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Category: Conflicts/WW1/Lt Horse

The First Australian Horse


& Australian Commonwealth Horse


ach-embroider.jpg (27272 bytes)

Milkman's hill on a hot summer's morning in April, 1898. There is a military camp in process of habilitation; staff officers are cantering up and down the lines with orders, and Adjutants are worrying over marching-in states. Out of chaos order is gradually being established.

For several hours there has been a constant inflow of civilian horsemen mounted on country-bred animal of rough but serviceable appearance. They ride like experienced bushmen, and one can see at a glance that they are not mere sightseers. By noon there are something like four hundred of them on the ground, and Quartermasters are beginning to issue uniforms.

 They are the First Australian Horse - the new Cavalry Volunteers raised by Colonel Mackay - a Regiment of real Bushmen, which in twenty-four hours from now will be seen marching past the saluting base in myrtle-green uniform, with all the steadiness and assurance of trained soldiers.

This was the regimental debut. In June of the previous year permission was given to raise a regiment of bush volunteers, and in August it was gazetted. The movement was taken up with boundless enthusiasm all over the colony; even Queenslanders applied to be enrolled in the new organization. Only the Government gave a tardy approval to the scheme, and this largely because there was money to be found. Finally, however, sanction was given to raise four hundred men on the basis of a capitation allowance of 5 pound per man, with permission to the Officer Commanding, Colonel Mackay, to spend three or four years' in advance.

 Sabretache badge of 1st Australian Horse Collar dog of the 1st Australian Horse

As soon as the men enlisted they were measured for their uniforms and an order was sent to London for four hundred separate outfits, at a total cost of 7,000 pounds. Capt. Ferguson, of the 2nd Life Guards, then acting as private secretary to the Governor, accepted the posting of Second in Command with the rank of Major, and Sergt. Thompson, of the New South Wales Lancers, was made Adjutant with a Lieutenant's Commission. 

A re-created Trooper's Uniform of the First Australian Horse

Instructors of more or less fitness for the position were appointed and drill inaugurated in the country districts. Neither officers nor men knew the first thing about soldiering, but they had an unbounded enthusiasm for their work and a good seat in the saddle. With these advantages they made rapid strides towards proficiency. Some of them rode forty miles to parade and another forty back again, after three or four hours' drill. But the Easter encampment was coming on, and the Officer Commanding had promised that they should be there. Ship after ship arrived without the necessary uniform, with swords or carbines, and still worse, without the Instructors who had been cabled for.

Things looked far from encouraging as the time drew near. The wonder is that the men did not lose heart entirely. They had nothing to go to camp in except their civilian clothes, and they were to be brigaded with the older regiments of Lancers and Mounted Rifles.

At last, on the Monday before Easter, a ship carrying three tons of uniform and accoutrements put into port, and the Staff were enabled to telegraph to their scattered units that their clothing had arrived. There was no possible chance of issuing it locally, so Colonel Mackay, relying on the loyalty of his men, asked them to come into camp as they were and as lightly equipped as possible. At 4 a.m. on Good Friday the first lot arrived - a motley crew, in every variety of costume know to an Australian midsummer. By midday four hundred and two out of a total strength of four hundred and ten had reported themselves for duty. And then the fun began - at least for the Quartermaster. How he got through his work even he is at a loss to comprehend, but the fact remains that by daylight next morning the Regiment turned out for review purposes.

Here was a body of men who knew nothing of military camp routine; many had never handled a sword, and none knew how to use one. In no case had more than forty been drilled together. The staff of instructors was a borrowed one, consisting of artillery men and mounted rifles. The whole of the uniforms, equipment, sword-frog, carbine buckets, and one hundred and fifty swords had just been issued, and still the regiment had to be put together, squadron and troop leaders appointed, and the men were asked to walk, trot and canter past the saluting base alongside their trained comrades within twenty-four hours!

This was an ordeal which very few regiments could have survived. The Australian Horse not only accomplished it, but remained in camp the whole nine days with their partially paid comrades, without a penny of remuneration and without so much as a grumble. They at once jumped into public favour, and kept there. It was a sporting thing to do, and everyone admired the pluck and sprit which prompted it.

Colonel Mackay had promised two squadrons for the camp: he marched past with four squadrons and a band! They were not, perhaps as steady as a brick wall, but hey earned warm praise from General Officer Commanding, and they deserved it.

In subsequent manoeuvres they showed a quick-wittedness and grasp of details, so long as they were conveyed in everyday language, which was quite surprising. How can one praise sufficiently, the sprit which brought this regiment into existence under such unfavourable conditions? It is still one of the most popular Corps in the Service and one of the most useful.

In 1900 it was placed on the partially paid establishment, and is now 638 strong. The original four squadrons have been increased to five, and qualified instructors have been imported to deal with the raw material. It should be remembered, however, that the Regiment worked on the purely volunteer basis from its inception up to this point, and sent a contingent of purely volunteer Cavalry to South Africa.

The Southern or "A" Squadron is recruited from Murrumburrah, Cootamundra and Gundagai; its strength is 120. The South-Eastern or "B" Squadron includes men from Goulburn (which also provides the band), Braidwood-Arulen, Michelago_Breadbow, and Bungendore, and numbers 145 of all ranks. The Western or "C" Squadron comes from Mudgee, Rylstone, and Lue, numbering 90: and the Scone or "D" Squadron from the township of the same name, also Belltrees and Muswellbrook, to the number of 100. The Northern or "E" Squadron is drawn from Gunnedah, Boggabri, Tamworth, and Armidale; this numbers 145, or a total of 600 officers and men, exclusive of Staff and band.

George Allman Griffen was born at Braidwood NSW, in 1866. He was an accountant and worked in Gundagai NSW, where he and his brother were active in raising the local troop of the 1st Australian Horse in 1897. He accompanied the unit's first contingent to South Africa in 1899 and held the rank of Squadron Sergeant Major. He was killed in action on 16 January 1900 during a Boer ambush at Slingersfontein and is buried in the military cemetery at Colesburg. (His QSA is shown left)

Squadron Sergeant Major Griffen was the first person from New South Wales to be killed in action in the Boer War. His death had such an impact in Australia that a large memorial tablet to his memory was unveiled in the Sydney Town Hall on 22 April 1900. His death is also prominently recorded on the face of the Boer War Memorial at Gundagai in NSW.

This sabretache was worn with full dress by Lieutenant James Bunbury Nott Osborne as a member of the 1st Australian Horse. Raised in New South Wales in 1897 as a partially-paid volunteer unit, the 1st Australian Horse consisted of four squadrons, each of them about one hundred men. 

During the Boer War it provided two contingents, in 1899 and 1900. Osborne served with the first contingent, arriving in Cape Town on 13 December 1899. He was present at the battles of Slingersfontein and Paardeberg and at the relief of Kimberley. 

On 6 March 1900 Osborne accepted a commission with the British 16th Lancers, a unit in which his brother had served and died before the Boer War. He was closely involved in the surrender of Bloemfontein and was later attached to General French's headquarters, before being evacuated to England due to illness.

Patent leather; Gilded brass; Brass; Black patent leather sabretache, to be worn with full dress, with a large gilded brass badge of the 1st Australian Horse attached to the centre front. Two of the three buckles are missing. The third buckle is of gilded brass and shows the badge of the unit at each end. There are attached 'D' rings to take the other two buckles. The back of the sabretache has an expandable black leather pouch which fastens with a flap and brass stud. The inside of the flap is lined with green leather. There is an additional brass stud to secure the lower strap that holds the pouch in place.


Of course, when it came to a question of sending troops from New South Wales to South Africa, it was inevitable that some of the Australian Horse should be included. No contingent would have been representative with out men from this Corps, and the sequel showed that the Regiment, although the most recently formed of any in the State, justified its inclusion in the selection made for active service.

At first only thirty-four officers and men were sent out, and these went with Mounted Rifles on the transport Langton Grange, which carried a big cargo of horses.

Lieutenant W.V. Dowling was in charge when the vessel sailed on November 13th. His little detachment was sent up via Naauwpoort to Arundel, and operated under General French's command during the whole of the running fights in the vicinity of Colesburg. They were attached to the New South Wales Lancers when the second detachment under Captain Thompson arrived by the Surrey. This lot included 104 Officers and men. They landed on February 25th, 1900, at Capetown, and on the 27th they were marching through the streets to the accompaniment of the ringing cheers from the public, on their way to the railway station at the front. 

At Modder River they were placed in charge of a convoy for Lord Robert's column, and marched across country to Klip Drift, where they had their first brush with the enemy. 

On March 7th the detachment arrived at Paardeberg, and the following day pushed forward to Poplar Grove to take part with the main army in the pitched battle now memorable under this title. 

From here on to Bloemfontein they were actively engaged with the Cavalry Brigade under General French, (See photo >>) and fairly won their spurs.

At Bloemfontein they found Lieutenant Dowling, who had been wounded and taken prisoner at Slingersfontein some weeks earlier, when the Lancer patrol was ambushed and forced to surrender. In this connection, it is interesting to note that Sergeant-Major Griffin of the Australian Horse, was the first of the Australians to fall in the service of the Empire. He was killed when Lieutenant Dowling was taken prisoner.

The official report, written by Major Lee, Officer Commanding New South Wales Lancers, on this mishap, runs as follows.

" Slingersfontein, 17-1-1900.- In reference to the patrol of New South Wales and First Australian Horse that left camp at 3 a.m. yesterday under Lieutenant W.V. Dowling, of the First Australian Horse, the following is notified for record: The patrol after leaving camp was attended by Major Lee as far as Pleese's farm. After short halt Lieutenant Dowling moved on with patrol. At 3.30 p.m. Warrant Officer Duncan reported his return to camp, also that he had been with Lieutenant Dowling's patrol up till 1 p.m. The patrol had reconnoitred according to instructions, and was about returning to camp when Warrant Officer Duncan with two men, was detached to examine Mr. Foster's farm. After doing so, he went in search of Lieutenants Dowling's part, and failing to find them concluded they had returned to camp. At 4.30 p.m. Major Lee received a message from Colonel Porter to see him at once in reference to the patrol, and rode around immediately with Warrant Officer Duncan and Private Buchholtz, and was informed that a New South Wales Lancer patrol had been cut up. Colonel Porter proceeded to the top of the adjacent hill, where Warrant Office Duncan and Private Buchholtz explained all particulars. The Colonel considered the unfortunate occurrence could not be classed otherwise than as an accident, and that no one was to blame. It was decided after hearing the verbal evidence of the Rimington Scouts (Bennet and two others) that we would wait developments and see if any came in after dark. At 11.30 pm, Private Artlett, Parramatta Half-squadron, returned to camp in an exhausted condition.

" The position of the occurrence was located by the Lancer scouts, some distance away on our left front. Upon examination it was found the T.S.M. Griffin, No. 367, First Australian Horse, had been killed from bullet wounds, one being through the head. Corporal F. Kilpatrick, No. 755, New South Wales Lancers, was found severely wounded - one bullet wound through the lungs, and the lower jaw smashed as if by an explosive bullet. Owing to the Boers appearing on our left flank in strength I withdrew all combatants from the front, and sent on the ambulance. On return the medical officer reported that he had buried T.S.M. Griffin on the spot where he had fallen, and that Corporal Kilpatrick was in the ambulance expiring. Corporal Kilpatrick died, at 5.10 p.m. was buried next to the two New Zealanders on the slope above Slingersfontein Farm. The New South Wales and New Zealand troop attended the burial. The following are still missing;-

New South Wales Lancers.


Warrant Officer Fisher, C.E.

Private Ford, M

304 Sergeant McDonald, P.

574 Private Roberts, J.A

742 Corporal Hopf, C.

866 Private Taylor, A.V.

763 Private Daley, A.

881 Private Whittington, G.B.

880 Private Johnson, R.M.


First Australian Horse


Lieutenant W.V. Dowling,

812 Private Eames, W.

323 Corporal Wilson, R.

 680 Private Lynee, R.

" Warrant Officer Duncan will take on all duties of Regimental Sergeant Major from this date." [Subsequent advices show that the six members of the Lancer patrol who returned to camp are Warrant Officer G.L. Duncan, Troopers Buchholtz, E, Thomas, H. Artlett, H. Thomas, and W. Brady.]

For the remainder of the campaign, the Australian Horse were attached to the Scots Greys, and in the appendix will be found a list of the engagements in which they took part, together with the casualty and honour roll for these services.

The success of the Regiment all through is largely due to the untiring energy and enthusiasm of Colonel Mackay, in whose brain the idea of bush volunteers originated. In the early days of the New South Wales Lancers he had been an exceptionally zealous officer, but he left that Corps when he entered Parliament. Subsequently, when the idea of Imperial Bushmen for South Africa took hold of New South Wales, he resigned his portfolio as Vice-President to the Executive Council under the Lyne administration, and assumed command. For services this connection he has been made Commander of the Order of the Bath.

In dealing with the services of both Lancers and Australian Horse, it may fairly be stated, without prejudice to the excellent work done by their comrades of the Mounted Rifles, that all through the Campaign the identity of the New South Wales Cavalry Contingents was overshadowed by the personality of the larger units to which they were attached - the Inniskillings and the Scots Greys. For this reason their work was not so prominently brought into the lime light as that of the Mounted Rifles, who, from the time of their disembarkation at Capetown, operated independently as a New South Wales unit.


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