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|MILITARY ACTIVITIES IN CAMDEN IN THE LATE 1800s:
An extract from CAMDEN HISTORY, Journal of Camden Historical Society March 2005 Volume 1 Number 9.
Written by Peter Mylrea
The Agricultural Hall in the Camden Show Grounds started life as a Drill Hall and it is the last surviving feature of the military activity that took place in Camden in the 1880s and 1890s. This article reviews some of these military matters.
The first Colonial military activity was the creation of a Volunteer Force in 1854 which consisted of Artillery, Cavalry and Rifles units.(1) Difficulty was experienced in recruiting volunteers and by 1867 the purely Volunteer Force was 'in danger of extinction'. As an inducement the Government in 1867 introduced a scheme whereby a volunteer who served for five years received a grant of land. This was successful and by 1874 the military forces reached their maximum size. The scheme, however, was too expensive and it was discontinued in 1874 with a subsequent decline in the numbers of volunteers. In 1881 there was a Royal Commission into 'The Defence of the Colony'.(2)
There are two additional comments which can be made. First, British troops were withdrawn from Australia in 1870 after which the Australian colonies were responsible for their own defence. Second, Camden was not listed in any of the above developments.
Reserve Corps of Volunteer Infantry
Perhaps as a result of the above mentioned Royal Commission, Reserve Corps of Volunteer Infantry were formed in New South Wales. This led to the first military activity in the Camden district
The Downes family hold some papers dealing with the formation and activities of a local group.(3) There must have been a desire to have a unit in Camden because the Secretary of the Camden Volunteer Movement applied to Captain Stanton of the Permanent Military seeking permission to form a local unit. This was approved on 9 May 1885 and published in the Government Gazette on 11 June 1885. Soon after Frederick William Arthur Downes was appointed Captain of the Camden Reserve Corps of Volunteer Infantry and Arthur George Eagar was appointed First Lieutenant.(4)
In October 1885 a meeting of the members of the Camden Volunteers was held in the School of Arts, Captain F. W. A. Downes presiding.(5) One business item was to select a suitable site for a rifle range. The meeting was then addressed by the Rev. J.F. Moran who urged the active participation by members. Perhaps this was to counter the work of Sergeant Sullivan, of the Permanent Army 'who begged the members not to take offence if he was a little sharp with some of the backward ones at times. It was for their own good that he was strict.' Nothing could be found about their military activities but they celebrated their first anniversary with a ball held in the hall of the School of Arts with refreshments in the Temperance Hall.(6)
The subsequent history of the Volunteers is uncertain. Very likely they were absorbed into the Camden Reserve Rifle Company which was formed a year or two later.
Camden Reserve Rifle Company
Rifle companies and clubs had chequered histories over a period of about twelve years.
The first such local group, the Camden Reserve Rifle Company, was officially formed on 20 November 1888.(7) It had 40 members and it was issued with 10 Henry rifles on 26 November 1888 and on 8 April 1889 they received 12 Martini-Henry rifles. Reserve Rifle Companies were formed in Picton on 4 October 1888 (8) and in Campbelltown on 9 January 1889.(9)
In Camden R.B. Warren was appointed Hon. Captain of the Reserve Rifle Company on 15 February 1889. He held this position until he resigned on 9 March 1891 after which he was replaced by W.R. Cowper.(10)
The Minute Book of the Committee of the Camden Reserve Rifle Company is held by the Camden Historical Society. It runs from 23 December 1889 to 23 Jan 1893 i.e. from about one year after the Company was formed until it was disbanded. The main activities of the Committee seemed to have been arranging monthly Club shoots for members, Quarterly Prize Shoots and challenge matches against other reserve rifle companies both locally and in more distant parts of the Colony.
Such rifle companies were semi-military in that they received rifles, ammunition and other equipment from the Permanent Military Forces. In 1892 Reserve Rifle Companies throughout the colony were disbanded following a decision by the Government.(11) This was the end of the first Camden Reserve Rifle Company.
Camden Civilian Rifle Club.
Sometime after the Camden Reserve Rifle Company was disbanded the Camden Civilian Rifle Club was formed. The date of its formation is not known but it was in existence in 1895. Information found about its activities were the results of shooting competitions published in the Camden News.(12) It had some connection with the military because it was allowed to retain the twelve Martini-Henry rifles issued earlier to the Camden Reserve Rifle Company.(13) Its subsequent history could not be determined. It probably ceased to exist soon after this time when the second Camden Reserve Rifle Company was formed.
Camden Reserve Rifle Company.
This was the second unit to bear the name of Camden Reserve Rifle Company.
For some reason the Government in June 1895 decided to increase regiments and corps from Peace Establishment to War Establishment. This involved the addition of a corps of Volunteer Reserves to each regiment of the regular army.(14) This was published in the Government Gazette of 21 June 1895.
In October 1895 Captain Antill, Adjutant of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, an officer of the permanent military forces, visited Camden. He attended a meeting in the Drill Hall chaired by Dr G.L. Bell, President of the Camden Civilian Rifle Club. Captain Antill explained the role of the Volunteer Reserves and of individual Reservists. At that meeting and on the following day twenty-one men were enlisted as Reservists and were sworn in as 'defenders of their Queen and Country'.
The Camden Civilian Rifle Club agreed to be associated with the local Mounted Rifles Company and some members of the Camden Civilian Rifle Club volunteered to be Reservists.(15) Reservists undertook courses of instruction in drill and musketry (16) and they could be called out for actual military service in case of war. They were not paid but were 'serving gratuitously'. The name of this new group reverted to the old term of Camden Reserve Rifle Company. There is a report of the results of a shooting competition dated 18 August 1896.(17) How long this unit continued to exist after this date could not be determined.
Camden Civilian Rifle Club.
This was the second group to use the name Camden Civilian Rifle Club. In 1900 a meeting was held to form a Camden Rifle Club;(18) Dr Bell President, W.R. Cowper Treasurer, H. Farindon Secretary. Its subsequent history lies outside of the time covered in this article.
The changes in the rifle companies and clubs can be traced through some of the long term participants. Thus H. Farindon was a member of the Camden Reserve Rifle Company in September 1892, the Camden Civilian Rifle Club in 1895,(19) the Camden Reserve Rifles Club in 1896 (20) and was Hon. Secretary of the Rifle Club [Civilian] formed in 1900. Others who were in all these groups were W.R. Cowper, R. Hindes and W.R. Rix.
Camden Mounted Infantry (later called Camden Mounted Rifles).
In 1896 the Headquarters for the NSW Mounted Rifles Regiment was transferred from Sydney to Camden.(23) Presumably they were based in the Drill Hall. In the same year the Reverend Cecil John King of Saint John's Church, Camden, was appointed Honorary Chaplain.(24)
The Mounted Rifles differed from all the companies and clubs discussed above in that its volunteers were paid under a 'partial payment' system for their attendance at Company activities. This made them part of the military establishment of the Colony. Volunteers had to attend a six day camp, half day and whole day drills, and a course in 'Musketry'. In the 1890s those who met the required conditions were paid as follows: privates an annual allowance of $19.20, plus $0.40 for a half day drill, $0.80 for a whole day drill and $3.20 per annum if they were classed as an 'efficient'. The rates for officers were $64.00, $1.33, $2.80 and $10.80 respectively.
The most reliable list of volunteers is that published in the Camden News on 9 December 1897. This gives the results of the compulsory annual Musketry Course and so is a reliable listing of all the officers and men in the unit at that time. Other issues of the Camden News between 1895 and 1900 give the results of numerous Company shooting matches. These contain names many of which appear only once or twice. It is presumed that these were of men who were enlisted in the Company for only short periods.
The following is the list of the 39 officers and men who were in the Camden Company Mounted Rifles in December 1897:
Lieutenants, A.J. Onslow, G. Onslow; Sergeant Major T. Percival; Staff Sergeant J. Hawkey; Sergeants J. Small, A Liggins; Farrier R. Campbell; Corporals J. Ferris, A Vaughan, P. May, W. Veness; Lance Corporals, W. Hazelwood, C J. Wasson, T. Salle, E. Kenny; Privates D. Campbell, J. Childs, E. Daniels, J. Donaghy, T. Donaghy, A. DowIe, G. Ferris, R. Grigg, F. Hawkey, W. Hawkey, M. Hogan, J. Kelloway, R. Liggins, J. McEwan, K. Rixon, E. Rudd, H. Rudd, F. Shoemark, H. Shoemark, W. Smith, H. Taplin, J.E. Veness, O. Waterworth, W. Wignell. The name of J.W. Macarthur Onslow is absent because by 1897 he had been promoted to Lieut.-Colonel and was Commanding Officer of the entire New South Wales Mounted Rifles Regiment.
Other activities involving the Camden Mounted Rifles.
To facilitate the activities of the Mounted Rifles their Captain, J.W. Macarthur Onslow, had the prominent architect John Sulman design a Drill Hall. It was built on land owned by the Macarthurs and presumably paid for by J.W. Macarthur Onslow. The building was designed in 1894 (25) and was used for the Camden Show in 1895.(26) The Hall remains much as it was when it was constructed. The major change was the brick facade built in 1936, the Jubilee Year of the Camden Show.(27) As written in the opening paragraph of this article this Hall is the last remnant of nineteenth century military activity in Camden.
Not all was military activity. The Camden Company of the Mounted Rifles held balls, probably annually during the 1890s. That held in 1896 was to raise funds towards the cost of sending Camden men to the Queen Victoria Jubilee in 1897. The 1896 ball was described in detail in the Camden News.(28) Over 400 attended and 'the principal families of the district were represented.' The officers and men were in uniform and it took three quarters of the length of a newspaper column to describe what the ladies were wearing e.g. Mrs. Cowper, black chine silk, trimmed with pale green bengaline and passmenterie and Miss Onslow, heliotrope silk draped with lace. The hall was decorated in a manner appropriate to the military with swords, bayonets, scabbards, revolvers etc and flags hung from the rafters. Supper was held in a large marquee with an entrance from the hall.
Queen Victoria Jubilee
In 1897 Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 60 years and a Jubilee Celebration was held in England. Representatives from various parts of the British Empire took part including a detachment from the NSW Mounted Rifles.
The detachment consisted of 33 NCOs and privates drawn from Bathurst, Bega, Camden, Inverell, Molong, Picton, Queanbeyan, and Tenterfield. It seems that the men from Camden were Privates Baker, John Ferris, John Hawkey, Henry Taplin, James Small, A. Vaughan.(29) The men were under the command of Major John Macarthur Onslow, Captain A.J. Onslow Thompson and Lieutenant John Macarthur Onslow.
The Detachment assembled at Camden, the Regimental Headquarters, on 15 January 1897 They were encamped in Onslow Park and undertook an intensive training regime which was reported in the Camden News.(30) Included was a sham fight on Razorback and many ladies and gentlemen joined there to witness the manoeuvres.(31) The contingent left Camden on 12 February 1897 and Sydney on 17 February. In England the Detachment took part in the Queen's Jubilee Procession. They also undertook training with British regiments and in military tournaments.(32) Before leaving England the horses were sold. The highest price obtained was $230 for a bay mare owned by Private Taplin.(33)
The Privates returned by train to Camden on Saturday 16 October 1897. They were met by an enthusiastic crowd and were welcomed by W.C. Furner, the Mayor. Then a band playing a lively march escorted the men to the Drill Hall where 'the newly arrived men received the felicitations of their friends and comrades'.(34)
The Boer War was fought from 1899 to 1902 between the British and the Boers. The Boers were of Dutch descent and lived in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. These were the areas where most of the fighting occurred. To wage the war the British sent large numbers of troops to South Africa. Australia responded to the Empire's call with regiments of volunteers.
The Lancers were the first contingent of Australians to go and were followed soon after by the "A" Squadron of the First Regiment of the NSW Mounted Rifles.(35) This regiment had been in existence for a number of years on the partial payment system and the Camden Company was part of the regiment. The Mounted Rifles were sometimes called the 2nd Australian Light Horse.
The contingent embarked in Sydney on 3 November 1899 and arrived at Cape Town on 6 December 1899. It fought the Boers in numerous actions between January and November 1900 after which the Squadron embarked at Cape Town on 13 December 1900 for their return to Australia. On 8 January 1901 the men arrived in Sydney and marched to Victoria Barracks where they were addressed by Edmund Barton, the Prime Minister of Australia and Mr Seddon, Prime Minister of New Zealand. After the speeches the squadron was disbanded.(36)
There were three functions in Camden to welcome home the returned servicemen. On 24 January 1901 a dinner for the officers and men was held in the School of Arts followed by a Conversazione in the Drill Hall.(37) On the following Sunday there was a Thanksgiving service at St John's Church.(38) There was, however, no monument erected in Camden to commemorate the men who served in the Boer War.
There were 130 men in the "A" Squadron. These came from all over New South Wales, from the other colonies and from overseas. There are three official lists (39) and three articles in the Camden News (40) which give the names of officers and men but these often differ in the men listed. It is therefore difficult to determine which officers and men had local connections.
The following compilation is drawn from these records and gives the names of servicemen who had links with Camden or nearby districts: Captain, later Major J.M. Antill (Picton), Lieutenant A.J. Macarthur Onslow, Staff Sergeant J. Wasson, Sergeant J. Hawkey, Corporal R.J. Nethery, and Privates Axarn, J. Bollard, M.J. Burke (Menangle), A. Butler, J Maxwell (Burragorang), P. Potts, P. Reilly, H. Sharpe, R. Sharpe, A.E. Smith and Rex Smith. P. Reilly died of enteric fever in Bloemfontein, A.E. Smith was killed, Lieut. AJ. Macarthur Onslow was shot in his left knee and Henry Sharpe was 'Invalided, Australia, 5.5.1900'. Sproule lists men from the Picton Half Company of the Mounted Rifles who served in 'A Squadron'. All came from the Wollondilly district except for H. Sharpe and R. Sharpe whose address was given as Glenmore.
Other units of the NSW Mounted Rifle Regiments followed the "A" Squadron to South Africa. First was the remainder of the 1st Regiment and it was followed by the 2nd and 3rd Regiments in 1901-2. These units were made up of volunteers from New South Wales and other places and it was not possible to determine if any Camden men were in these regiments.
In addition to the three Mounted Rifles Regiments other regiments also went to South Africa including the NSW Lancers. In a roll (41) the following members of The Lancers were listed under Camden: Blencowe, A.W., Bresnahan, P., Davey, W.G., Turner, W.J., Wheeler, R., Warby, J.H., and Walsh, E.
Other mounted units in New South Wales and the fate of NSW mounted regiments.
About the same time as the Mounted Rifles were in existence there were two other mounted units in New South Wales, the Lancers and the First Australian Horse. Both were cavalry regiments as distinct from Mounted Rifle units. When the Commonwealth took over defence in 1903 these three units were combined into two Light Horse Regiments. It was at this time that the term Light Horse came into regular use.
Thus 1903 marked the end of eighteen years of military activity which can be identified specifically with Camden, namely, the Camden Company Reserve Corps of Volunteer Infantry (1885 - ?), Camden Reserve Rifle Company (1888-1892), Camden Civilian Rifle Club (1892- ?). Camden Reserve Rifle Company (1895- ?), Camden Company Mounted Rifles (1891-?) and Camden volunteers in the Boer War.
(1) The history given in this Preamble is drawn from Schedule A of the Royal Commission on Defence of the Colony. NSW Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings 1881, vol. 4, pp.20-33.
(2) Royal Commission Defence of the Colony, NSW Legislative Assembly, Votes and Proceedings 1881, vol. 4, p. 581.
(3) These papers were kindly made available to the writer by Mrs. Joan Downes.
(4) Government Gazette 24 October and 27 November 1885.
(5) Camden Times October 1885 (per courtesy of Joan Downes.)
(6) Camden Times 25 November 1886.
(7) GG 1888 p. 8326.
(8) GG 1888 p. 6991
(9) GG 1889 p. 238
(10) GG 1891 p. 4066
(11) GG 1892 p. 10224.
(12) Camden News 1, 15,29 August 1895.
(13) Army General Order 65, 2 Apri11897.
(14) GG 1895 No 404 21 June.
(15) GG 1896 p.5223.
(16) Camden News 1 October 1896,27 May 1896.
(17) Camden News 18 August 1896.
(18) Camden News 19 Apri11900.
(19) Camden News 1 August 1895.
(20) Camden News 18 August 1896
(21) GG 1891 vol 5, p. 7409.
(22) GG vol 4, p. 5573.
(23) Camden News 28 August 1896.
(24) Government Gazette 1896 p. 1598.
(25) A plan for the Drill Hall is held by the Camden Historical Society.
(26) RE. Nixon. Camden Show Society Centenary 1886-198616 p. 16.
(27) Nixon. p. 30.
(29) Camden News 31 December 1896,11 February 1897,24 March 1897.
(30) Camden News 31 December 1896.
(31) Camden News 4 February 1897.
(32) Camden News 10 June 1897, 17 June, 8 July, 15 July, 19 August 1897.
(33) Camden News 23 September 1897.
(34) Camden News 21 October 1897.
(35) Murray, P.1. Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. pp. 28-34.
(36) Records 1st Contingent N.S.W. Rifles South African War 1899-1901. SR4/7648; P.L. Murray Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. pp. 28-34; NSW Military Forces. Lists of Officers, NCOs and Men of the NSW Military Contingents Boer War 1899-1902. Mitchell Library Q968 N.
(37) Camden News 17 January 1901, p. 1, p. 5.
(38) Camden News 24 January 1901.
(39) Records 1st Contingent N.S. Rifles South African War 1899-1901. State Records 4/7648; P.L. Murray Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa; NSW Military Forces. Lists of Officers, NCOs and Men of the NSW Military Contingents Boer War 1899-1902. Mitchell Library Q968 N. Colin Sproule From Picton to Pretoria. The forgotten men of a forgotten war. The Oaks Historical Society c. 1990.
(40) Camden News 26 October 1899, 10 January 1901, 24 January 1901.
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