Our cover illustration shows the First Victorian Regiment marching at the corner of Spring and Bourke Streets en route from Victoria Barracks to embark at Port Melbourne for Cape Town, Saturday, 28 October, 1899.
The Regiment was a mixture of Mounted Rifles and Infantry (unlike latter Contingents that were all mounted troops).
The number of volunteers far outnumbered the 250 places available for the Victorian force - remarkably, five Preston men were included amongst those that were selected.
THE MARQUIS OF TULLABARINE'S 2nd SCOTTISH REGIMENT 90
SECOND BATTALION AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE (Victorian Units) 90
FOURTH BATTALION AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE (Victorian Units) 92
SIXTH BATTALION AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE (Victorian Units) 92
OTHER COMMONWEALTH CONTINGENTS 92
FIRST AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE 92
THIRD AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE 92
FIFTH AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE 93
SEVENTH AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE 93
EIGHT AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH HORSE 93
Note on the Number of Embarkations 93
NURSING SISTERS 95
AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL TEAM 95
BETHUNE'S MOUNTED INFANTRY 95
SPECIAL SERVICE OFFICERS 95
AUSTRALIAN DICTIONARY OF BIOGRAPHY ENTRIES 97
SOME FACTS AND FIGURES 98
TOTAL VICTORIAN CONTINGENTS 98
TOTAL VICTORIAN DISPOSITION 98
TOTAL AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENTS 98
CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT 99
A WHO'S WHO OF THE PRESTON RIFLE CLUB 108
James Mooney 108
Frank W. Donovan 108
Richard Staples 109
T. Eugene Rodda 109
Sergeant Merrett 109
Major William Palliser 110
Lieutenant Charles Stewart 111
Constable William "Bill" Spratling 111
Richard Henry Robinson 113
Edward Moulden 113
John Peter Howe 114
Philip Fargher 114
Charles Rosenthal 115
RULES AND REGULATIONS : GEELONG VOLUNTEER RIFLE CORPS. 1855 117
"FIVE FROM PRESTON IS PRETTY GOOD"
The Three Musketeers
"Three Musketeers" in the persons of Messrs Chas. Patterson, Steve Prowse and Fred Michell - all Preston boys - called at this office in a high state of jubilation on Thursday, having been picked the day before to go with the Victorian contingent and fight for the liberties of their fellow Britishers in the Transvaal. Had it been another Queen's Jubilee they couldn't have been in better spirits over it. They have each promised to act as "special war correspondents to the Leader" while away, so our readers should be well supplied with first-hand information from the seat of war - if it ever gets that far. The above named gentlemen belong to the Mounted Rifles. Messrs F. Hull and G. Emery, infantrymen, also of Preston have also been chosen to go with the contingent. Five from Preston is pretty good". 1
The numbers were minuscule compared to the Great War, but many Darebin men served in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902.
Preston's population around the time that war broke out was put at 3,012 2, spread over fourteen square miles, confirming that the Leader's comment that "five from Preston is pretty good" was, unusually for the Leader, an under-statement.
Although there were eventually 250 men selected for the contingent (125 infantry, 125 mounted), there were just 141 men (66 and 75 respectively) selected on the first day after the Mounted Rifles and First and Second Battalions of the infantry militia paraded for inspection on 11 October and were medically examined at Victoria Barracks. As the Leader suggested, five of the 141 from Preston was "pretty good"
(Actually, although the unknown editor of the Leader wasn't aware of it at the time, there were actually six volunteers from Preston - it was noted a few weeks later (November 16), that Private Harold Reed, a son of Mrs Harold Reed of Plenty Road, South Preston had volunteered and been accepting in the First Queensland Regiment - he was living in Zillmere in Brisbane at the time and later contributed a letter to the local paper)..
This remarkable picture of the Victoria Barracks Parade Ground and the Infantry Regiment was taken on 28 October, 1899, just before they marched through Melbourne to embark.
It was taken by a well-known Northcote resident of the time, Dr Thomas George Beckett, doctor, pioneering radiologist and amateur photographer between 1891 and 1910. He was a Captain in the Mounted Rifles and a key figure in the formation of the Northcote Rifle Club in 1900 (page 32)
(There was a general feeling that the rollout was disappointing - some 260 mounted men had volunteered in principle, but only 128 turned out on parade; on the infantry side, 54 of 90 from the 1st Battalion and 53 of 160 from the 2nd. Some 40 per cent of the Mounted Rifles were declared physically unfit - it was noted that the high percentage was probably due to the fact that they were not medically examined on enrolment in the Rifles in the same way as men how had joined the militia). 3
It was anticipated that men from militia units at Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine would make up the numbers for the infantry; it was suggested that if no more Mounted Rifles presented over the next two days, the quota would be filled by members of the Rangers, a non-military force "many of whom are highly competent horsemen".
The men selected entered camp the following Monday, the Mounted Rifles at the Flemington Showgrounds and the infantry at Victoria Barracks.
As it turned out, George Emery did not serve - he was the 22 year-old son of Frederick and Harriett Emery, the latter a long-time ladies draper in High Street. The reason for his withdrawal may have been the death the following week of his grandfather, Michael Emery who for many years prior to his retirement had run a pottery works in Wood Street.
Preston's five were made up by the late inclusion of Andrew Hendrie.
The Leader's comment "if it ever gets that far" was also relevant as war was only declared the day before the group's enrolment and they would not have been aware of the fact when they volunteered.
Another of Dr. Thomas Beckett's remarkable images; this the afterdeck of S.S. Medic before she sailed with the First Contingent. Horses can be seen below deck, centre left.
Museum Victoria, MM030203
A Boer 4 offensive into the British-held Natal and Cape Colony areas on 11 October (the Wednesday the men were accepted) saw a formal declaration of war after several months of negotiations had broken down.
Such a declaration had been expected and the Victorian government had already commenced plans for the First Contingent, the formal announcement of hostilities was not reported in Australia until the Thursday morning.
Although almost universally referred to in Australia as the Boer War, in British history, the South African campaign of 1899 to 1902 is technically the Second Boer War.
After Transvaal formally declared independence from the United Kingdom, a brief conflict began on 16 December 1880 with shots fired by Transvaal Boers at Potchefstroom and the ambush and destruction of a British Army convoy.
Although generally called a war, the actual engagements were of a relatively minor nature considering the few men involved on both sides and the short duration of the combat, lasting some ten weeks of sporadic action.
The Preston contingent was given a hastily-arranged send-off at the Shire Hall a couple of weeks later, the report confirming that Privates Hendrie and Hull had been selected for the Infantry, and Sergeant Patterson and Privates Michel 5 and Prowse for the Mounted Rifles.
The Leader had little hesitation and much pride in emphasising Preston's contribution 6
"... its population did not entitle it to one place in the contingent, yet of such stuff is the military youth of the Shire composed that no less than five, or 2 per cent of the whole contingent have been deemed worthy to represent Victoria and fight side by side with the Imperial Army in the Transvaal".
The usual laudatory speeches were made; predictably it was Charles Patterson, the Scotch College educated nephew of a prominent estate agent in both Preston and Melbourne that made the major response; the other four confessing to no talent for speeches, but receiving in turn no less applause.
Another column of the same edition revealed that Patterson was president of the local branch of the Australian Natives Association and that "when responding to toasts in England at the time of the Jubilee he had declared that if the need came Australia would be foremost in volunteering assistance".