In the beginning, or at least as far back as our changelogs go, Herbert Xu maintained the Debian kernel-source package.

 kernel-source-2.0.29 (2.0.29-6) frozen unstable; urgency=medium

Among his other Debian accomplishments, he also maintained the i386 and alpha kernel-image packages, and was the original author of Debian's initrd-tools.

Maintaining these packages was (and still is) a time-intensive task. Herbert was, in my experience, a maintainer who was very responsive to bug reports and e-mail, and excelled at keeping up with security issues and new upstream releases.

Since Herbert maintained the i386 and alpha kernel-image packages, builds for those architectures closely tracked new kernel-source releases. However, each of the other architectures had its own maintainer. Those maintainers may or may not use a kernel-source package as their base. Those that did use kernel-source did not all stay synchronized on the same version.

As an example, let's take a look at the woody release. There are 10 kernel-source packages in 3.0r5. An audit of the source packages that are included in 3.0r5 show 31 that produce kernel-image packages. Of those, 3 do not build-depend on any kernel-source package. Instead, these 3 packages provide their own linux source. Therefore, the security team would need to port a security patch to 13 source trees and rebuild 31 packages in order to fix a vulnerability in the woody distribution! And this is ignoring things like ABI changes which may require rebuilds of module packages, and other packages that include their own kernel binaries.

To attempt to solve this and other coordination issues, the creation of a debian-kernel list was requested by Francesco Paolo Lovergine and Sven Luther.

Herbert resigned from Debian on May 19, 2004. Andres Salomon suggested that a kernel team be created, citing the gnome team as an example of successful team package maintenance. Herbert handed over the responsibility of finding a new maintainer for the kernel packages to Martin Michlmayr, the presiding Debian Project Leader at the time. Martin's response was indeed an attempt to assemble a kernel team. Later that month, William Lee Irwin III announced his intent to NMU Herbert's kernel packages on behalf of the newly formed debian-kernel team.

Since then, much has been accomplished. I've captured some of the more notable milestones here.