The exact number and identity of trackers both Aboriginal and non Aboriginal who volunteered for service in the Boer war is still the subject of discussion. However Colin Renshaw, a veteran of research in this area, has drawn my attention to information about two men whose existence and Aboriginality were clearly documented at the time. Both are mentioned twice in the press in the months before the departure of the Federal Contingent on 18 February 1902.
A brief article dated 17 January and headed the THE MELBOURNE ENROLMENT appeared in the Queenslander on 25 January 1902. This notes that
The number of men so far attested for the Federal Contingent is 212. Two black trackers. Davis and F. King, have been taken on the strength .
Although the article infers the men are from Victoria, another more detailed article makes it clear they are from New South Wales. This reads in part
THE FEDERAL CONTINGENT
OVER 200 MEN ENROLLED. 54 ATTESTED YESTERDAY.
TWO BLACK TRACKERS TAKEN :
Good progress was made yesterday in connection with the enrolment of men for the Federal Contingent at the Agricultural Grounds. Major Boam, D. A. A. G., attested 54 men, who had passed all tests, bringing the total number enlisted to date to 212 out of 348 required.
The medical officers – Major Roth, D S O, and Captain Green, D S O – examined 53 candidates, and sent 36 of them on to the acting camp commandant to be tested in riding and shooting The remaining 17 were rejected.
Two black trackers E Davis and F. King were taken on the strength.
The article goes on to give details of the companies the men were assigned to under the heading
POSTED TO COMPANIES.
The following 54 men, having passed all tests, were yesterday attested and regimental numbers allotted as under.
F King with Regimental Number 70 and E Davis with Number 71 were listed under A Company.
The contingent sailed on 18 February 1902 three days after its members’ photographs were printed in the Town and Country Journal under the heading ‘The First Federal Contingent, The New South Wales and Queensland Companies.’ The photograph of the men in the New South Wales A Company includes ‘F King Black Tracker’. A detail from the group showing King provided by Colin Renshaw appears below. The number 31 was superimposed for identification purposes.
Efforts by Colin Renshaw and others to find out more about these men have to date been unsuccessful. There are people named King and Davis in the Index to the minutes of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board but the minutes do not contain the names of all Aboriginal people in New South Wales and in any case not all the minutes have survived. However these names could be a starting point. They show that Aboriginal Kings were living in north and north west New South Wales and Aboriginal Davis families on the New South Wales south and north coast, including the Batemans Bay and Kempsey areas. Edward or Ned Davis is mentioned in other records relating to Yass, Darlington Point and Brungle/Gundagai. His name is consistent with ‘E Davis’ as is his age group – he was 32 in 1902 (based on his second marriage certificate) but there is nothing in the records to suggest he was ever a tracker, enrolled in the Federal Contingent or in the Sydney area at any time.
More research and perhaps family input could shed some light on both these men. It may also ascertain what happened to Davis after he enrolled. He is not amongst those listed in the 1902 photograph of A Company, Federal Contingent. In addition Colin Renshaw has pointed out another subject for investigation. This is that King’s name does not appear on the awards roll for his unit. But while there are still questions to be answered about these two men, the fact their names and regimental numbers are known and their acceptance into the Federal contingent is documented is a big step forward.
Philippa Scarlett 2 May 2013