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Research Guides


The Boer War: Australians and the War in South Africa, 1899–1902


Appendix 2: Relevant collections in other archives and libraries

The Australian War Memorial, Canberra

The Memorial holds a large collection of letters, diaries, memoirs and photographs by soldiers of nearly all Australian contingents to the war, and by some Australian members of other units (notably the 2nd Scottish Horse, partly raised in Victoria). Prominent officers are well represented: John Antill, John Hoad and the controversial Percy Ricardo of the first contingents; veterinary officer Ernest Kendall; chaplain Frederick Wray; regular officers Harry Chauvel and Brudenell White; Breaker Morant (mostly poetry) and his offsider Peter Handcock (one letter) of the Bushveldt Carbineers; and Granville Ryrie and Kenneth Mackay of the New South Wales Imperial Bushmen. Among the most detailed and evocative collections left by unremembered soldiers and junior officers are Harold Harnett's diaries, Robert Hodgson's memoir, and A C Murray's photograph album.

Most of the official government records held by the War Memorial are listed on the Archives database RecordSearch. However, the Memorial also holds a large collection of official records generated by Tasmania's draft contingent which, having been presented by private donation, are not catalogued on RecordSearch and thus are not described in this guide. Some of the unspectacular art inspired by the war can be seen at the Memorial, including Charles Hammond's crude and celebratory painting Australians and New Zealanders at Klerksdorp. More evocative is the collection of battlefield relics, from a surgical kit to a heliograph, much of which is on display in the South African War gallery, and the vast holdings of photographs from the war, many of which are vivid and frank.

The National Library of Australia, Canberra

The National Library holds around 20 sets of personal papers kept by soldiers and officers. Perhaps the most interesting are those of Charles Cox, commanding officer of the first Australian unit to reach South Africa; Martin Maddern, YMCA representative with Queensland's fourth contingent; and Edward Hutton, Australia's controversial first General Officer Commanding and commander in South Africa of many Australian soldiers.

The Australian Defence Force Academy Library, Canberra

The Australian Defence Force Academy Library holds microfilm copies of the British Library's massive collection of Edward Hutton's private papers.

State archives and libraries

Most of the surviving official Australian records relating to the war are held in State archives around the country. Nearly all are hidden away in the uncatalogued correspondence of premiers, colonial secretaries and treasurers, and must be found either by calling up bundles in chronological order or by the even more time-consuming method of tracing correspondence recorded in register books. The Queensland and Western Australian State archives hold some records on their contingents and patriotic funds which have been organised as discrete collections and described in brief guides.

The State libraries are, after the Australian War Memorial, the best source of soldiers' private papers, and the best source of records suggesting the war's impact at home. The La Trobe Library in Melbourne, for example, holds Frederick Purcell's letters from the front to his fiancee, an invitation to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking at the Melbourne Club (T N Fitzgerald papers), printed souvenirs of the departure of early Victorian contingents (Hamilton family papers), Reverend Charles Strong's view of why the Uitlander cause was flawed (Strong papers), published nominal rolls of all Victorian contingents, and minutes of the Victorian Trades Hall Council which evoke organised labour's divided opinion on the war.

Beyond Australia

The Public Record Office in London holds four relevant groups of records: Cabinet, Colonial Office, private, and War Office records. Cabinet records mention high policy, as do Colonial Office records – many of which are available in Australian state libraries and the National Library through the Australian Joint Copying Project. The private records of Kitchener and Roberts contain frequent comment on the organisation and employment of mounted troops from around the empire and highlight the military role which Australian contingents were summoned to perform in the war. War Office records contain senior military decisions and views on Australia's contribution to the war, a valuable corrective given that Australian historians have so far only used Colonial Office material; records of the awards of battle honours to Australian military units after the war ended, revealing desperate attempts by Australians to concoct a military heritage for their newly-created Commonwealth Military Forces; rolls of all war veterans entitled to medals; monthly reports by commanders of British army formations to which Australian units were attached; and special reports on problems and crises, some of which involved Australians.

Other repositories of military records in Britain – the National Army Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the British Library, the Liddell Hart Centre at King's College London, the Scottish Record Office and others – hold few relevant records, though some private papers such as those of General John French, Roberts' cavalry commander, and Frederick Maurice, Britain's official historian of the war, are useful.

Although the records held by South African archives and libraries have not been surveyed to any great extent, the available guides and bibliographies suggest that much of the official military records relating to the Boer War concern procedural matters, as opposed to policy. This ranges from routine administrative documents such as court martial records to private collections relating to those South African-based units in which many Australians served, such as the Imperial Light Horse.


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