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


4. The Contingents in the Field

Image 6: Casualties from the engagement at Korster’s River, 1900.

Image 6: Casualties from the engagement at Korster’s River, 1900.
NAA: A6443, 395
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Attached to the British army while in the field, the Australian contingents' primary responsibility was to army headquarters in South Africa rather than to their governments and military commandants back in Australia. Though almost all the paperwork generated by the contingents would have passed to British army staff officers, some (possibly duplicate) returned to Australia, including those ancestors of war diaries, the regular reports made out by commanding officers. All contingents probably brought back to Australia their own administrative records such as pay books, in which payments were recorded, and order books, in which commanding officers recorded their administrative instructions. Though the vast bulk of this material has either been lost or destroyed, or placed in state archives, some is held in the following series relating to New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland units. The experience of only one unit, the 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen, is well documented.

New South Wales

PRE-FEDERATION AND COMMONWEALTH RECORDS, 1850–1943
Australia 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.

The series has officers' reports from most commanders of the first New South Wales units to serve in South Africa and a smattering of other material for New South Wales contingents.

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); 1921–39: Department of Defence [II] (CA 19); 1939–42: Australian Military Forces, Headquarters Eastern Command (CA 1876)
a) Diary of Maj G L Lee, Officer Commanding NSW Lancers contingent, 28 Oct 1899–30 Jan 1900, en route to and serving in South Africa; b) Reports on operations in South Africa submitted to HQ NSW Military Forces Sydney by Major G L Lee, OC NSW Lancers, Jan–Dec 1900
Includes a long and defensive account of the first reverse involving Australian troops in the war, the ambush at Slingersfontein in January 1900.
AWM1, 4/6
Reports from Special Service officers serving in South Africa, submitted to HQ NSW Military Forces, Sydney: a) Lt Col M W Bayly, Aug 1900; b) Capt R S Pearce, NSW Field Artillery, Feb–Sep 1900, including voyage on SS Moravian; c) Capt A P Luscombe RAA, Feb–Oct 1900; d) Lieut J M Conroy, NSW Engineers, Jun–Aug 1900; e) Lieut C F Brace, NSW Artillery, Feb–Jul 1900; f) Lieut G J Grieve, Jan–Dec 1900; g) Maj W T Bridges, May–Jul 1900, 1899–1900
Reports from New South Wales officers who served in South Africa, attached to British army staffs or units to learn how to lead or organise troops in the field and to be on hand to take command of any amalgamated units of their colonies' soldiers.
AWM1, 4/7
Appendices to report of OC [Officer Commanding] Troops [Australian Imperial Draft Contingent] aboard HMT Antillian for South Africa, compiled by Capt J W Niesigh and submitted to HQ NSW Military Forces, Sydney, from Albany, 1901
Captain Niesigh, a Special Service officer placed in command of these reinforcements for the 3rd Regiment New South Wales Mounted Rifles while en route to South Africa, reports in this file on discipline and horse casualties.
AWM1, 4/13
HQ NSW Military Forces, Sydney correspondence relating to the death of Tpr R B Cox 1stM Australian Horse in Adelaide, en route to South Africa per SS Surrey, 1900
Includes letter of condolence from the New South Wales military commandant to the mother of a young soldier who died in Adelaide on his way to the war: 'I cannot find words to express to you the sorrow I feel at the loss of your son, it is so sad his being suddenly cut off just as he had volunteered for active service so full of life and hope apparently'.
AWM1, 4/18
RECORDS ARRANGED ACCORDING TO AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL LIBRARY SUBJECT CLASSIFICATION, 1864–1970
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
A large artificial series created from Australian War Memorial records once given library catalogue numbers, including some kept originally by World War I official medical historian A G Butler. A few relevant items, nearly all concerning the administration of Victorian contingents:
Series: AWM27
Quantity: 17.8 metres
Recorded by: 1927–70: Australian War Memorial (CA 616)
Despatch dated 9 August 1900 received by Col Hore from Asst Gen de la Rey requesting surrender of Elands River Camp and reply by Col Hore dated 10 Aug 1900 refusing to surrender. Also a proof copy of an article 'The Bushmen's Eland's River Siege' by Backblocker (Maj F V Weir) for September 1950 issue of Pastoral Review, 1900–50
A battlefield relic from a siege which historian Gavin Souter thought 'probably our finest hour in South Africa' and historian Bob Wallace gave book-length treatment. Members of the New South Wales Citizen's Bushmen comprised the largest of several groups of Australians present.
AWM27, 100/5

Victoria

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: A6443
Recorded by: 1899–1901: Victorian Department of Defence (CA 1340); 1901–11: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6)
Report dated 17 May 1900 to the Victorian Minister of Defence, 1900
Dobbin advises that 16 men are in hospital, 17 horses have died of disease, a sergeant was killed in a train accident, and: 'Our troops stand head & shoulders above all Australasians for discipline'.
A6443, 392
Report dated 2 January 1901 to Captain Collins, Defence Department, 1900
Dobbin reports that 'large numbers in each contingent has urgent business with their own people & must be allowed return' to Australia.
A6443, 404
With reference to statements of Captain Hain published in the Age of 4 January 1901 against his efficiency in South Africa, 1901
A dispute over Dobbin's competence.
A6443, 408
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)
Captain J F Umphelby – report dated Rustenberg 8 December 1900, 1900–01
Umphelby comments that: 'There seems to be no chance of our being sent home to Victoria, but we trust it may not be long'. (Yet when given the chance Umphelby, like many soldiers, re-enlisted, joining Victoria's fifth contingent.)
B3756, 1901/385

Queensland

PAY LISTS FOR 'H' COMPANY 4TH CONTINGENT QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE, 1900–01
Melbourne
Records the monthly payments given to members of a Queensland company. Microfilm copies of this series are available in all Archives offices.
Series: B5164
Quantity: 0.01 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Pay list for H Company Fourth Contingent Queensland Defence Force – Pretoria Boer War, 1900–01 B5164, whole series
ARMY ORDERS, SOUTH AFRICA, 1901–02
Melbourne
Queensland's fifth contingent's copy of orders issued by army headquarters in Pretoria from April 1901 to February 1902, heavily marked where reference is made to the contingent. Most orders refer to appointments and promotions but there are some instructions on operations. Microfilm copies of this series are available in all Archives offices.
Series: B5169
Quantity: 0.07 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Army orders issued by Army Headquarters Pretoria South Africa (Boer War), 1901–02 B5169, whole series
LIST OF MEN ABSENT FROM REGIMENT, QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE, 1901–02
Melbourne
Records the duration of, and reason for, absences among the men of the Fifth Queensland Imperial Bushmen contingent. Microfilm copies of this series are available in all Archives offices.
Series: B5173
Quantity: 0.02 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
List of men absent from regiment Queensland Defence Force, 1901 B5173, whole series
ROLL OF THE 4TH QUEENSLAND IMPERIAL BUSHMEN – FROM NEWCASTLE TO STORMBERG, 1901
Melbourne
Roll of members of the 4th Queensland Imperial Bushmen, en route between Newcastle and Stormberg, and embarkation from South Africa in mid-1901, giving name, rank and regimental number. Microfilm copies of this series are available in all Archives offices.
Series: B5181
Quantity: 0.01 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Roll of Fourth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent – from Newcastle to Stormberg, South Africa, 1901 B5181, whole series
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1901–03
Melbourne
General correspondence on Queensland contingents to the war, largely relating to the draft contingents and not confined to pay matters. Some of the 583 files concern payment of personnel and medical and disciplinary factors affecting their pay; others concern medals or officers' reports from South Africa.
Series: MP744/1
Quantity: 1.44 metres
Recorded by: Queensland South Africa Contingents Pay Office (CA 4423)
Report of Fifth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent in action at Onverwacht, 1902
An evocative account of the fighting.
MP744/1, 2634/OC
Character of Non-Commissioned Officers and men of Fifth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, 1902
Concerns disobedience among the contingent.
MP744/1, 3084/OC
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE HEADQUARTERS BRIGADE OFFICE, QUEENSLAND DEFENCE FORCE, 1900–01
Melbourne
These 417 files contain routine correspondence on Queensland contingents to the war, primarily the draft contingents. Most concern medical, pay and discharge matters for individual soldiers.
Series: MP744/3
Quantity: 0.72 metres
Recorded by: Queensland Chief Secretary's Office (CA 4422)
Report No. 10 from Officer Commanding 2nd Regt Australian Bushmen – Casualty List – Third Queensland (Mounted Infantry) Contingent Pretoria, 19 Jan 1901
A detailed report – with any casualty list long removed – of a unit's month in the field.
MP744/3, 1901/2275
Diary of voyage of HMT Templemore from Brisbane to Capetown from Commanding Officer Fifth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, 1901
Reveals diet and routine on board ship between Australia and South Africa.
MP744/3, 1901/5392
First and Second Queensland (Mounted Infantry) Contingents to South Africa: Records lost during return to Australia, 1901
Suggests how the order books of Queensland's first contingent were lost.
MP744/3, 1901/8161
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)
Diary of 5th Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, 1–30 April 1901 MP744/7, I/974

The Australian Commonwealth Horse

RECORDS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE CENTRAL REGISTRY, 1900–38
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
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 (CA1340); 1901–21: Department of Defence [I] (CA 6); 1921–38: Department of Defence [II] (CA 19)
A request that: 'Commanding Officers of the various Battalions of the Australian Commonwealth Horse to furnish a weekly return and also a diary of events as regards their several units', 1902
General Officer Commanding Hutton instructs Australian Commonwealth Horse commanders to forward weekly reports and lists of casualties and the sick.
AWM3, 02/643
A diary of 3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse on HMT Manhattan No. 81 which left Sydney on 1 April 1902
As well as noting that climbing on rigging is prohibited, the diary reports that horses landed in better condition than expected and that the soldiers were greatly interested in the famous battlefields of Colenso and Ladysmith.
AWM3, 02/1537
4th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse: 1) list of promotions; 2) copy of weekly state; 3) extracts from rough diary; 4) Weekly Return of Punishments; 5) Return confirming a death; 6) list of casualties to horses since landing, 1902 AWM3, 02/1609
Letter from Lt Col E C J Williams, Commanding Mobile Column, South African Field Force on relinquishing the command of a Mobile Column which performed most efficiently Acting Commanding Officer, 4th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse including: a) weekly state; b) return of punishments; c) horse return; d) weekly copy of rough diary, 1902
Colonel Williams praises his men.
AWM3, 02/1962
RECORDS ARRANGED ACCORDING TO AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL LIBRARY SUBJECT CLASSIFICATION, 1864–1970
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
A large artificial series created from Australian War Memorial records once given library catalogue numbers, including some kept originally by World War I official medical historian A G Butler. A few relevant items, nearly all concerning the administration of Victorian contingents:
Series: AWM27
Quantity: 17.8 metres
Recorded by: 1927–70 Australian War Memorial (CA 616)
Maj Gen Sir J Bruche collection: Paylist of A Company 2nd Australian Commonwealth Horse, at sea allowance, disembarked 2 Aug 1902 AWM27, 100/8 part 4
Maj Gen Sir J Bruche collection: Capt Bruche's handwritten 2nd Battalion Orders Nos 101–199, 19 Apr–1 Aug 1902 AWM27, 100/8 part 5

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