John Heim         

Click here to edit subtitle


Sabretache: The Journal and Proceedings of The Military Historical Society of Australia, vol. LIX, no. 4 - December 2018.

 The Hidden Life of John ‘Barney’ Hines


 Colin Holland and Peter Stanley [1]


Many articles have been written about John ‘Barney’ Hines, who has been celebrated as the archetypal Australian ‘larrikin’ but also as a representative of the generation damaged by their war service. Many people will be familiar with Frank Hurley’s photograph showing him souveniring while serving with the 45th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in the Great War. He was a large, imposing man with a rough and ready approach to life. His bold and reckless behaviour earned him both praise and rebuke. He could be the best of the best or the worst of the worst. The 45th Battalion’s commanding officer, Arthur Allen, described Hines as ‘a tower of strength ... while he was in the line’. Another officer recalling his poor discipline called him ‘Two pains in the neck.’ [2]

Famous soldiers often come to represent qualities or traits that are believed to be common among their fellow soldiers. It’s easy for myths to be created about much talked about soldiers like Hines. The further away in time we become from historical events the more difficult it is to establish facts, especially when information has been copied from publication to publication. Mistakes are sometimes copied unknowingly because of the trust we have in seemingly reliable sources on the subject. Such errors may go uncorrected for many years. But the essence of historical research is that we might be confronted with new evidence that might challenge long-held beliefs. Much of what was once believed about Hines and his family background came from details that he himself provided. But, it becomes clear, he often gave false information about himself so he was not always a reliable source.

In March 2018 members of the RootsChat website forum were asked for their help in researching the early life of Hines. RootsChat is a free online family history research website which enables researchers to assist each other. Questions posed on RootsChat have stimulated research that has radically changed our understanding of Hines’s life. Hines was born in Liverpool, England, a part of the world that is well covered by genealogy websites. He should have appeared on some online records but for some reason he couldn’t be found. ‘ALAMO2008’, who was asking for help, became interested in Hines after reading an article about him by Peter Smith in Ireland’s Own magazine in 2014. Hines claimed to be from an Irish background. On RootsChat ‘cath151’ posted about a Heim or Heims family who were living at Eldon Place, Liverpool on the 1871 census. She wondered if Hines could have derived from Heims. The next day ‘heywood’, later joined by other members, cited a variety of records to build a case to prove that Hines was John Heim, the Liverpool-born son of German immigrants.

John Heim had indeed been born in Liverpool, England, in 1878, but the details of his life must now be accepted as very different to the story previously understood. He was baptised at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church in Grosvenor Street, Liverpool on 20 October 1878. The church baptism register is in Latin and recorded his name as Joannis Haim and says he was born on 11 October 1878. His father was Jacob Haim and his mother was Dora Fanhoff. [3] When his mother registered the birth on 25 November 1878 she appears to have used the German form of the first name, ‘Johannes’ or ‘Johann’, but the registrar appears to have misunderstood her. The registrar recorded the birth of the child as a girl called Johanna Heim. The birth entry says the father was Jacob Heim, a labourer and the mother was Dora Hofaf. It gives the child’s date of birth as 20 October 1878 and place of birth as 16 Grosvenor Street. [4] There is a reasonable explanation why the wrong date of birth was given for the birth registration. A child born on 11 October, whose birth was not registered until 25 November 1878, would have been a ‘late registration’. It was common practice for families to adjust the date of birth of their children in order to avoid the complications of registering after the specified period.

Census records give details of the family’s composition and history. Jacob Heim worked in the local sugar refining industry. [5] The family first appear on the Liverpool census records in 1871. [6] They were living at 61 Eldon Place, Liverpool. Jacob Heim (33) had been born in Bavaria and his wife Dora Heim (26) had been born in Prussia, now both in Germany. Jacob’s occupation was ‘Labourer Sugar house’. Matilda Heim (8) was Jacob's daughter from his first marriage to Mary Ann Schmitt who had died in Liverpool in 1868. Jacob married his second wife Dora in 1870. Matilda died in 1878 and Jacob and Dora named their next daughter Matilda in 1881. On the 1881 census they were living at 69 Bevington Hill, Liverpool. [7] The family consisted of: Jacob Heims (43), Sugar Refiner, born in Germany, his wife Dora F. Heims (33), born in Germany and their Liverpool-born children: Dora Heim (9), Jacob Heim (7), Mary Heim (4), John Heim (2) and Matilda (2 months). Jacob Heim died aged 50 years in 1890 leaving the family without their main breadwinner. On the 1891 census the family were living at 9 Arley Street, Liverpool. [8] The family then consisted of: Dora Heim (40), widow and her children: Dora Heim (19), Mary Heim (16), John Heim (13), Matilda Heim (10) and Rose Heim (6).

John Heim’s mother, Dora, married a widower called Thomas Wait, a blacksmith, at St. Alban’s Church of England in Bevington, Liverpool in 1893. Heim enlisted in the King’s Liverpool Regiment on 27 September 1895. He gave his address as 114 Bond Street, Liverpool and his occupation as blacksmith, the same occupation as his step-father. He gave his age as 18 years and 9 months, he was actually 16 at the time, a couple of weeks away from being 17. He was later discharged, for reasons unspecified. [9] While his military service was brief, he claimed on his AIF enlistment papers to have served in the King’s Liverpool; not the last misinformation Heim perpetrated. He joined the Royal Navy on 9 April 1896, giving his date of birth as 12 October 1876 and occupation as blacksmith. He was ‘Discharged as objectionable’ after eight months. [10] He later went to sea as a merchant seaman working as a marine fireman (a stoker), perhaps following in the footsteps of his older brother Jacob Heim who was a leading fireman. John Heim married Hannah Maher on 22 May 1899 at Our Lady of Reconciliation Roman Catholic church in Eldon Street, Liverpool. He gave his address as 11 Eldon Place, the same address as his brother Jacob Heim who was a witness at the marriage. [11]

John and Hannah Heim had two children together. Jacob Heim was born on 27 October 1899 [12] and Hannah Heim was born on 15 July 1901. [13] On the 1901 census the family were living at house 5 in court 2 in Silvester Street, Liverpool. [14] The family living at the property on the night of 31 March 1901 consisted of: Hannah Heim (22), her son, Jacob Heim (1), her mother, Frances Maher (46), hawker and her brother, Martin Maher (14), port bread boy. All were born in Liverpool. John Heim was probably away at sea at the time of the census. Some Liverpool Record Office crew lists from around this time show that Heim was working away at sea. From September to October 1899 Heim was a fireman and trimmer on the ship Ottoman going between Liverpool and Canada. [15] He was on the ship Majestic going between Liverpool and New York in 1901, from May to June 1901 as a fireman and from June to July 1901 as a greaser. The captain of Majestic at the time was Edward Smith, later notable as the captain of Titanic. [16]

Electoral rolls confirm that Heim was living with the family in Silvester Street. ‘John Heims’ formerly of 5 in 2 court Silvester Street was at 5 in 6 court Silvester Street in 1902-03. Heims was at the same address in 1903-04 but there was no eligible voter listed at that address in 1904-05 and he doesn't appear on any further electoral rolls in Liverpool. [17] For some reason around this time he left his wife and children. Hannah Heim married James May, a labourer, in Liverpool in 1906, describing herself as a widow. [18] Most working class people were unable to obtain a divorce at this time so many separated people said they were widowed so they could marry again. James May died in hospital 7 weeks into the marriage and Hannah married Robert Melvin, a marine fireman, in 1907. [19] Hannah lived at 51 Elstow Street, Kirkdale, Liverpool for many years. The address appears on her son’s first merchant seaman crew list in 1915 [20] and she was at the same address when she died, aged 72 years, in 1952. [21]

As a seaman, John Heim was able to travel to Australasia. The New South Wales State Archives Gaol Photographic Description Book images 14800 [22] and 17589 [23] confirm that Hines was living in New Zealand from at least 1904 and came to Australia on the ship Somerset in 1915. A crew listing from 1915 for Somerset includes a crew member named J Heim, a fireman, age 29, born in Liverpool. [24] This tells us that when Hines worked as a fireman on the ship Somerset, on his way from New Zealand to Australia, he did so under the name John Heim. The photographs of Hines in images 14800 and 17589 are useful as a comparison to the Hurley photograph. They provide conclusive proof that the souveniring soldier and the habitual criminal of these records are the same man. Articles written about Hines often portray him as a lovable rogue. He was usually allowed by journalists to tell his own story in a series of anecdotes. This gave him the opportunity to reinvent himself to an extent and show himself in a better light. Understandably, he kept his German background and his violent criminal past hidden. The considerable, detailed evidence now available about ‘Hines’s’ criminal past needs to be recorded, and should dislodge any suggestion that he was merely a harmless larrikin.

New Zealand and Australian newspapers put flesh on the bones of the convictions for Hines listed in the NSW Archives. The first of many criminal convictions for Hines under the name ‘John Sydney Hines’ was in New Zealand in 1904. He was convicted at Auckland, New Zealand on 7 November 1904 for threatening behaviour at Ellerslie Racecourse, also of vagrancy and consorting with thieves. [25] In support of the charges against Hines the prosecution said of him, ‘his mode of living had not been satisfactory for some time past. He had been associating for four or five months with well-known and reputed thieves and women of ill-fame’. Hines ‘had not done a stroke of work for a long time.’ Hines in a ‘pathetic appeal’ to the magistrate said, ‘when I came out here years ago I came with the intention of joining the police force.’ ‘And did you join?’ replied the magistrate sarcastically. Hines remained silent. ‘Well’ said the magistrate, ‘a man can always be judged by his companions. You are sentenced to three months’. [26]

In January 1906 Hines pleaded guilty to threatening behaviour in Albert Street, Auckland. Police sub inspector Black said Hines and another man were fighting but the other man got away. Hines claimed to be a gum digger and said he had been in town for a week. He told the court the other man came up to him and hit him. Hines admitted having committed several offences, including assaults on other men. ‘The accused is one of the worst men in town’ said Black. A constable added that Hines ‘loafed about town and kept company with drunken men’. Hines said the police ‘followed and hounded him down.’ ‘The police do not hound anyone down.’ replied the magistrate. ‘In any case, a man with your character wants watching.’ Hines was given a fine of £2 or a sentence of 2 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. [27]

Hines was arrested in Auckland in April 1908 after police had been looking for him for some time. [28] It was alleged that Hines was involved in the theft of £115 from a deaf and dumb man named David Sutherland at Wellington on 27 May 1907. Hines was alleged to have been an accomplice of a man named Archibald McNab who was previously convicted of the robbery. On 18 June 1907 Sutherland’s drowned body was found in Wellington Harbour. [29] It was believed that Sutherland had committed suicide while suffering grief at the loss of the money. Hines was tried at the Wellington Supreme Court with witnesses appearing to give evidence that included a man named Ryan who gave ‘King’s evidence’. When Sutherland was discharged from the Terrace Gaol on 21 May 1907 he received £120 0s 3d, the money found on him when he was arrested, from the chief gaoler. He was handed a cheque for £115 and the balance in money. On 23 May 1907, when Sutherland was fined for drunkenness, he still had the cheque in his possession. On 27 May 1907 he went out on a carouse with McNab and Hines and was later joined by Ryan. McNab stole the cheque and the money was afterwards divided between the three men. Hines was convicted on 22 May 1908 and sentenced to 9 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. [30]

Robert Murphy claimed that on Friday 10 December 1909, at about 11 O’Clock at night, he and another man named O’Brien were in the vicinity of the timber mills in Customs Street, Auckland when they heard a noise coming from the timber. Murphy went to investigate and found Hines and a woman amongst the timber. Hines noticed a bottle of beer in Murphy’s pocket, he half asked for it and half took it without any resistance from Murphy. He and the woman drunk the beer then Hines suddenly grabbed Murphy demanding to know if he had any money. Murphy accused Hines of attempting to steal his watch and chain, striking him in the face, butting him with his head and chasing him. He said several women, who had come out of their houses in the vicinity, remonstrated with Hines for his brutality and bad language. The case was referred to Auckland Supreme Court. Murphy’s evidence was found to be insufficient to prove theft but Hines was convicted for assault and using obscene language on 20 December 1909 and sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. [31]

Hines appeared again at the Supreme Court in Auckland on 29 August 1910. He appeared before the Chief Justice charged with breaking and entering the gum store of Francis Deacon at Kumeu. Previously a man named Denny, charged with being one of the two men responsible, was acquitted. Hines conducted his own defence and pointed out the absence of evidence connecting him with the offence. The jury returned a guilty verdict and Hines was remanded for sentence. ‘Can I appeal, your Honour?’ asked Hines. His Honour answered, ‘Yes’ then criticised the jury in the Denny trial, ‘I suppose you feel sore because the other jury acquitted your companion and you have been found guilty. The fact is the other jury was gulled but this jury has not been gulled.’ [32] Hines was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment with hard labour and was declared to be an habitual criminal. [33]

At the Police Court in Auckland on 10 November 1911 ‘John Sydney Hines, a burly sailor’ and Margaret Piper alias Braslin were charged with stealing £2 10s and a metal watch valued at 15s from a gum digger named Joseph John Bradley in Customs Street. Both prisoners were committed to the Supreme Court for trial. The prosecution case in the trial was that at about midnight on 3 November Bradley was making his way along the waterfront to his home in Freeman’s Bay. He saw Hines, another man and Piper struggling together. Bradley kept his distance but Hines grabbed hold of him, backed him into a shed and up against a wall. Hines told him to be quiet and not to struggle or else it would be worse for him. Hines snatched Bradley’s watch, breaking the chain in the process, while Piper searched his pockets taking his money. Both prisoners were convicted on 24 November 1911 and were found to have unenviable records. Hines was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment with hard labour and 4 years’ detention for reformative treatment. [34]

Hines first joined the Australian Imperial Force on 24 August 1915, within a week of arriving in Australia (the Somerset arrived in Sydney on 18 August 1915). [35] When submitting the information for his next of kin he initially put down ‘Mother Dora Hines, 23 Eldon Place, Liverpool, England’ then corrected it to ‘Sister Mrs Mary Thompson’ and left the address as it was. Dora was the name of John Heim’s mother. John Heim’s sister Mary Heim married David Thompson at St. Nicholas Church of England, Liverpool on 17 December 1893. John Heim was a witness at that marriage and his signature appears on the marriage record. [36] The address Eldon Place appears a number of times in connection with the Heim family. A family member was known to be living at 23 Eldon Place in 1915. Mary Thompson married Dennis Hayde at Our Lady of Reconciliation church on 30 December 1915, the witnesses, Patrick and Rose Ann Cleary, were recorded as living at 23 Eldon Place. [37] Rose Ann was John Heim’s sister. When Mary died in 1916 the address on her burial record was 23 Eldon Place. [38]

In 1915, when he first joined the AIF, Hines gave his age as 28 years. When he re-joined the AIF on 8 May 1916, he gave his age as 36. Age variations occur in records for both John Heim and John Hines. They match on at least one occasion. Heim gave his date of birth as 12 October when he joined the Royal Navy in 1896. The NSW Gaol Photographic Description Book image 14800 for Hines gives the same date of birth, 12 October. The years given are different but the fact that both records give 12 October, the day after his baptism says Heim was born, is close enough a match that it couldn’t be a coincidence. They have to be the same man. NSW Gaol Photographic Description Book image 17589, like image 14800, gives his year of birth as 1884 but gives a different date of birth, 17 March. That date, St. Patrick’s Day, was a memorable date in the predominantly Liverpool-Irish district Hines grew up in. Hines was probably having a laugh giving that date. The Heim children being Catholics would have been educated at a local Catholic school where most of their friends would have come from an Irish background. [39]

The Australian convictions date from 1916 onwards. The first conviction occurred within two weeks of his first medical discharge from the AIF. John Hines and Matthew Geercke appeared at the Central Police Court in Sydney on 31 January 1916. Constable Ellis said he saw the two accused coming up the steps near the Darling Harbour railway. They were found to be carrying 62 dinner plates in a bag. Geercke left Hines with the bag and Ellis followed Hines. He asked him what he had in the bag. Hines said he only had a few plates. Ellis told Hines he would have to accompany him to the police station. Hines replied, ‘No chance’ and struck Ellis. After Hines had struck Ellis three or four times Ellis drew his baton and Hines said, ‘Stop; I’ll give in and come to the station.’ Hines said an unknown man had given him 2s to carry the bag up the steps. Both accused were fined £5 or 2 months hard labour. Hines was also fined £5 or 2 months for assaulting constable Ellis. [40]

In August 1920 John Hines, ‘a fitter’s labourer’, appeared at a coroner’s inquest in Sydney into the death of Margaret Johnson of George Street, Waterloo. [41] A witness, Ethel McNevin, a nurse at the Coast Hospital, said Johnson was admitted on 12 July. She was bleeding from the mouth and appeared very sick. She had bruises on the left hip and abdomen. Johnson stated to the witness that her husband had given her a hiding. Johnson died of internal injuries on 14 July. Another witness, Matilda Annie Clark, visited Johnson on 7 July. Johnson told Clark that Hines would do anything for her if she did not drink. Johnson confessed to her that there were times when the craving became too strong for her and she ‘had to go the whole hog or nothing.’ Hines said he had lived with Johnson for about 18 months. He said she was addicted to drink. He said she complained of being ill and two days later he summoned a doctor. He denied that he had struck Johnson. The coroner returned an open verdict. [42]

James Drummond, a rigger, of Devonshire Street, Sydney, gave evidence against John Hines, ‘a fitter’, at Redfern Police Court on 25 October 1920. Drummond recalled sitting in a low chair in a kitchen in a house in George Street, Waterloo with Hines, Martin Tobin and a woman. Hines suddenly grabbed Drummond by the lapel of his coat and forced him to the floor. Before Drummond could rise Hines kicked him about the face. Half conscious with his eyes filled with blood he saw Hines standing over him with Tobin beside him. A gold watch and chain were taken from him. [43] Hines was convicted of robbery with violence on 7 December 1920 and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour for this crime. [44]

Hines continued to get himself in trouble in Australia for many years to come but his offences were not as bad as in New Zealand. His later convictions included assault, stealing, indecent language, drunk and disorderly, resisting a constable and breach of a municipal bylaw. For these offences he received fines or short sentences. The longest of these sentences was 3 months’ imprisonment with hard labour for stealing in 1929. [45]

In 1933, after the photograph of Hines by Frank Hurley was displayed at the temporary Australian War Museum in Sydney, there was press interest in Hines. Magazine and newspaper articles followed. The public learned that Hines was now living near Mount Druitt, out of work and mainly subsisting on his war pension. After reading about his poverty some people sent him money. He lived a lonely existence for many years, in a ‘humpy’ - a primitive shelter. It is not known if he had any contact with his family in Liverpool in his latter years. He died in 1958, aged 79 years, a lonely, sick and disturbed man.

John ‘Barney’ Hines is a well known figure in Australian military history. The new evidence disclosed as a result of the queries posed to the RootsChat site gives us a much more detailed, and realistic, understanding of his life. It shows that far from being a romantic larrikin, he was an undeniably unpleasant man, perhaps damaged by alcohol abuse, we may never know for certain what shaped his bad character. The reality should not blind us to the hardships and danger of his war service, but it should deter us from seeing his life as anything but the grim tragedy it was.




1 Colin Holland is a member of Liverpool & South West Lancashire Family History Society. He is a volunteer researcher. He publicised new evidence found about another Liverpool-born soldier, William Connolly VC, in 2015. Prof. Peter Stanley of UNSW Canberra is one of Australia’s most distinguished military social historians. His 2010 book Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force (in which he discussed Barney Hines) was jointly awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History.

2 Nepean Times, 14 April 1938, Trove, National Library of Australia

3 ‘Joannis Haim’, St. Joseph’s RC Church, Baptisms (282 JOS/1/5), Liverpool Record Office, UK

4 ‘Johanna Heim’, birth: Oct/Nov/Dec 1878, Liverpool, GRO for England and Wales, UK

5 The German Connection: 

6 Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871, National Archives, UK 

7 Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881, National Archives, UK 

8 Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891, National Archives, UK 

9 John Heim, British Army Service Records, National Archives, UK 

10 John Heim, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services, National Archives, UK 

11 Our Lady of Reconciliation RC Church, Marriages (282 REC/2/2), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

12 Our Lady of Reconciliation RC Church, Baptisms (282 REC/1/8), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

13 St. Sylvester RC Church, Baptisms (282 SYL/1/3), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

14 Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901, National Archives, UK 

15 Crew Lists, Ottoman (387 CRE/658), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

16 Crew Lists, Majestic (387 CRE/557), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

17 Liverpool Electoral Registers, Burgess rolls and Voters Lists, Liverpool Record Office, UK 

18 St Nicholas CE Church, Marriages (283 NIC/3/110), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

19 St Nicholas CE Church, Marriages (283 NIC/3/111), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

20 James Melvin: 

21 Ford Cemetery, Liverpool Catholic Church Registers, Liverpool Record Office, UK 



24 J Heim on Somerset: 

25 Auckland Star, 7 November 1904, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

26 New Zealand Herald, 8 November 1904, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

27 New Zealand Herald, 29 January 1906, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

28 New Zealand Herald, 20 April 1908, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

29 New Zealand Times, 22 May 1908, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

30 Dominion, 22 & 23 May 1908, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

31 Auckland Star, 16 & 20 December 1909, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

32 New Zealand Times, 30 August 1910, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

33 Evening Post, 31 August 1910, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

34 New Zealand Herald, 11, 13, 24 & 25 November 1911, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand 

35 Evening News (Sydney), 19 August 1915, Trove, National Library of Australia 

36 St Nicholas CE Church, Marriages (283 NIC/3/99), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

37 Our Lady of Reconciliation RC Church, Marriages (282 REC/2/2), Liverpool Record Office, UK 

38 Ford Cemetery, Liverpool Catholic Church Registers, Liverpool Record Office, UK 

39 For local RC schools see: 

40 Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1 February 1916, Trove, National Library of Australia 

41 Evening News (Sydney), 5 August 1920, Trove, National Library of Australia 

42 Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 14 August 1920, Trove, National Library of Australia 

43 Sun (Sydney), 25 October 1920, Trove, National Library of Australia 

44 Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 1920, Trove, National Library of Australia 

45 New South Wales State Archives, Gaol Photographic Description Book image 17589


Thank you for contacting us. We will get back to you as soon as possible
Oops. An error occurred.
Click here to try again.