A Google for the above took some work to locate the exact recipe I wanted for this. The problem is that one really needs to do an ‘in-place’ import. The solution was from Subversion‘s own FAQs (specifically this) which is reproduced here with some changes:
# svn mkdir svn+ssh://user@host/srv/svn-repository/hosts/host1/etc \
-m "Make a directory in the repository to correspond to /etc for this host"
# cd /etc
# svn checkout svn+ssh://user@host/srv/svn-repository/hosts/host1/etc .
# svn add *
# svn commit -m "Initial version of this host's config files"