Guide to the papers of Sir George Pearce
The papers of Sir George Pearce are held within the Private Records collection at the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre. They document Pearce's life from 1909-1934 and chiefly cover his experiences as Australian Minister for Defence in 1908-09, 1910-13, 1914-21 and 1932-34. The papers occupy two shelf metres and comprise a range of record types: diaries, letters, photographs, reports, legal papers and official documents. The largest component of the collection focuses on correspondence between Pearce and military and political figures in Australia and overseas during the First World War. These include Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, Australian Prime Ministers William Hughes and Andrew Fisher and Field Marshal Lord Birdwood. Topics discussed cover events such as the development of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), conscription, defence, repatriation and demobilisation. Later correspondence with Hughes and Fisher document Pearce's visit to Austria in 1919 to sign the Peace treaty and his delegate role on the League of Nations.Post-war papers and correspondence focus on Pearce's role as the Minister for Home and Territories, 1921-1926 and include international conferences on disarmament and the role of the League of Nations.
SERIES 1: Pre-war papers and correspondence, 1909-1913 - Reports and correspondence relating to Pearce's role as Minister for Defence prior to the First World War. The series comprises memorandum of conferences between the British Admiralty, Canada and Australia, June 1911; the creation of an Australian navy and the purchase of new destroyers, February 1909; drafts of Naval Discipline Acts; the development of a naval policy by the Deakin and Fisher governments; correspondence with Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson KCB, June 1910; correspondence relating to the building of the Royal Naval College at Jervis Bay, January 1912 and a published report of recommendations for the Commonwealth naval forces written by Henderson, 1911.; SERIES 2: Correspondence with Sir Ronald and Lady Helen-Munro Ferguson, 1914-1927 - Comprises of extensive correspondence between Pearce, Minister of Defence, and Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, Governor-General of Australia. A number of letters exchanged between Pearce and Lady Helen discuss Red Cross Society appeals. Other topics include an investigation into the management of the 1 Australian General Hospital in Egypt, 1915.;SERIES 3: Correspondence with Field Marshal Lord William Birdwood, 1915-1937 - Letters exchanged between Pearce and Birdwood, mostly during the First World War. Later correspondence concerns Birdwood's opposition to the New South Wales Lang government; the Depression and economic recovery of Australia.; SERIES 4: Correspondence with Prime Minister William Hughes, 1910-1919 - Letters exchanged between Pearce and Hughes during the First World War, mainly concerning the issues of conscription and censorship. Later correspondence in 1918 relates to the demobilsation of the AIF.; SERIES 5: First World War papers and general correspondence,1914-1919 - Correspondence, reports of proceedings, memorandums and minutes relating to issues of government in Australia during the First World War. Papers relating to the Recruiting Committee and conscription, demobilisation, repatriation, Labor conferences, correspondence relating to a visit by Pearce and his wife to the battlefields in France, July 1919; wool purchasing; conscription referendum, 1916; censorship, 1916; letter from Keith Murdoch to Pearce regarding the campaign in Gallipoli, September 1915; State Munitions Committee correspondence re manufacture of munitions, July 1916; letters from Keith Murdoch about the delivery of mail to Australian soldiers at the front and Hughes visit to Europe to attend the Paris conference, April 1916; Correspondents include Keith Murdoch, Andrew Fisher, Billy Hughes and Dame Nellie Melba.;SERIES 6: Correspondence with Andrew Fisher, 1909-1917 - Correspondence exchanged between Fisher and Pearce, when Fisher was both Prime Minister of Australia and later as High Commissioner for Australia, London. Correspondence covers topics such as attendance at the London conference on naval and military defence of the British Empire, May 1909, the Pacific Naval question, 1914 and amendments to the Defence Act, July 1915.;SERIES 7: Correspondence with Captain R Muirhead Collins, 1908-1915 - Filed in this series are letters written to Pearce by Captain R Muirhead Collins regarding naval defence and naval expenditure in the Commonwealth prior to the First World War. Other topics include representatives to the Naval and Military Conference in Great Britain, 1909; signing contracts for torpedo boat destroyers, 1909; copy of a speech given at the launch for cruisers for the navy of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1912; correspondence relating to the Imperial Defence committee, 1912; correspondence relating to Pearce attending the Vancouver Naval Conference, 1913. Correspondence after the outbreak of the First World War covers the British government's organisation of munitions, the internment of aliens in Britain, progress at Gallipoli, 1915; zeppelin raids over London; Australian casualty numbers at Gallipoli; the unpopularity of Prime Minister John Asquith; steel production of the Broken Hill Company and recruitment numbers in Britain, 1916.;SERIES 8: Correspondence with General J G Legge, 1915 - Filed in this series are letters exchanged between Pearce and General Legge during the First World War. The correspondence comprises two letters written in September 1915 by Legge to Pearce regarding divisional arrangements at the Dardanelles for Australian and New Zealand forces. ;SERIES 9: Correspondence with General Bridges, 1909-1915 - Letters exchanged between Pearce and General Bridges during the First World War. Topics include the landing at Gallipoli and the progress of Australian forces, 1914-1915.SERIES 10: Correspondence with General Godley,1914-1916 - Correspondence between Pearce and Godley covering the first two years of the First World War. Letters exchanged describe the difficulty of obtaining qualified officers for the Australian and New Zealand forces; letters from Godley while from Cairo, Egypt 1915; correspondence on the performance of the 4th Brigade at Gallipoli, May 1915; the wounding and death of General Bridges at Gallipoli, May 1915; public opinion on the evacuation of Gallipoli, January 1916; Australian reinforcements, February 1916; hopes for the formation of an Australian and New Zealand Army, March 1916; Godley's visit to the training camps at Salisbury Plains, June 1916; Australian referendum campaign, November 1916; reports on the progress of the 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions at the Battle of Messines, June 1915 and Godley's account of the death of General Holmes, September 1917.;SERIES 11: Post-war papers and correspondence, 1919-1944 - This series comprises pocket diaries, 1929-1936 with brief entries recording meetings, visits and appointments; correspondence from Birdwood and Monash, 1918-1919, concerning demobilisation; conference report on demobilisation with contributions by Pearce, Birdwood, Monash and General Griffith in Melbourne, July 1919; published orders on the arrangements for the July 1919 Victory March through London, and correspondence with Birdwood and Hughes relating to organisation of the Victory March, April 1919.; SERIES 12: Ephemera, 1922
George Foster Pearce was born on 14 January 1870 at Mount Barker, South Australia to English parents, blacksmith James Pearce and his wife Jane. Pearce was educated at Red Hill Public School before leaving at 11 and becoming a carpenter. In the Depression of 1891, he was forced to move to Perth to find work. Soon afterwards, he became a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and in 1893 was working for the Trades and Labor Council.After spending a year prospecting on the Coolgardie goldfields, Pearce returned to Perth and became increasingly active in Labor politics.In 1900 he was elected to the Senate, after rising through the ranks of the State Labor Party. Initially Pearce was not particularly concerned with Australian security, however after Russia's defeat by Japan in 1905, he became convinced of the need for Australia to have a strong military and naval defence and to maintain close ties with Britain.The Fisher Labor government was elected in 1908, with Pearce taking the sensitive portfolio of Defence. Shortly after taking up the position, in February 1909, he ordered three torpedo boat destroyers. (correspondence filed in series 9). He again became Minister for Defence in the second Fisher government from April 1910, implementing compulsory military training and developing the Royal Australian military college. Pearce was also responsible for the passing of Australia's first Naval Defence Act in 1910. In 1911 Pearce attended the Imperial Conference in London, which increased his conviction that war was inevitable between Britain and Germany. During the First World War, Pearce continued to hold the position of Minister of Defence with both the Fisher and Hughes governments. With Hughes he was involved in the planning of the two conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917, and he was attacked by a number of parliamentarians and the media on this issue and his approach to censorship. The administration of the Department of Defence was also subject to severe criticism and in 1917 the government had to set up a royal commission that found inadequate administration had occurred particularly in the organisation of supply. For a while Pearce feared he might have to resign, though the commission did acknowledge the department had achieved a great deal under very difficult circumstances.Pearce's main responsibilities as minister involved the supply and reinforcements of the AIF and he had a part in the selection of senior officers. He maintained detailed correspondence with commanders of the AIF, including General Sir Ian Birdwood. (correspondence filed in series 3). At the end of the First World War, Pearce was sent to London with his family to help organise repatriation of the AIF. Pearce worked with Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash for several months negotiating shipping and financial details. In 1921 Pearce became Minister for Home and Territory and represented Australia on the Empire delegation at the Disarmament Conference in Washington held from November 1921-February 1922. He made a good impression upon a number of other delegates, including Lord Balfour, the leader of the delegation. The conference also had the effect of temporarily relieving Pearce's concerns about the threat of Japan to Australian security. Pearce held the position of Minister for Home and Territories from 1923-1926 and later vice-president of the Executive Council until 1929. Pearce was the only former Labor member to join the Bruce- Page government in 1923. He developed a strong professional relationship with Bruce who respected his knowledge and experience of international and imperial politics. From 1929 Pearce was the leader of the the Opposition in the Senate and in 1931 blocked the government's economic legislation. He became Minister for Defence in the United Australian Party government, under Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in 1932 and following the 1934 elections, Minister for External Affairs in the new UAP-Country Party coalition. After losing his seat at the Senate elections in October 1937, Pearce was appointed to a directorship on the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and during the Second World War, the Board of Business Administration. Pearce died on 24 June 1952 at his home in Elwood, Melbourne and was cremated after a state funeral. He was survived by two sons and two daughters.
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1 Australian General Hospital; 1st Australian Imperial Force; 6 Division; Conscription; Demobilisation; Elections; Foreign relations; Legislation; Politicians; Recruiting