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Biographical entry Hake, Cecil Napier (1848 - 1924)

16 October 1924
Monte Carlo


Cecil Hake was one of the key figures in the weapons industry, particularly cordite manufacture, in Australia and is considered the first Commonwealth defence scientist. In 1890 he was appointed Chief Inspector of Explosives for Victoria. He immediately set about modernising the Explosives Branch and introduced protocols to improve the safety of explosives manufacture and handling. Hake quickly became a highly regarded expert in the weapons industry throughout the colonies and in Britain. When the Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901, Hake was promoted to Advisor to the Commonwealth's Department of Defence, but remained as an honorary adviser to the Victorian Defence Department until 1909. By 1911 he retired from the Department of Defence and returned to England.


On the recommendation of Britain's Chief Inspector of Explosives, Victoria appointed Cecil Napier Hake their Chief Inspector of Explosives in 1890. Hake totally revamped the Explosives Act to ensure safe and efficient manufacturing and handling of explosives. By 1895 there were concerns over the future of explosive supplies in Victoria so Hake was asked to investigate the advantages of cordite manufacture over traditional gunpowder (RFG 2). He inspected cordite production in England and concluded that Australia too should convert to cordite manufacture, which it eventually did.

As Chief Inspector of Explosives for Victoria, Hake was also involved in giving expert advice on ammunition problems which occurred during service. One of these was that ammunition become 'double bulleted' because of some of the automatic machines used at the factory. The problem was overcome by installing automatic weighing machines.

At the time of Federation, Victoria had the most comprehensive defence establishment in the country which included, thanks largely to Hake, a top class munitions factory. In around 1907 Hake was permanently transferred to the Commonwealth Department of Defence as their full time Chemical Advisor. One of his first jobs was to advise on setting up explosive testing facilities. Later he was in charge of establishing Australia's first Cordite Factory and in June 1908 was appointed Inspector of Cordite - a position which was independent of the Military and of the Cordite factory.

Published resources

Encyclopedia of Australian Science Exhibitions

Journal Articles

  • Hake, C. Napier, 'Fumes in Mines', The Scientific Australian, 2 (1897), 38. Details
  • Hake, C.N., 'Presidential Address, Section B, Chemistry: Recent Developments in Modern Explosives', Report of the Fifth Meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, 5 (1893), 97-103. Details
  • Kilmartin, David, 'Cecil Napier Hake: Australia's First Devence Scientist', Chemistry in Australia, 2014 (June) (2014), 16-9. Details
  • Spink, J. [?], 'Obituary: Cecil Napier Hake', Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria, XXIV (1924), 1132. Details


See also

  • Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Technology in Australia 1788-1988, Online edn, Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, Melbourne, 3 May 2000, Details
  • Wisdom, John, A History of Defence Science in Australia (Melbourne: Defence Science and Technology Organisation, 1995), 267 pp. Details

Annette Alafaci