In early 1900 five Aboriginal men from Warangesda Mission, Darlington Point offered their services as scouts to the New South Wales Bushmen Contingent which was to leave for South Africa later that year. [D and B Elphick, The Camp of Mercy p.26]. Although their offer was not accepted, Dr Dale Kerwin of Griffith University estimates that at least 50 Aboriginal men went to the Boer War as troopers, trackers and stock handlers.
As early as 1993 details of the Darug heritage and enlistment of William Stubbings a trooper with the 3rd NSW Mounted Rifles were published in James Kohen’s The Darug and their Neighbours: The traditional Aboriginal Owners of the Sydney region. Since then new names of Indigenous Boer War servicemen have been sought and researched, together with existing names, in an effort to confirm Aboriginality and service. Research over the last five years by historian Peter Bakker of Hamilton, Victoria has recently led to more information about the Boer War service of John Robert Searle (enlisted as Robert Charles Searle) 4th Western Australian Mounted Infantry and the discovery of the name of his Aboriginal grandmother, who was kidnapped from the Port Phillip District in the early 1830s.
While Searle has been noted as Aboriginal on some Boer War listings, to date there has been little information about his Indigenous heritage. This has now been traced by Peter Bakker and confirmed in consultation with Searle family descendants and a host of primary and secondary sources, including a rare photograph of John Robert Searle in the possession of a family member, Pat Keenan.
Peter Bakker recently travelled to Albany, WA in connection with his research and his comments, reported in the Albany Advertiser of 24 January 2013, throw more light on his findings. The Advertiser notes that this is not the first time Searle’s service has been mentioned in its pages which 113 years earlier recorded his enlistment and embarkation for South Africa.
Peter Bakker’s research (to be published in full at a later date) is important because by linking his own findings with information from the Searle family it is now possible to name a descendant of the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation of Victoria as an Australian soldier of the Boer war.
Philippa Scarlett 7 February 2013 NOTE . In ‘Troopers, not trackers ‘published in 1917 in Wartime Magazine No. 81, Peter Bakker and Thomas Rogers show that there is no proof that 50 Aboriginal men went to the Boer War as trackers and were denied return to Australia.