Colonial forces of Australia

Colonial forces of Australia

Until Australia became a Federation in 1901, each of the six colonial governments was responsible for the defence of their own colony. From 1788 until 1870 this was done with British regular forces. In all, 25 British regiments served in the Australian colonies. Each of the Australian colonies gained responsible government between 1855 and 1890, and while the Colonial Office in London retained control of some affairs, and the colonies were still firmly within the British Empire, the Governors of the Australian colonies were required to raise their own colonial militia. To do this, the colonial Governors had the authority from the British crown to raise military and naval forces. Initially these were militias in support of British regulars, but British military support for the colonies ended in 1870, and the colonies assumed their own defence. The separate colonies maintained control over their respective militia forces and navies until 1 March 1901, when the colonial forces were all amalgamated into the Commonwealth Forces following the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia. Colonial forces, including home raised units, saw action in many of the conflicts of the British Empire during the 19th century. Members from British Regiments stationed in Australia, saw action in India, Afghanistan, the Maori Wars of New Zealand, the Sudan conflict, and the Second Boer War in South Africa.

Despite an undeserved reputation of colonial inferiority, many of the locally raised units were highly organised, disciplined, professional, and well trained. For most of the time from settlement until federation, military defences in Australia revolved around static defence by combined infantry and artillery, based on garrisoned coastal forts, however in the 1890s, improved railway communications between all of the eastern mainland colonies (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia), led Major General Bevan Edwards, who had recently completed a survey of colonial military forces, to state his belief that the colonies could be defended by the rapid mobilisation of standard brigades. He called for a restructure of colonial defences, and defensive agreements to be made between the colonies. He also called for professional units to replace all of the volunteer forces.

By 1901, the Australian colonies had federated formally joined together to become the Commonwealth of Australia, and the federal government assumed all defensive responsibilities. The Federation of Australia came into existence on 1 January 1901 and as of that time the constitution of Australia stated that all defence responsibility was vested in the commonwealth government. Co-ordination of Australia wide defensive efforts in the face of imperial German interest in the pacific ocean was one of the main reasons for federation, and so one of the first decisions made by the newly formed Commonwealth government was to create the Department of Defence which came into being on 1 March 1901. From that time the Australian Army under the command of Major General Sir Edward Hutton came into being, and all of the colonial forces, including those who were already on active service in the Boer War in South Africa, transferred into the Australian Army. Badge changing ceremonies were held on the battlefield with colonial emblems being replaced with the Rising Sun Badge.[1]



Australia was first formally claimed by Great Britain on 22 August 1770 by James Cook RN, however it was not settled until 26 January 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet. Frustrated in 1783 by the loss of their American colonies on the signing of the Treaty of Paris which formally ended the American Revolutionary War, the British sought a new destination for the transportation of convicts. The Fleet had arrived in Australia with over 750 convicts under the guard of Marines, aboard 11 ships to establish a military colony with convict labour at Port Jackson.

Initially the colony was run as an open prison under the governance of Royal Navy Captain Arthur Phillip. Until between the 1850s when the colonies were granted responsible government, and the 1870s when the last imperial troops were withdrawn, British regular troops were constantly garrisoned the colonies. During their postings to Australia, most of the regiments rotated duties at the various colonies, and often had detachments located in geographically diverse locations.

New South Wales (1788)

Accompanying the First Fleet to Port Jackson were four companies of Marines in all 247, to guard the fledgling colony of Sydney and that of Norfolk Island (established 6 March 1788 to establish a food base and investigate supply of masts and flax for canvas for the Royal Navy). In 1790 the Second Fleet arrived, and the marines were relieved by a new force which was created specifically for service in the colony of New South Wales. They were known as the New South Wales Corps - being less than a battalion they were given the generic title "Corps" rather than "Regiment".

On 4 March 1804, the New South Wales Corps was called into action for the first time. The Castle Hill convict rebellion, also known as the "Irish Rebellion", occurred in which Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston led a rebellion of nearly 500 mostly Irish convicts who wanted to seize ships to return home. The rebellion lasted for just two days, and martial law was declared. A detachment of the New South Wales Corps marched all night to the centre of the rebellion, near the modern Sydney suburb of Rouse Hill, where they engaged with 233 of the rebels in what is often called the "Battle of Vinegar Hill" which dispersed the rebels. In this they were supported by the local militia Parramatta Loyal Association and Active Defence.

Following the events of the Rum Rebellion, the New South Wales Corps was disbanded, reformed as the 102nd Regiment, and returned to England. By 1810 the 73rd Regiment of Foot (MacLeod's Highlanders) became the first line regiment to serve in New South Wales under the Governorship of Lachlan Macquarie. They served four years in New South Wales before relocating to Ceylon in 1814. The Highlanders were replaced by the 1st/46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, known as the "Red Feathers", who would serve in Australia until 1818.

Also formed on 30 April 1810 was the Governor's Guard of Light Horse, mostly drawn from former convicts who had been of excellent behaviour during their sentences. Macquarie formed this unit, although not officially a Regiment, to prevent the events of the Rum Rebellion from re-occurring. The Governor's Guard were mounted troops with the specific duty of being a private bodyguard for the Governor.

The Royal New South Wales Veteran Corps was formed in 1810 for soldiers and marines who were too old "to serve to the best of their capacity", and served mainly as post guards, for the supervision of convicts and other government duties. It was composed of veterans of the 102nd, and other units from veteran soldiers. By 1817 Lachlan Macquarie felt they were unable to perform even these duties, and recommended their disbandment. This was eventually done on 24 September 1822.[1] However, three further Veterans companies were raised in Britain in 1826 for service in New South Wales, and stayed on duties until 1833.

From 1817 until the withdrawal of British forces from Australia several British regiments undertook garrison duties in Australia on a rotational basis. Although these units were primarily raised in Britain, any Australian born subjects who wished to pursue a military career were obliged to join the British Army, until the formation of locally raised volunteer militia units after responsible self government was granted in each of the Australian colonies. They often attached themselves to whichever regiments were on duty in their colony at the time, and sometimes left the Australian colonies when their regiments were posted elsewhere.

After the departure of the "Red Feathers", it was the turn of the 1st/48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot, who saw service in the Australian colonies from 1817 to 1824. This regiment, better known as the Heroes of Talerva were variously posted at Sydney, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Van Diemens Land & Parramatta, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. Erskine. They were the first of 13 Peninsular Regiments to see service in the Australian colonies. Having been involved in many distinguished actions of the Peninsular War including the Battle of Talavera, the Battle of Albuera, the Battle of Salamanca and the Battle of Vittoria, the Australian posting would have probably seemed a dull experience for the men, many of whom were hardened veterans. However the improving lifestyle of the colonies, and the relative peace after years of European battle appealed to many of the men of the 48th, with ten percent of their numbers eventually settling there following the end of their duties in 1824.

The 1st/3rd Foot The Buffs The East Kent Regiment, were the next Peninsular Regiment to be posted to the Australian colonies, and they began to arrive in New South Wales in 1822 to facilitate the departure of the 1st/48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot who were to return to Great Britain. The Buff's were divided into four detachments, and the first detachment began leaving Deptford for New South Wales in 1821. The second detachment left Deptford for Hobart in 1822. The third detachment (The Buffs Head Quarters) left Deptford for Sydney in 1823, arriving the same year. The fourth detachment arrived in Sydney in 1824 and were stationed at Port Dalrymple, Parramatta, Liverpool, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Botany Bay and Bathurst. While in Australia, the Buff's were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel W. Stewart & Lieutenant-Colonel C. Cameron. The Regiment was reunited before being transferred to Calcutta in 1827, however, following a trend begun during the departure of the 48th, many men wished to remain in New South Wales, and requested transfers to the 1st/57th Foot West Middlesex Regiment, who were arriving to replace the Buffs.

In 1823, for the first time more than one regiment was dispatched to the growing colonies. With the 1st/3rd Foot The Buffs The East Kent Regiment primarily stationed throughout New South Wales, it was felt by the Colonial Office that more men would be required for the growing populations of New South Wales and Van Diemens Land. As a result, the 2nd/40th Foot Second Somersetshire Regiment were dispatched, with detachments commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel H. Thornton and Lieutenant-Colonel Valiant, sent to both Sydney and Hobart, where they were stationed for both garrison and guard duties from 1823 until 1829.

The 1st/57th Foot West Middlesex Regiment were next to arrive from 1826, to replace The Buffs. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonels Shadforth, Allen and Carey, the 'Die Hards' were initially stationed at Sydney and Hobart, but were also later sent to Westernport, Victoria (1829), and Port Albany, Western Australia (1828), following the establishment of those new colonies.

While the 'Die Hards' were still stationed in Australia, the 1st/39th Foot Dorsetshire Regiment began arriving to also replace the 'Buffs'. This allowed for a staggered overlap of troops, with one regiment fully stationed while the over two swapped. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel P. Lindley, the Regiment saw service in Hobart, Sydney, Western Australia & Bathurst from 1826 before leaving on 5 July 1832 to see service in India.

Other Regiments who saw service in New South Wales:

By 1855 New South Wales had been granted responsible self-government and increasingly took responsibility for its own affairs. The colony remained within, and was fiercely loyal to the British Empire, and while the Colonial Office continued to take responsibility for matters such as foreign affairs, the decision was taken in London, that the Australian colonies would need to take responsibility for their own defence.

For the next 15 years, British infantry and artillery units would continue to garrison New South Wales. However, even as early as 1854, upon the outbreak of the Crimean War, a first local voluntary force consisting of one troop of cavalry, one battery of artillery, and six companies of foot, called the 1st Regiment of New South Wales Rifles was raised. Following the cessation of hostilities with Russia in Crimea, the new regiment struggled to maintain numbers and government funding.

Between 1856 and 1870, several different companies/batteries of the Royal Artillery served in New South Wales. Likewise, members of the Royal Engineers Corps & Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners Royal Staff Corps, Royal Commissariat Corps, Royal Medical Corps and the Royal Hospital Corps, who all saw service in New South Wales between 1856 and 1870.

In 1869 the decision to withdraw all British units had been confirmed, and as a result a second New South Wales Regiment was raised. This force consisted of one troop of mounted rifles, three batteries of artillery, and twenty companies of infantry, with a total strength of 1700 men. Two years later more artillery batteries were added. The entire force was reorganised by the Volunteer Regulation Act of 1867, which also gave provision for land grants in recognition of 5 years service, and for the first time an efficient, large and capable force was being maintained. However they were still volunteers not regulars. By 1871 the withdrawal of British forces from New South Wales was completed, and the local forces assumed total responsibility for the defence of New South Wales.

The 1870s saw major improvements to the structure and organisation of New South Wales' colonial forces. Land grants for service were abolished, and partial payments introduced. 1876 saw a second permanent artillery battery established, and a year later a third was added. In 1877 Engineers Corps and Signals Corps were established, in 1882 a force of naval artillery volunteers, and in 1891 the Commissariat and Transport Corps, later to be known as the Army Service Corps were raised.

When the government of New South Wales received news in February, 1885, of the death of General Charles Gordon at Khartoum during the short-lived British campaign against the Dervish revolt in the eastern Sudan, they offered the British forces there the service of New South Wales artillery batteries, infantry and ambulance detachments. The offer was gratefully accepted, and within three weeks a force of 768 men comprising an infantry battalion, with artillery and support units was enrolled, re-equipped and dispatched for Africa. They were farewelled from Circular Quay in Sydney on 3 March 1885 by an enormous public gathering and marching bands.

The New South Wales Sudan contingent arrived at Suakin on the Red Sea on 29 March 1885. There they joined General Gerald Graham's two British brigade's efforts against Oman Digna. Within a month of arriving, the New South Wales detachment had seen action at Tamai, becoming the first Australian raised military force to do so. By May, 1885, the campaign had been reduced to a series of small skirmishes, and the contingent had returned to Sydney by June, 1885.

Despite their good service, and their engagements at Tamai, the New South Wales Sudan contingent was actually ridiculed by the media upon their return to New South Wales, as having done nothing to aid the war effort. Many cartoons appeared parodying the force as lazy, or as tourists.

In 1885 it was decided to raise a volunteer corps of cavalry who were to also be partially paid, and had uniforms and weapons supplied, although they had to provide their own horse and equipment. They were eventually formed as a light horse unit and were known as the New South Wales lancers. Many of the previous mounted rifles were merged with the Lancers.

A further four batteries of reserve artillery were raised in 1885, but disbanded in 1892. The permanent forces added units of submarine miners and mounted infantry, which were also soon disbanded. The 1890s saw much restructuring, with many units formed and disbanded soon after, or merged with other units.

Full volunteers were again instituted in 1895. These units started to often have affiliations with expatriate groups, and names such as the Scottish Rifles, the Irish Rifles, the St. George's Rifles, and the Australian Rifles, reflected this. By 1897, there was also the First Australian Volunteer Horse and the Railway Volunteer Corps, and a "National Guard" of volunteer veterans. By 1900 the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, the Civil Service Corps, the Drummoyne Volunteer Company, the Army Nursing Service Reserve and Army Medical Corps had also been added.

Hostilities commenced in the Second Boer War in October, 1899, and all the Australian colonies agreed to send troops in support of the British cause. The First New South Wales Contingent arrived in South Africa in November, 1899, and consisted of 314 officers, and 5796 men of the New South Wales Lancers, and New South Wales mounted Rifles.

A survey of New South Wales' military forces on 31 December 1900, the day before federation, found that the forces consisted of 505 regular officers, 130 volunteer officers, 9295 regulars and 8833 volunteers of other ranks, 26 nurses, and 1906 civilian rifle club members.

Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) (1803)

The settlement at Sydney was already 15 years old when then Governor Philip Gidley King received news from Europe of the outbreak of war between France and Great Britain on 18 May 1803. Concern was also growing over the number of French explorers who were being sighted in the South Pacific. The Admiralty issued him with orders to secure any strategic locations within the southern station of the Pacific Ocean which may be of use to France, and prevent them falling into French possession. He dispatched an expedition to settle at Risdon Cove, in Van Diemen's Land.

A young 23 year old Lieutenant John Bowen had arrived in Sydney aboard HMS Glatton, on 11 March 1803. King considered him the right man for the job, and towards the end of August, 1803, he left for Van Diemen's Land aboard the whaler HMS Albion. Accompanying him was 21 male, and three female convicts, guarded by a company of the New South Wales Corps, as well as a small number of free settlers. A second supply ship, the Lady Nelson arrived on 8 September 1803, and HMS Albion arrived on 13 September 1803, subsequently settling Van Diemen's Land for the British.

At the same time David Collins departed from England in April, 1803, aboard HMS Calcutta with orders to establish a colony at Port Phillip. After establishing a short lived settlement at Sullivan Bay, near the current site of Sorrento, he wrote to Governor King, expressing his dissatisfaction with the location, and seeking permission to relocate the settlement to the Derwent River. Realising the fledgling settlement at Risdon Cove would be well reinforced by Collins arrival, King agreed to the proposal.

Collins arrived at the Derwent River on 16 February 1804, aboard HMS Ocean. The settlement that Bowen had established at Risdon Cove did not impress Collins, and he decided to relocate the settlement 5 miles (8.0 km) down river, on the opposite shore of the river. They landed at Sullivans Cove on 21 February 1804, and created the settlement that was to become Hobart, making it the second oldest established colony in Australia.

Before the settlement at Risdon Cove had been abandoned, one of the most violent conflicts between British forces and Australian Aborigines is alleged to have occurred. The facts of this event are still disputed by historians and the descendants of the Tasmanian Aborigines, however it is alleged that on the morning of 3 May 1804, a food hunting party of approximately three hundred crested the heavily wooded hills above the Risdon Cove settlement, looking for kangaroo, in what is now considered to be part of the Oyster Bay tribe's traditional hunting grounds. It is supposed that both the Marine sentries, and the hunting party surprised each other. It is not clear how the engagement began, with differing accounts being given.

It does seem that feeling threatened by such an overwhelmingly large group, the Marines fired upon the Aborigines in an unprovoked attack. A convict by the name of Edward White claimed to have seen this. Armed with only spears and clubs, the Aboriginals were outdone by the firepower of the Marines who were armed with the Brown Bess smooth bore, muzzle loading musket, many of whom were experienced troops from conflicts in India and the Americas. It is claimed that between three and fifty of the Aboriginals were killed.[2]

Soon after the establishment of the settlement, Collins decided that coastal defence was needed. A redoubt was dug not far from the settlement, and two ship's guns were placed within.

When Governor Lachlan Macquarie toured the Hobart Town settlement in 1811, he was alarmed at the poor state of defence, and the general disorganisation of the colony. Along with planning for a new grid of streets to be laid out, and new administrative and other buildings to be built, he commissioned the building of Anglesea Barracks, which opened in 1814, and is now the oldest continually occupied barracks in Australia.

By 1818, the Mulgrave Battery had been built on Castray Esplanade, on the southern side of Battery Point upon the orders of Lieutenant Governor William Sorell. Now the colony had two basic fortifications.

The New South Wales Corps were also relieved from Van Diemen's Land when they returned from New South Wales in 1810, and the 73rd Regiment of Foot (MacLeod's Highlanders), rotated duties between Sydney and Hobart. These were likewise replaced in 1814 by the 1st/46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, the so called "Red Feathers".

The period of 1828 until 1832 was a dark one in the history of Van Diemen's Land. The rising friction and continuing conflicts over land access between the indigenous Tasmanian Aborigines and the British settlers, breaches of each others laws and morals, killings and revenge killings, led to a declaration of Martial Law by Lieutenant Governor George Arthur. British Regiments were in open conflict with the Aboriginals in what has since been dubbed the Black War. 1830 saw the fiasco of the notorious Black Line incident, in which European settlers tried vainly to round up the Tasmanian Aboriginals in an attempt to isolate them, and hopefully prevent further conflicts between the two groups. It failed miserably.

In 1838 plans were drawn up for a more elaborate network of coastal fortifications. Money did not permit all of the batteries to be established, but work was begun on the Queens Battery, located at the site of the regatta ground on the Queens Domain. The battery was set back by delays and funding problems, and was not completed until 1864.

By 1840, the newly arrived commander of the Royal Engineers, Major Roger Kelsall was alarmed to discover how inadequately defended the now growing colony was. He drew up plans for the expansion of the Mulgrave Battery, and an additional fortification further up the slops of Battery Point. Work began the same year using convict labour, and soon the Prince of Wales Battery was completed, and armed now with ten guns.

Despite the improvements of the Prince of Wales Battery, it was located in a faulty position, and didn't have the most desirable firing position. At the height of the Crimean War in 1854, a third battery, known as the Prince Albert Battery was completed even higher behind the Prince of Wales Battery. Battery Point now had three firing positions, along with the Queens Battery upon the Queens Domain.

Following the decline of British military presence in Tasmania, the Governor of Tasmania felt the need to establish military forces capable of defending the colony.

In 1859 two batteries of "volunteer" artillery, one was the Hobart Town Artillery Company, and the other was the Launceston Volunteer Artillery Company. Twelve companies of "volunteer" infantry were also raised. In 1867 the infantry companies were disbanded, and the artillery increased by one battery.

1870 saw the complete withdrawal of British forces from Tasmania, which left the colony virtually defenceless. It had also highlighted the state of decay the existing fortresses had become. It had been decided the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert Batteries were inadequate for the defence of the town. By 1878 both had been condemned, and were dismantled by 1880. In 1882 the sites were handed over to Hobart City Council for use as public space, although the tunnels and subterranean magazines remain. Most of the stonework was removed and reused in the construction of the Alexandra battery further to the south.

The arrival of three Russian warships, Africa, Plastun, and Vestnik in 1872 caused a great deal of alarm in the colony. Britain and its empire had only been at war with the Russians 16 years previously. The colony was defenceless, had the Russian had hostile intent. Luckily they were on a good will mission, however, it cause a great deal of debate about the state of the colony's defences. Plans were made for the establishment of volunteer forces.

In 1878 the Tasmanian Volunteer Rifle Regiment was raised in both the north and south of the colony. These were raised as Ranger Infantry units. By 1882 the strength was 634 men. By 1885 it was 1200 men, the maximum permitted by law at a time of peace. However, by 1893, an additional "auxiliary" force of 1500 had also been raised. By 1896, the Regiment had three battalions. They were 1st battalion in Hobart, 2nd battalion in Launceston, and 3rd battalion in the North West.

Construction of serious fortifications was considered as early as 1840, however no serious construction was carried out. The Kangaroo Bluff Battery was begun in 1881 and complete the following year with the arrival of two massive 14 tonne cannons from England. The first shots were fired on 12 February 1885.

In 1899 the Tasmanian Colonial Military Forces responded to the request for military assistance in South Africa. The initial request was made for two of the colony's three Ranger Infantry units. Colonel Legge, the commandant of the Tasmanian Colonial Military Forces sought to also establish a mounted reconnaissance unit, and toured the colony. He was very impressed by the shooting and riding skills of many of the colonies wealthy young farm boys, and formed a Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen unit from them.

A Tasmanian colonial contingent was sent to the Second Boer War, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Tasmanian Bushmen. These mounted infantry units were primarily made up of volunteers who had good bushcraft, riding and shooting skills. The first two Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians in that conflict were earned by Private Bisdee and Lieutenant Wylly, both members of the Tasmanian Bushmen, in action near Warm Bad in 1900.

On 31 December 1900, the day before federation, a survey of the strength of colonial forces found that the Tasmanian colonial forces consisted of 131 regular and 113 part-paid or volunteer officers, and 2605 regular, and 1911 part-paid or volunteer men of other ranks.

In 1901 the Australian colonies federated and formed the Commonwealth of Australia, and all of the Australian Colonial Forces came under the control of the Federal Government of Australia. The Tasmanian Mounted Infantry units were redesignated as the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment (12LHR). The three battalions of the Tasmanian Volunteer Rifle Regiment were re-designated as part of the Citizens Military Force into Derwent Infantry Regiment (Hobart), Launceston Regiment (Launceston), and Tasmanian Rangers (North West).

Other units which subsequently saw service in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania after 1855):

Members of the Royal Engineers Corps & Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners Royal Staff Corps, Royal Commissariat Corps Royal Medical Corps and the Royal Hospital Corps, all also saw service in Tasmania between 1856 and 1870.

Swan River Colony (Western Australia) (1829)

Following its first sighting by Dirk Hartog, on 26 October 1616, the coast of Western Australia had been explored and charted by many Europeans prior to its eventual settlement. Most of whom felt its resources were inadequate to support a permanent settlement.

That changed in the early 19th century, when the fear of French settlement in the area drove British authorities to establish their own colony. In 1827, Captain James Stirling sighted the area surrounding the Swan River as being suitable for agriculture, and upon his return to England in July, 1828, lobbied for the establishment of a free settler colony, unlike the penal settlements of Eastern Australia.

The British Government assented, and a fleet led by Charles Fremantle, aboard HMS Challenger returned along with 3 other vessels, arriving to establish the Swan River Colony on 2 May 1829. The name of the colony was changed to Western Australia in 1832.

Following the establishment of the Swan River Colony, a detachment of Marines from 2nd/40th Foot Second Somersetshire Regiment who were garrisoned in Sydney at the time, was dispatched to the new colony. Following them, were detachments from most of the Regiments that were also serving in New South Wales. Other units which saw service in the Western Australian colonies:

The first local units were volunteers raised in 1861. The British garrison was to be withdrawn from Western Australia in 1861, and so the local Western Australian Volunteer Force was raised, primarily from Perth, Fremantle and Pinjarra. Training was hard to come by, and although the unit was enthusiastic, records show that discipline and poor attendance was a problem.

By January, 1869, the government had issued tough regulations to training and attendance, and although the unit was made up of volunteers, allowed for payments to be made to those who met a minimum requirement of attendance. By this time, Pinjarra had also raised a Pinjarra Mounted Volunteers unit of skilled horsemen.

Although the situation improved, the unit was still very amateurish. A reorganisation followed, and by 17 June 1872 the Metropolitan Rifle Volunteers were formed, with companies in Fremantle, Guildford, Albany, Geraldton, Northampton, York, and in the Wellington District.

By 1875 the officers of the Western Australian Volunteer Force were required to take examinations, prove their suitability for the promotion, and all ranks undertook both practical and field training. Corps were brought together annually, normally over Easter to practice manoeuvres, and had become highly organised.

In February 1893, the Permanent Force Artillery Company was raised to garrison forts at Albany, as the Royal Artillery was being withdrawn. In November, 1893 the infantry units of Perth, Fremantle and Guildford were amalgamated to form the 1st Infantry Volunteer Regiment. Combined with the existing companies of the Western Australian Volunteer Force, the new regiment became part of the newly formed Western Australian Defence Force.

From 1893 to 1898 an annual camp was held in the vicinity of Perth, bringing together most of the force, although units from remote regions usually undertook the same training in isolation. Although lacking the advantage of training as part of a larger force, they still undertook these training camps with a high level of professionalism.

The Perth camp had been organised for both 1899, and 1900, but these camps were cancelled as the Western Australian Defence Force was dispatched to the Boer War in South Africa. By the time the men had returned from war, Australia had federated and become the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Western Australian Defence Force, which now consisted of one mounted infantry regiment, two field batteries, one garrison artillery company and an infantry brigade comprising five battalions were amalgamated into the Australian Army.

On 31 December 1900, the day before federation, a survey of the strength of colonial forces found that the Western Australian colonial forces consisted of 140 regular and 135 part-paid or volunteer officers, and 2553 regular, and 2561 part-paid or volunteer men of other ranks.

South Australia (1836)

South Australia was the only British colony in Australia which was not a convict colony. It was established as a planned free colony, and began on 28 December 1836. As such, garrisons were not required as prison guards, like in the other colonies. However, Governor John Hindmarsh was escorted on the HMS Buffalo by a contingent of nineteen Royal Marines. They were assigned to protect him and left South Australia when he departed the colony on the HMS Alligator on 14 July 1838.[2] A lack of any form of defence however, led to the creation of the first locally raised military force in Australia. The Royal South Australian Volunteer Militia was raised for this purpose in 1840. The Militia lacked discipline, equipment and training, and was disbanded by 1851.[citation needed]

The idea of self-support was entirely ingrained in the foundation of the South Australian colony though, and so in 1853 the "Militia Act" (1853) was passed, which allowed for compulsory enlistment of men between the ages of 16 and 46, although this option was never pursued. On 4 November 1854, a new attempt was made to raise local militia forces in South Australia. The government proclaimed a general order that established the South Australian Volunteer Militia Force, which was to be organised into two battalions, each consisting of six companies of between 50 and 60 men, which would be known as the Adelaide Rifles. The men received 36 days training, and then returned to their civilian jobs until needed. This force was short lived though, being disbanded upon the end of the Crimean War in 1856.[3]

However, the colonial government felt uneasy about being undefended. The Volunteer Force was reformed in 1859, and soon numbered 14 companies.[3] By the following year, the numbers had increased to 45 companies with a total of 70 officers and 2000 men of other ranks. On 26 April 1860, the Adelaide Regiment of Volunteer Rifles was formed. In 1865 South Australia became the first state to introduce partially paid volunteers, which was a system all of the other colonies were soon to follow. This was brought about by the enacting of "The Volunteer Act" (1865) which divided all military forces into active and reserve forces. Due to organisational problems and lack of equipment, the Adelaide Regiment of Volunteer Rifles was again disbanded in early 1866,[3] only to be reformed again in May 1866. By 16 November 1867, the Adelaide Regiment of Volunteer Rifles had been re-designated as the "Prince Alfred's Rifle Volunteers" following the Duke of Edinburgh's visit to Australia,[3] but lack of funding saw them disbanded. A company of expatriate Scottish immigrants had formed The Scottish Company in 1865, and reformed as The Duke of Edinburgh's Own on 18 November 1867.[citation needed]

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in France on 19 July 1870, led to the South Australian Governor, Sir James Fergusson conducting a review of the colonies defences. He determined to reorganise the force into two battalions of 500–600 men, two artillery batteries, and four troops of cavalry. However his proposals received little backing from the colonial parliament, and were rejected by newly re-elected Premier John Hart. Some politicians felt it would help alleviate the high unemployment the colony was suffering at the time, but the majority felt the enormous cost outweighed the potential benefits. Once again the issue of funding stood in the way of South Australia having an efficient and ready regular military force.[citation needed]

The issue continued to be debated until 1875 when interest in military expansion was renewed amongst the colonial politicians. The government had been quite unstable for the first five years of the 1870s, but settled in 1875, allowing for more stable planning. Once again affairs of empires played a part. Russia was once again being perceived as a threat by all of the colonial governments following the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Politicians came under pressure from the press and campaign groups to expand the defensive capacity of the colony.[3]

Finally in May 1877, the South Australian Volunteer Military Forces was reformed consisting primarily of 10 companies of the Adelaide Rifles. The success of raising those units did not stop the political arguments over the issue with wrangling between Governor Sir William Jervois and Premier John Colton temporarily suspending further development.[citation needed] Despite all of the political setbacks, the Adelaide Rifles had soon grown to 21 companies, and on 4 July 1877 a second battalion was formed.[3] The second battalion comprised the companies from Mount Gambier, Unley, and Port Pirie together with the Duke of Edinburgh's Own of Prince Alfred Rifle Volunteers. Training intensified briefly for the duration of the Russo-Turkish War, and then resumed at normal levels, with the 2nd Battalion being amalgamated with the 1st Battalion.[citation needed]

By 1885, the second battalion was again reformed, consisting of the same companies as previously, and a third battalion was raised in 1889, only to be disbanded in 1895.[3] Up until 1896, all South Australian units trained only once a year at Easter. The commitment of the men, and constant restructuring and reorganising were in direct response to perceived threats to the colony.[citation needed]

Upon the outbreak of hostilities in the Second Boer War, many men from various South Australian units volunteers to participate with the Australian contingent.[3] Any regiments whose men participated received King's Colours and battle honours.

On 31 December 1900, the day before Federation, a survey of the strength of colonial forces found that the South Australian colonial forces consisted of 141 regular and 135 part-paid or volunteer officers, and 2847 regular, and 2797 part-paid or volunteer men of other ranks.[citation needed] Following South Australia's admission to the Commonwealth of Australia, all of the South Australian forced were drawn into the Australian Army. The 1st Battalion of the Regiment of Adelaide Rifles being redesignated as the 10th Australian Infantry Regiment (Adelaide Rifles), the 2nd Battalion became the South Australia Infantry Regiment, G Company became South Australia Scottish Infantry (Mount Gambier), and H Company Scottish became G Company (Scottish) South Australia Infantry Regiment.[citation needed]

Victoria (1851)

The first attempt to establish a settlement in what is now Victoria was made by David Collins departed from England in April, 1803, aboard H.M.S. Calcutta with orders to establish a colony at Port Phillip. It was short lived, as he was unhappy with the location and the inability of his small Marine contingent to defend the site from aggressive local Aborigines, and he removed it to Van Diemen's Land.

Several journeys and explorers passed the northern coast of Bass Strait in the interim, but it was not until John Batman journeyed from Van Diemen's Land in 1835 to establish a farming community at what was to become Melbourne that the new colony was established. The new settlement's prime locality between New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, and the natural resources of the area saw it grow rapidly. Initially the settlement was governed directly by Sydney, but by 1840, it was proposed that it should be self governing. This was achieved on 1 July 1851.

The first home-raised Victorian unit, the Melbourne Rifle Regiment was raised in 1854. Further expansion, primarily through private enterprise, resulted in the addition of Cavalry, Artillery, Engineer, Torpedo and Signal units.

By 1854 the newly formed Victorian Government faced their first crisis. Three years earlier, in 1851, gold had been discovered in Ballarat, and soon after in Bendigo triggering the Victorian gold rush. The government imposed heavy mining taxes, which caused a miners revolt, culminating in the Eureka Stockade. The miners fortified a position, and at 3 am on Sunday, 3 December 1854, a party of 276 members of 1/12 and 2/40 regiments supported by Victorian police under the command of Captain J.W. Thomas approached the Eureka Stockade and a battle ensued.

The police took up holding positions on two sides of the stockade, with a further unit of mounted police held in reserve. On a third side mounted members of the 2nd/40th Foot Second Somersetshire Regiment pressed in, supported by a combined storming party made up from members of the 2nd/40th Foot Second Somersetshire Regiment, and the 1st/12th Foot East Suffolk Regiment. A further contingent of the police troopers, and infantry units was also kept in reserve. Although they were well armed, the miners were no match for the professionalism and organisation of the military, and they were routed within 15 minutes.

A contingent of the 1st/99th Foot Wiltshire Duke of Edinburgh Regiment, then serving in Tasmania, was dispatched to aid them, however they were not required.

In the 1850s Melbourne was the headquarters of the Australia and New Zealand Military Command, and for a brief period in the early 1860s, Melbourne was the headquarters of the Royal Navy's Australia Station. This period also saw the Victorian Government pass the Volunteer Act (1863), authorising the raising of voluntary military forces.

1870 saw the creation of Victoria's first permanent Artillery Corps, which was essentially created to garrison the fortifications throughout the colony following the final departure of British Units garrisoned in Victoria. The Corps never exceeded 300 men in strength.

From the 1870s onwards, the Victorian military expanded and further developed at a steady rate. Increased training led to better efficiency and high standards of the men. Increased numbers of professional soldiers were developed alongside a well maintained militia of citizens.

In 1884 a new system of paid militia who served for a fixed term replaced the old system of volunteers. Although the service remained part time, allowing troops to continue civilian employment, a minimum number of days was set. The following year, the Victorian Mounted Rifles were formed, primarily recruiting in rural areas where men had establish horsemanship skills. These men were required to provide and maintain their own horse. In 1888, the Victorian Rangers, a rural infantry unit was also raised. Both rural units were not paid well, but did receive small allowances. It seems that members of rural rifle clubs formed the basis of both of these units.

In December, 1892, men of the Echuca Company of the Victorian Rangers nearly sparked an inter-colonial incident between New South Wales and Victoria, by accepting a polite invitation to cross the colonial border of the Murray River to nearby Moama, to attend a patriotic march. However, crossing the border in uniform and under arms would have legally constituted an "invasion", and would have been in contravention of the military law of both colonies. Despite the obvious social context of the event, and the seemingly innocent nature of the Rangers acceptance, the incident, now referred to as the "border event" upset members of both colony's governments, who were seemingly both opposed to either colony allowing troops from the other to enter their territory. The event was defused without incident, but served to highlight how tense the colonies were about defence at the time. Eventually permission was granted for the men to enter New South Wales, and they performed marches and manoeuvres in front of a large reception.

The Victorian Scottish Regiment was formed in 1898.

Upon the outbreak of the Second Boer War in South Africa on 12 October 1899, men volunteered for active service from every Australian colony. Victoria's contribution was second only to New South Wales in size, and comprised 193 officers and 3372 men of other ranks. The Victorian contingent were involved in a remarkable victory when they routed the Boers at Johannesburg on 29 May 1900.

On 31 December 1900, the day before federation, a survey of the strength of colonial forces found that the Victorian colonial forces consisted of 394 regular and 301 part-paid or volunteer officers, and 6050 regular, and 6,034 part-paid or volunteer men of other ranks.

Upon Federation, the units of the Victorian forces all became units of the Australian Army.

Queensland (1859)

Queensland was established by Letters Patent from Queen Victoria, on 6 June 1859. Prior to this time, the area that constitutes Queensland was formally part of the colony of New South Wales, and therefore came under New South Wales' military protection.

After being granted self government, Queensland immediately set about raising militia forces. By March, 1860, a troop of volunteer mounted rifles had been raised. They were soon joined by units of infantry and cavalry, and later supplemented by artillery. These men were all volunteers, but unlike the other Australian colonies of the time, they received government subsidies and grants for the purchase of equipment and ammunition. This was soon broadened to include grants of 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land upon completion of five years of consecutive service.

By 1876, the forces amounted to an inadequate 412 men in total. Steps were taken to improve the situation, including the passing of the Volunteer Act (1878), which encouraged citizens to undertake training, and saw the numbers of men increase to 1219 by 1880.

British forces had been stationed at Port Albany, and on Cape York between 1865 and 1867, because of the recognised strategic importance of Torres Strait, New Guinea and King George's Sound. After their withdrawal, Queensland maintained a token force there, but it was widely recognised as inadequate to prevent any serious threat. An administrative centre and more serious force was raised to be stationed upon Thursday Island in 1877.

Like the other Australian colonies, Queensland's government was not satisfied by the volunteer system, and aimed to replace it. A Military Committee of Inquiry was established to determine the best alternatives, and found that the service lacked cohesion and discipline. They recommended a combination of partially paid militia with volunteer corps formed to support them, with all male inhabitants liable for service. This was enacted with the repealing of the Volunteer Act in 1884.

Around the same time the Queensland government felt alarmed by the threat of the expansion by the German colony of German New Guinea, and felt that by securing the southeastern quarter of the island of New Guinea, they could provide more safety for shipping through the Torres Strait.

Queensland Premier Thomas McIlwraith ordered Henry Chester, who was the then police magistrate on Thursday Island, to proceed to Port Moresby and take possession of it for Great Britain. He did so, arriving on 4 April 1883, without approval from the Colonial Office, and much to the astonished consternation of the British Government which was firmly opposed to further colonial expansion, raised the Union Flag proclaiming the British colony of the Territory of Papua.

The British government initially repudiated the action, but a firmer commitment by the Australian colonial governments finally secured a British Protectorate over southern New Guinea (Papua) in October 1884, and it was declared an official British protectorate on 6 November 1884. Causing much consternation in London, an astute Germany annexed the northern portion two weeks later, expanding Kaiser-Wilhelmsland.

In 1884, the recommendations of the Military Committee of Inquiry were enacted, and a smaller, more cohesive permanent force was established, with volunteer support.

Upon the outbreak of the Second Boer War on 11 October 1899, Queensland immediately responded by dispatching a contingent of 149 officers, and 2739 men of other ranks, comprising the Queensland Mounted Infantry, and Queensland Bushmen.

On 31 December 1900, the day before federation, a survey of the strength of colonial forces found that Queensland's colonial forces consisted of 810 regular and 291 part-paid or volunteer officers, and 5035 regular, and 3737 part-paid or volunteer men of other ranks.

As with all of the Australian colonies, the forces of Queensland automatically transferred to Commonwealth control with the enactment of Australian federation on 1 January 1901.

See also


  1. ^ Laffin, Chappell (1996), pp. 8–
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Kearney 2005, p. 18.


External links

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