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Research Guides


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


2. Committing the Contingents

Image 2: Applicant for the Australian Commonwealth Horse.

Image 2: Applicant for the Australian Commonwealth Horse.
NAA: A6443, 21
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The official commitment

Australian governments made four separate commitments to send contingents to the war. The first was the sometimes cautious agreement made by colonial governments on the eve of the war and after their military commandants had met and advocated raising an Australia-wide force. The second was the more enthusiastic decision made in the wake of Black Week to raise the second wave of contingents and to sanction the raising of citizens and imperial bushmen's contingents. The third, to raise the draft or fifth wave of contingents, was a more dutiful agreement made early in 1901 in response to Kitchener's call for reinforcements to take the place of the previous contingents now returning home. The final commitment, to raise the Australian Commonwealth Horse, was the first made by the Commonwealth Government and was intended to replace the draft contingents due to return home.

Three of the four commitments were matters between the imperial government and the six colonial governments, at a time when cabinets of the day were little inclined to record their deliberations. There are, therefore, few significant records of the commitments held by the National Archives or the Australian War Memorial.

SUBJECT BUNDLES OF GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES RELATING TO THE AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENTS IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN (BOER) WAR, 1899–1911
Canberra
Nearly 700 subject bundles on the war, mostly thin, separated from the late Victorian (B3756) and early Commonwealth (B168) defence departments' general correspondence. Most concern the raising and administration of early Victorian draft contingents and Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents, the appointment of officers, the return of invalid soldiers from the war, pay, gratuities, compensation and medals to be awarded. There are some officers' reports from the front.
Series: A6443
Quantity: 3.54 metres
Recorded by: 1899–1901: Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340); 1901–11: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6)
Printed publication 'Report of a conference of military commandants held at Victoria Barracks Melbourne on the 28th Sept 1899 and following day', 1899
Records the colonial commandants' plans, never acted on, for a 2000-strong Australian contingent to the war.
A6443, 285
Memo re meeting of Colonial Commandants to organise a united Australian Contingent, 1899
A request that the six colonies' commandants meet in Victoria Barracks in Melbourne when discussing the matter.
A6443, 423
Conditions of enlistment and constitution of 1st Victorian Contingent, 1899
Transcript of Chamberlain's telegram of 3 October asking for small, preferably infantry, contingents from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
A6443, 678
Respecting Lord Brassey's proposed formation of an Australian Regiment for general service, 1900
Chamberlain's advice of February 1900 to wait till after the Boer War before considering this plan (one among many) to consolidate the citizen soldiers of the British Empire into a reserve for the British army.
A6443, 679
PARLIAMENTARY PAPERS RELATING TO THE PROPOSAL TO SEND MEMBERS OF THE QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE TO THE TRANSVAAL, 1899
Melbourne
A copy of the parliamentary paper printed by the Queensland Legislative Assembly which published all official correspondence on the offer, recruitment and organisation of the colony's first contingent, with some insignificant annotations on the front page. Microfilm copies of this series are available in all Archives offices.
Series: B5182
Quantity: 0.01 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Legislative Assembly (CA 6801)
Parliamentary Papers re proposal to send Queensland Defence Force members to Transvaal Boer war, 1899 B5182, whole series
CONFIDENTIAL TELEGRAMS AND CORRESPONDENCE, HEADQUARTERS OFFICE, QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE, 1899–1900
Melbourne
Twelve confidential telegrams, letters or submissions on procedural planning and personnel matters largely concerning the despatch of the first Queensland contingent. There is almost no policy discussion.
Series: M744/6
Quantity: 0.18 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Copy of submission from the Commandant Queensland Defence Force to the Hon Chief Secretary Brisbane concerning rates of pay for the Transvaal contingent, 15 September 1899
Notes that officers should provide their own equipment and horses.
MP744/6, 251A
Telegrams in code to Major General H Gunter Australian Club Sydney from James R Dickson, 10 October 1899
Forwarding Chamberlain's request of 3 October 1899 for small colonial contingents.
MP744/6, 547
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1899–1907
Melbourne
This correspondence relates to arrangements for the Queensland contingents to serve in South Africa. Most of these 500 files concern medical and insurance matters and procedures for raising, despatching, returning and repatriating members of Queensland's third and fourth bushmen contingents.
Series: MP744/11
Quantity: 1.8 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Copy of telegram from Secretary of State for the Colonies accepting offer by Queensland Government of troops for South Africa, 1899–1907
Another transcript of Chamberlain's telegram of 3 October, with notation ordering the immediate return of Queensland's commandant after the Melbourne conference.
MP744/11, 1899/8235
Confirmation by London Office of telegram re offer of acceptance of Third Queensland (Mounted Infantry) Contingent with copy of letter affirming acceptance of offer, 1900
Conveys London's grateful acceptance of more mounted troops.
MP744/11, 1900/2729

Offers to serve

Image 3: Six patriotic nurses bound for South Africa, 1900.

Image 3: Six patriotic nurses bound for South Africa, 1900.
NAA: D4477, 425
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The commitments were not solely matters of state. With no power to conscript men to fight overseas and with almost no military forces other than militias and volunteer forces composed of citizen soldiers restricted to home defence, Australian governments both before and after Federation had to rely on the martial enthusiasm of their citizens if the contingents to South Africa were to be filled. Though the first wave of contingents filled only slowly, this reflected not so much pervasive scepticism toward the war but a general feeling that the British army would not really need help from semi-trained citizen soldiers. Once the need was made clear, thousands of Australians indicated their willingness to serve in South Africa.

SUBJECT BUNDLES OF GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES RELATING TO THE AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENTS IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN (BOER) WAR, 1899–1911
Canberra
Nearly 700 subject bundles on the war, mostly thin, separated from the late Victorian (B3756) and early Commonwealth (B168) defence departments' general correspondence. Most concern the raising and administration of early Victorian draft contingents and Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents, the appointment of officers, the return of invalid soldiers from the war, pay, gratuities, compensation and medals to be awarded. There are some officers' reports from the front.
Series: A6443
Quantity: 3.54 metres
Recorded by: 1899–1901: Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340); 1901–11: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6)
Enquiries re joining Marquis of Tullibardine's Scottish Horse Part 1, 1900–01 A6443, 45
Proposal by Australians in London for a fund for equipping mounted bushmen from colonies, 1899–1900
Agitation by prominent Australians in London after the defeats of Black Week to rouse their compatriots back home to join in the war 'at this crisis in the history of the Empire'.
A6443, 118
1st Commonwealth Contingent: Nurses, 1902
Requests from women to serve as nurses with the Australian Commonwealth Horse, one woman writing 'I would so much like to go and assist the nurses or do something for our poor men'.
A6443, 302
Letter from General Secretary Young Men's Christian Association offering services to Bushmen's Corps, 1901 A6443, 564
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1901–06
Canberra
Five boxes of applications to serve in the second regiment of the Marquis of Tullibardine's 2nd Scottish Horse, a non-Australian unit partly recruited in Victoria among men who could make some claim to Scottish descent and, often, who were rejected for service in the draft contingent being raised at the time. The boxes hold signed pledges to accept imperial discipline and make no claims on the Victorian Government. Marital status is the only personal information recorded on the applications. The boxes are organised alphabetically and include:
Series: A6394
Quantity: 0.36 metres
Recorded by: Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340)
Applications for Adams G O – Davies D W, 1901 A6394, NN
Applications for Mitchell J C – Selby P, 1901 A6394, NN
PRE-FEDERATION AND COMMONWEALTH RECORDS, 1850–1943
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
An artificial series largely consisting of records relating to New South Wales military activities from the 1860s to 1914. Three primary subjects containing around 70 files are relevant. Files with the primary number 3 concern recruiting, training and administration of New South Wales and Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents and largely consist of nominal rolls. Files with the primary number 4 concern those contingents on active service and includes many officers' reports. Files with the primary number 5 concern medals, pensions and gratuities.
Series: AWM1
Quantity: 34 metres
Recorded by: 1850–1901: New South Wales Chief Secretary's Office (CA 1272); 1859–83: Victorian Chief Secretary's Office (CA 1329); 1883–1901 Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340); 1901–21: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6); 1921–38: Department of Defence [II] (CA 19); 1939–42 Australian Military Forces, Headquarters Eastern Command (CA 1876)
Nominal roll of applicants for active service in South Africa with ages, addresses, previous service, 1899 AWM1, 3/1
RECORDS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE CENTRAL REGISTRY, 1900–38
Melbourne
An artificial series culled from early Commonwealth defence department records (B168), many relating to the raising, administration and records of the Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents.
Series: AWM3
Quantity: 3.25 metres
Recorded by: 1900–01: Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340); 1901–21: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6); 1921–38: Department of Defence [II] (CA 19)
Applications for Commissions, 2nd Commonwealth Contingent. 16 Applications by letter, 1901–02 AWM3, 02/161
Correspondence regarding a deputation of bushmen seeking service in South Africa, 1902 AWM3, 02/879
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1901–06
Melbourne
A number of files from the early Victorian Department of Defence were transferred to this series when the department ceased to operate and its officers transferred to the Commonwealth in July 1901. Perhaps 100 files from this series, which documents the establishment and early civil administration of the Commonwealth Military Forces, concern the war. Most deal with the return of contingents, casualties, medal entitlements, and the resumption of normal military duties by officers and men who continued with peacetime citizen soldiering.
Series: B168
Quantity: 9 metres
Recorded by: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6)
South African ex servicemen desirous of returning to Sth Africa opinion re, 1901
Captain Thomas's request to know whether 'Minister disapprove my offering Lord Kitchener privately raise another bushmen's regiment without expense Commonwealth'. A returned officer of the New South Wales Citizen's Bushmen contingent, Thomas was later to defend Morant and Handcock during the Bushveldt Carbineers trial.
B168, 1901/1734
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1885–1901
Melbourne
Perhaps 5 per cent of these general correspondence files on the administration of Victoria's military forces are relevant to the Boer War. Most are thin and concern the personnel rather than policy aspects of officer appointments and the return of wounded soldiers.
Series: B3756
Quantity: 4.93 metres
Recorded by: Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340)
Gunnery Lieutenant J Biddlecombe – Application for Employment on Active Service, 1898–99 B3756, 1899/2887
Lieutenant Commander W J Colquhoun DSO VN: Application to serve in South Africa; Rate of Pay; Courses in England; Passage arrangements etc, 1900–01
There was little scope for fighting by Australian sailors against an enemy without a navy, but Colquhoun embarked with Victoria's first contingent.
B3756, 1901/2944
CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO MEMBERS OF THE 1ST AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY REGIMENT WHO VOLUNTEERED FOR ACTIVE SERVICE IN THE FIRST AND SECOND CONTINGENTS TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR, 1899–1900
Sydney
Rolls created around July 1899 of members of one company of the New South Wales 1st Infantry Regiment who volunteered for service in South Africa if required. Name, rank, regimental number, age, marital status, height and chest measurement, and riding and shooting ability are given.
Series: C3167
Quantity: 0.18 metres
Recorded by: New South Wales Chief Secretary's Office (CA 1272)
Correspondence relating to members of the 1st Australian Infantry Regiment who volunteered for active service in the first contingent to the Boer war, 1899–1900 C3167, whole series
REGISTERS OF CORRESPONDENCE RECEIVED, 1888–1909
Sydney
Volumes 5 and 6 of these inward correspondence registers record applications by soldiers and nurses to serve in South Africa from July 1899. A minute of 3 July 1899 concerning regimental mobilisation may reflect an early fear that the outbreak of war in South Africa would spark conflict between the great powers.
Series: SP820/3
Quantity: 5.4 metres
Recorded by: 1901–09: Commonwealth Military Forces, New South Wales District Headquarters (CA 6334)
Registers of correspondence received first Australian Infantry Regiment, 1889–1909 SP820/3, NN
REGISTERS OF CORRESPONDENCE RECEIVED, 1886–1913
Sydney
Volume 5 of these inward correspondence registers records applications by soldiers to serve in South Africa from at least September 1899 and also efforts by officers to encourage their men to come forward. On 16 December 1899 the regiment's commanding officer called for volunteers to join the second contingent, though a month later he laid down that only 'specially qualified' men were wanted for active service.
Series: SP820/23
Quantity: 3.6 metres
Recorded by: 1901–11: Commonwealth Military Forces, New South Wales District Headquarters (CA 6334); 1911–13: 2nd Military District New South Wales [I] (CA 6335)
Registers of correspondence received. Second Australian Infantry Regiment, 1899–1906 SP820/23, 6
REGISTERED PAPERS OF THE STAFF OFFICER FOR MOUNTED INFANTRY, QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE, 1901
Melbourne
Four of these eight files are diaries forwarded by Queensland's fifth draft contingent; the rest concern individuals and a skirmish at Koster River.
Series: MP744/7
Quantity: 0.06 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary"s Office (CA 4422)
Pope D [application for commission in Sixth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent], 1901 MP744/7, I/395
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1899–1907
Melbourne
This correspondence relates to arrangements for the Queensland contingents to serve in South Africa. Most of these 500 files concern medical and insurance matters and procedures for raising, despatching, returning and repatriating members of Queensland's third and fourth bushmen contingents.
Series: MP744/11
Quantity: 1.8 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Urquhart R – wishes to go with Fourth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, 1900 MP744/11, 1900/3466
Goodger H A – wishes to go with Fourth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, 1900 MP744/11, 1900/3492
Report on Action taken regarding applicants for Imperial Bushmen's Contingent from the Police Magistrate Burketown, 1900
On the problem of medically examining and shipping potential recruits from rural Queensland.
MP744/11, 1900/4047
MISCELLANY OF PAPERS RELATING TO THE PARTICIPATION OF QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE PERSONNEL IN THE BOER WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1900–17
Melbourne
This small, random collection of papers and news cuttings, concerns Queenslanders in the war. Two relevant files:
Series: MP744/41
Quantity: 0.01 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Newspaper cutting from the Telegraph (Brisbane) 1 February 1900 concerning a deputation to the Queensland Premier seeking further troops to be sent to South Africa, 1900 MP744/41, 6
List of Queensland Officers who have volunteered for South Africa, 1900 MP744/41, 7

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