New information about Jack Alick shows that his military service predates the Boer war in which he served in New South Wales and Commonwealth units. This information has been provided by David Deasey historian, soldier and New South Wales Chairman of the National Boer War Memorial Association.

Previously I knew only that Jack Alick was initially a member of the 1st Australian Horse and sailed for South Africa with its second contingent. David Deasey has pointed out that the 1st Australian Horse came into existence not at the onset of the South African war but in 1897 and received volunteers between 1897 and 1898. It was a crack cavalry unit raised as part of an expansion of the New South Wales armed forces by the commandant of forces Major General G A French.  By 1898 the unit was made up of 628 volunteers chosen from 3000 hopefuls and was training regularly at Young NSW. Those men who sought to join its ranks were expected to be proficient in riding and shooting and to be able to work in bush conditions.

The two contingents from the 1st Australian Horse which went to the Boer war were chosen from its 628 members. This means that Jack Alick, who was selected for war service in the second contingent, already belonged to the 1st Australian Horse, joining either in 1897 or in the following year. The fact that not all existing members were selected to serve in South Africa underlines the level of skill of the men like Alick who were successful volunteers.

David Deasey also points to the likelihood that Jack Alick was presented with his Queen’s South Africa Medal by the Duke of York. This occurred when the Duke and Duchess visited Australia in 1901 to open the new Federal Parliament. They used this opportunity to meet with men who had served in the South African war. The New South Wales ceremony took place on 1 June at Government House, when members of the first and second contingents, 1st Australian Horse were amongst those scheduled to receive their medals from the Duke. The list of these men, taken back to the United Kingdom on the Royal yacht Ophir, includes Jack Alick. Press reports note that not all were present at the ceremony but it seems likely that Jack Alick did attend from the annotation on the list. Most but not all names are accompanied by ticks – which a handwritten legend says denotes medal issued. But what is more important about this list is that it shows not only names and unit served in during the war, but where ‘serving at time of enrolment’ (1). Jack Alick is shown as already a member of the 1st Australian Horse.

This additional evidence confirms what the facts suggest that Alick was not only a veteran of the Boer war but a member of a military force before the war. In doing so it gives his military service new perspective and backdates it to c.1897.

Jack’s mother Ellen/Helen was the daughter of Etienne de Mestre and Aboriginal woman Sarah Lamb. His grandfather Etienne was an excellent horseman and outstanding race horse trainer who in 1861 and 1862 won the first two Melbourne Cups with his horse Archer. This could have a bearing on the horsemanship of his grandson Jack Alick – which qualified him for inclusion in the elite 1st Australian Horse pre-war and then for service in South Africa.

This new information makes Jack the second earliest positively identified Aboriginal member of a colonial military force – the earliest confirmed to date being Jerome Locke. I understand other men are currently under investigation.

Philippa Scarlett 22 April 2014

My thanks to David Deasey for his comments and for alerting me to the history of the 1st Australian Horse and its relevance to Jack Alick.

(1) The National Archives [UK] (TNA): WO 100/232: Her Majesty’s Ship OPHIR –   Presentation Lists 1899-1902  

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  1. Damien says:

    Aboriginal serviceman Thomas Bungalene is the 1st Aboriginal serviceman who served in HMCS Victoria from 1861 – 1864.


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