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Archives In Brief 27 - NSW State archives relating to the Boer War

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Provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to New South Wales' participation in the Boer War.

Search imagesSee images of the soldiers in Photo Investigator
Photographs of the departure of the New South Wales Bushmen's Contingent for South Africa, c.1900

Background of the Boer War

The war between the British and the two Dutch South African republics — the Boer War — began on 11 October 1899 when the Boers declared war on the British. It lasted until 31 May 1902 when Lord Kitchener and General Botha signed the peace treaty — the Peace of Vereeniging — ending the war.

A troop of the Bushmen's ContingentWhen the war broke out in 1899 Australia was still made up of six separate colonies and, despite the fact the Federation was imminent, each colony still retained local responsibility for land defences. With the outbreak of war civilians throughout the Australian colonies enthusiastically volunteered for service. This was actively supported by the governments of the day and various colonial contingents were formed. Each of the colonies sent between four and six contingents that served mostly in mounted units, often known as 'mounted rifles', 'bushmen' or 'imperial bushmen'.

The first contingents arrived in South Africa between November 1899 and March 1900; the second between December 1899 and February 1900; the third between April and May 1900 and the fourth between May and June 1900. The 4th Tasmanian and the 6th Queensland, South Australian and Western Australian contingents did not reach South Africa until March-April 1901.

The unification of Australia's defences began following Federation on 1 January 1901. After 1901 additional contingents of soldiers were sent to South Africa to form battalions with squadrons from each state.

Dinner time at the Bushmen's Contingent camp, KensingtonThese battalions were first numbered as units of the Commonwealth Contingent. Later the entire force was designated as the Australian Commonwealth Horse.

At the time of signing the Treaty of Vereeniging, 16 175 officers and other ranks (not allowing for double-counting of those who served in two contingents) and 16 314 horses had been sent from Australia. There was also an unknown number of Australians already working on South Africa's goldfields who served in local units, and a small number of Australians are known to have fought on the Boer side.

The total Australian causalities numbered about 1,400. These included 251 who died in action or from wounds sustained in battle, 267 who died of disease and 43 who were reported missing. Five Victoria Crosses, together with many other decorations, were awarded to Australians in the course of the war.

A select list of sources

Correspondence

Colonial Secretary/Chief Secretary/Services

NRS 906, Special bundles
* South African Contingent appointment of Captain Owen, 1900 [4/954.4]
* South African Contingent-re discharge of various members, 1899-1902 [9/2418.5]

NRS 918, Telegrams to and from Agent General for New South Wales in London, 1873-1908
Items [4/3981], [4/3982] and [4/3988] contain numerous references to the Boer War.

Governor

NRS 4512, Despatches, circulars and cables from the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary, 6 Apr 1787-27 Jun 1806, 13 May 1809-1961, and copies of despatches to the Secretary of State c.1906-1969, 1971
The series includes correspondence concerned with the ratification of acts, defence, the sending of troops to overseas wars (the Boer War and the First World War).

NRS 4541, Despatches from other Governors, and letters from Consuls and Diplomats, officials and private persons, 1899-1935
The series contains papers and correspondence relating to defence and wars for example, cables from the Casualty Department, Cape Town during the Boer War.

For further details of the records of the Governor, consult Archives Investigator. Select Advanced Search - Agency for No. 1767, Governor.

Newspaper cuttings

Harbour, pilots and lighthouses

NRS 4765, Log book of the tug 'Thistle', 2 Apr 1893-21 Aug 1895
This log is signed by the master, and is a daily record of winds, weather and remarks. The initial entries are obscured by newspaper cuttings relating to the Boer War.

Photographs

Colonial Secretary/Chief Secretary/Services

NRS 1254, Photographs of the departure of the New South Wales Bushmen's Contingent for South Africa, c.1900 [SZ1032]
Reel 2786, COD 422, aperture card nos. 7774-7795
» View these photographs in Photo Investigator

Regimental orders

Colonial Secretary/Chief Secretary/Services

NRS 1251, Boer War: Regimental orders for the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, 1899-1901
This volume contains a record of the daily operations of the NSW Mounted Rifles during the Boer War. There are detailed listings of horses attached to the Brigade; lists of officers' and men's names and rank; trade; religion; age; birthplace and particulars of next of kin. There are reports of the Contingent's casualties, and their engagements and skirmishes with the Boers. An index to defaulters is included, which refers to a list of defaulters, giving their names, corps, crime, punishment and any witnesses. Lists of men returning to Australia or England, those killed in action or taken prisoner are also included.

NRS 1252, Boer War: Regimental orders for the 6th Regiment Imperial Bushmen, New South Wales, and the 3rd Mounted Brigade, Oct 1900-Feb 1901
This volume covers the Brigade Orders for the 6th Regimental Imperial Bushmen, New South Wales, and the 3rd Mounted Brigade. There are reports concerning the positioning of daily outposts; the procedures for exercising and feeding the horses; marching orders and guard duty for the men.

NRS 1253, Boer War: Regimental orders, Jun-Oct 1900, Dec 1900-Jul 1901 [4/7649-50]
These volumes cover routine matters such as the time and formation of morning parades; Divine Services; drills, outpost and duty rosters allocated to the various squadrons. There are also reports concerning the number of missing men, casualties and men imprisoned for wilfully disobeying orders. Proceedings for Court Martials and promotions within the Regiment are also included.

Royal Commission

Commissions and Inquiries

NRS 1477, Royal Commission of Inquiry re Claims of Members of New South Wales Contingents in South Africa, 1907
Minutes of evidence and proceedings

Public Service Board

NRS 12294, Special Bundles
* Inquiry into overpayment of compensation to officers of NSW Mounted Rifles, for loss of horses, South Africa, Jul-Aug 1905 [8/357.2]

Salaries

Colonial Secretary/Chief Secretary/Services

NRS 1084, Salary registers, Jul 1887-1926
Monthly record of salaries paid recording position, name, rate of salary, and deduction for superannuation and amount. While this volume does not relate specifically to the Boer War, it does include temporary groups under the Chief Secretary, for example, Transvaal Casualties Inquiry.

Treasury

NRS 14194, Special bundles
* South African Contingent - History of pensions granted, 1903-43 [13/10024, SB No.65, File No. A49/4299]
* South African Contingent - Pensions, 1922-60 [13/10041, SB No.97, File No. B60/2181]

NRS 14223, Salaries paid to the South African Contingent, 1901-02
Reel 2655
The volume is divided into sections: 1st Australian Horse, Mounted Rifles, Infantry, and Army Medical Corps. Vouchers record the following details: regimental number, rank, name, period, rate of salary, total amount, deduction for debts, amount actually received, signature in receipt, and date of payment. The returns are arranged more or less alphabetically.

Other records

Researchers wishing to identify additional material on this topic should consult the Archives Investigator for records of the key colonial (later State) Government agencies involved in the administrative and other arrangements relating to the War, for example the Chief Secretary and Treasury.

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator. Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.

Further reading

  • National Archives of Australia Fact Sheet 67: Boer War records
  • Queensland State Archives Brief Guide No. 21: Boer War records
  • P L Murray, The Official record of Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, A J Mullett, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1911
  • The Australian War Memorial's Web site includes a brief account of Australia's participation in the Boer War at www.awm.gov.au

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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