigade was on Flagstaff Hill where 20 men came into line. But the captain's energy and enthusiasm soon became the commonplace of every man till at the time of the Russian scare the Brigade numbered over 600 units.

A nice compliment was paid Captain Hixson early in August 1900, by his appointment to the command of the naval contingent which left for China on the steamer Salamis. He thus piloted the men he had licked into shape on their way to the first active service in foreign waters. It was at the time of the Boxer rebellion and the foreign legations at Peking were under a storm of shot and shell. Captain Hixson at this time was too old for active service so it was arranged that upon arrival at Hongkong he should hand over the command to Captain Gillespie R.N. of H.M.S. Mildura who travelled with him on the Salamis. Among the officers of the China contingent were two of Captain Hixsons sons, whilst a third volunteered his services. All three were in charge of companies in the Naval Brigade. Captain Hixson was the recipient of many congratulations upon his appointment and had the additional satisfaction of a warm welcome from the men. A large crowd assembled at Fort Macquarie to see the contingent off.

In the year 1886 the Naval Artillery Volunteer Company was placed under Captain Hixson's command. This corps was formed for the purpose of manning H.M.S. Wolverine, handed over by the British Government for training purposes. At that time the vessel was taken for short trips to sea. While under Captain Hixson's command complimentary reports from admirals on the station as to the general efficiency of the men were received. The Wolverine was finally sold as obsolete and became a total wreck on the New Zealand coast while carrying a cargo of coal.

Captain Hixson was a tireless student of naval matters. He inquired into the merits of everything new in naval warfare and kept himself right up to date. On the occasion of his trip to England in 1886, responding to the toast to his health at a banquet given by the Naval Brigade he said "I hope that my absence in England will not be thrown away. I shall take every opportunity that is given me in England to study naval matters. I shall feel interested in all inventions that may be in progress and it will be my pride when I come back to be enabled to extend my knowledge to the whole of you." He was as good as his word and, twelve months later speaking at a banquet welcoming him back said "I have had a long holliday. But in that holiday I hope I have combined duty with pleasure. I feel that I return to you in a certain respect requalified and perhaps better able to command you than I was before I left these shores."

Captain Hixson in his official capacity had the honour of bringing ashore Governers appointed to New South Wales commencing with Lord Belmore and ending with Earl Beauchamp.

With Lady Hoskins, Captain Hixson organised the royal Naval house and was a member of the committee of that institution. He was also chairman of the board of the Sydney Sailors Home, a position he held for over 40 years and it is largely owing to his exertions that the institution has been such a financial success whilst being a home for shipwrecked sailors. He also was one of the engineers of the Royal Shipwreck Relief Society, now the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales and for some years held the position of president. Captain Hixson had been on the retired list for some years and his only public appearances had been at naval functions.

An island in the Pacific of which the deceased officer was the discoverer bears the name of Hixson.

The funeral will leave Wordsley, Henrietta-street, Double Bay, at 2 p.m. to day and Milsons Point att 3 p.m. for St Thomas' Cemetery, North Sydney. A detachment of the Commonwealth Naval force, under Lieutenant Spain, including members of the China contingent of the old Naval Brigade, will attend with a firing party of 200.

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'Hixson, Francis (1833–1909)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hixson-francis-3772/text24622, accessed 23 November 2017.

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