AN INDIGENOUS NURSE IN WORLD WAR ONE : MARION LEANE SMITH

During World War One 3141 Canadian nurses served overseas and on the home front. Included in this number was Marion Smith. What distinguishes her from other nurses was her particular Australian connection. Although resident in Canada since childhood she was born in Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia in 1891. Marion’s grandmother, Lucy Leane belonged to the Cabrogal (Liverpool) clan of the Darug.  In 1893 two years after Marion was born Lucy Leane  petitioned the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board describing herself as

The only surviving Native Woman of the Georges River and Liverpool District, residing here ever since her birth Fifty Three Years ago, as the undersigned witnesses can vouch for and attest. Being a bona fide Original Native of Australia & of this District, your Petitioner requests of you the supply of a boat as granted by Government in all such cases, for the purposed of carrying on trade on the Georges River.  Sydney Morning Herald 9 June 1893  

Lucy Leane’s daughter Elizabeth, Marion’s mother was also born in Liverpool. After marrying an English cousin George Smith and Marion’s birth, Elizabeth and her husband moved to Canada.

Marion Smith trained as a nurse at New England Hospital, Rosebury, Massachusetts USA and after graduating in 1913 joined the Victoria Order of Nurses in Montreal. On 7 March 1917 she volunteered for World War One and became a staff nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She sailed soon after for England to begin active service and embarked for France on 30 March 1917, joining No. 41 Ambulance Train on 9 December 1917. She served in France until 1 September 1918 then Italy with the [British] Italian Expeditionary Force.  Her service record shows that during her war service she became known as Marion Leane Smith.

Ambulance Train. France WW1

A ward on a British Ambulance Train  in France

Ambulance trains like No 41 were specially fitted trains which were used in France and Belgium to transport injured soldiers from casualty clearing stations to base hospitals. Some included theatres for emergency operations. Patients were crammed into triple layered bunks either side of a narrow aisle. This combined with the movement of the train, the over all cramped nature of the converted carriages and lighting issues made for very difficult conditions for both the patients and the medical staff attending to them. One nurse described difficulties associated with the movement of patients onto an ambulance train at a clearing station in France:

Patients lying everywhere in the grounds of the clearing station, the walking wounded were in hundreds and were fighting to get on the train, they had to be kept back by a Guard to enable the bearers to get the more serious cases on the train.

Sister Leila Smith, No. 15 Ambulance Train

Such conditions would have tested Marion’s skills and nerve but her service record shows she more than adequately met this challenge. Comments in her record state that she was ‘a very good surgical nurse most attentive to patients.’   Another report of 2 August 1918 says more.

Staff Nurse Smith has given complete satisfaction in the carrying out of her duties whilst on the train. Her work is both quickly and efficiently done. She is most capable in every way. Power of administration satisfactory as also tact and ability to train others. 

Although her contract expired on 7 September 1918 she sought an extension and moved to the University War Hospital Southampton on 5 October 1918. She remained there until 4 May 1919 when she returned to Canada. Here she resumed life with her family at Home Farm New Brunswick but later married Victor Walls. He also had served in WW1 and some speculate that the two first met during the war years.

The couple subsequently left Canada for Trinidad where they took up positions at a missionary school, Naparima College. Victor went on to become Head Master and Marion supervised extra curricular activities at the boarding house. The Naparima school hymn which is still sung was written by Marion.

Marion maintained her connection with the Red Cross and was responsible for bringing the Red Cross to Trinidad. She also served in World War Two in Trinidad where she was commandant of the Red Cross and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Her trajectory from her Indigenous ancestral lands at Liverpool New South Wales eventually to Trinidad and the responsibilities she undertook there (and before) was an amazing testament to her own abilities and strength and no doubt also to the spirit inherited from her grandmother, petitioner Lucy Leane, ‘bona fide Original Native of Australia’.  In addition to Marion, three other descendants of Lucy Leane served in World War One. Marion’s cousin Albert Edmund Leane known as ‘Darkie’, his brother  William Arthur Leane and her uncle Albert Charles Leane all served in France with the AIF. Another uncle Edmund William Leane volunteered in 1918 at the age of 43 but was unsuccessful. However of the descendants of Lucy Leane, Marion Leane Smith is unique in that she is so far the only woman of Australian Aboriginal heritage who is known to have served in World War One.

Although Australian, Marion Smith’s training was overseas and her service not with the army of her own country. The questions remains would she have had the opportunity to acquire nursing skills if she had not left Australia and, given the lack of uniformity in acceptance of men of Indigenous heritage into the Australian army, would she have gained acceptance as a nurse in the AIF.

My thanks again to Marion’s niece Judy Joyce for telling me that Marion had served in World War One enabling me to seek further information from the National Archives UK and also for directing me to information about her time in Canada and Trinidad.

 Philippa Scarlett 30 October 2013

Posted in WW1 | 15 Comments

WALTER COLEMAN: AIF MEMBER AND WARMULI CLAN DESCENDANT

One of the Aboriginal children placed in Governor Macquarie’s Native Institution in 1814 was Kitty of the Warmuli or Prospect clan of the Darug. After leaving the Native Institution Kitty married, first Coleby, brother of Maria Lock and then convict Joseph Budsworth and moved to the Maitland area of NSW.

By 2012 I had identified four of Kitty’s descendants as serving in World War One, using a combination of Jim Kohen’s Darug genealogies, National Archives and New South Wales Birth, Death and Marriage records and information from Budsworth descendant Jo Rose. Now with more assistance from Jess Holland and Liz Locke, I have been put in touch with Leigh Budden whose grandfather, born a Budsworth, is yet another of Kitty’s descendants to serve in the AIF. He was Robert John Coleman (also known as Walter) born Robert John Budsworth in 1896 and legitimised by John Joacquim Coleman as his son in 1913. His mother Catherine Sarah Budsworth, granddaughter of Kitty, married John Coleman in 1898. Robert volunteered aged 19 on 18 July 1915 and served as Walter John Coleman in the Middle East and France. Catherine Sarah was the daughter of James Bowen Budsworth and the sister of Roderick Budsworth, killed in France on 5 November 1916. Another brother, James Henry Budsworth survived the war as did and two other Budsworths, Wilfred and Joseph, both of whom were cousins of Walter Coleman.

COLEMAN nee Budsworth Wal (Robert John) & Nellie wedding 1_5_1930 courtesy Leigh Budden

Wal Coleman and his second wife Nellie, 1930.

Courtesy Leigh and Joan Budden

I have mentioned boomerangs before in connection with men of the AIF. Walter Coleman also possessed a boomerang (see below) similar in make and material to the one owned by Bert Leane .The precise circumstances of his receipt of this object are unknown but its present owner, his daughter Joan Budden, says that it was a gift from one of his uncles. Although this boomerang may not necessarily have any connection with Walter Coleman’s Aboriginal heritage, it is of interest in the context of war service overseas in general and the use of boomerangs to symbolise safe return. Walter Coleman’s boomerang is asymmetrical and roughly similar to the one belonging to Bert Leane. The dark wood with yellow banding suggests both were made from mulga.

Wal Coleman's boomerang courtesy Leigh Budden

The boomerang belonging to Wal Coleman, a gift from his uncles.

Courtesy Leigh and Joan Budden

Family research by Leigh Budden has revealed another parallel with Bert Leane, known to his AIF friends as ‘Darkie’. He points out that Robert Budsworth was known not only as Walter John, Wal and Wally but also as Darkie Coleman. He also states that according to his mother’s cousin Ray Coleman, his grandfather was nicknamed ‘Nigger’ by many of his friends including some of his family. This was not meant as an insult but a (perverse) term of endearment. A post card sent to his brothers Frank and Bob from Wareham U.K. where Walter was stationed in March 1917 (while assigned to the later disbanded 61st Battalion) demonstrates the affection between the brothers.

Wal COLEMAN sent this Post Card from Wareham UK WWIWal COLEMAN sent this Post Card from Wareham UK WWI  (2)

Card sent to his brothers by Wal Coleman. His realistic appraisal of the uncertainties of his life as a soldier is evident when he writes –  ‘if I get home’.

Courtesy Leigh and Joan Budden

The use of the word ‘nigger’ underlines the ever present casual discrimination faced by men of Aboriginal heritage. However the mateship he enjoyed (like Bert Leane), was implicit on his death in 1944, in the notice placed by the 30th Battalion AIF Association in the Newcastle Herald.

Budsworth Walter John Coleman 1944 death notice 001 crop

The discovery of Walter Coleman is another example of the fact that there are more men of Indigenous heritage to be recognised as volunteering for the first AIF. The Darug people of New South Wales are particularly well documented thanks in great part to the research and personal interaction with families of Jim Kohen. This in turn has assisted in the identification of war service by Darug men. Now the addition of Walter Coleman, yet to be included in Darug genealogies, brings to at least 72 the number of Indigenous servicemen with links to the Aboriginal people of the Sydney basin.

My thanks to Leigh Budden and his mother Joan Budden for family information and photographs

Philippa Scarlett 29 October 2013

Posted in WW1 | 21 Comments

PETITIONER, SOLDIER, WRITER, POET, NURSE: THE MULTIFACETED INDIGENOUS LEANE FAMILY

Albert Edmund Leane enlisted in the AIF in January 1916 under the name Albert Edward Leane. He gave his age as 18 and became a member of No 4 Tunnelling Company. The Company left Sydney on 22 May but Leane subsequently disembarked at Freemantle. He enlisted a second time in June 1916. Although still under age, his second enlistment included a letter of permission from his father. In fact according to his family he was still younger than 19, the age stated on his second attestation. He served with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion on the Somme where he was twice wounded.

Amongst his possessions, now held by family members is a boomerang given to him in connection with his war service. It is inscribed 5 Platoon 149 GST Company AIF. Also inscribed on the boomerang are approximately twenty signatures but these are proving hard to decipher. There is no record of his serving in World War Two however 149 GST (General Transport) Company was a World War Two unit. The exact circumstances of his receipt of the boomerang are unknown and still being researched and efforts are under way to identify the signatures.  Boomerangs were a recurring motif during both wars and used on official and unofficial badges, colour patches, brooches, ornaments and correspondence. The boomerang was a powerful symbol of return and of a continuing link between individuals. Associated with boomerang images were messages like Hurl this Boomerang Across the Sea. Hoping You will come back to Me and the inscription on the boomerang given to Captain Carmichael, responsible for the recruiting drive for the 36th Battalion AIF, which says ‘Thynulungatha’ translated as ‘come back here’

Albert Edmund Leane's Boomerang (2) 3

Albert Edmund Leane's Boomerang close up (2) 3 bw contrast version

Albert Edmund Leane’s boomerang. Courtesy Judy Joyce

What is significant about the possession of this boomerang by Albert Leane is that he was known as ‘Darkie’ by his AIF friends and that the boomerang given to him can be seen as referencing his Aboriginality. Albert Leane was of Indigenous heritage – a  Darug man of the Sydney area.  In 1893 only a few years before his birth, his grandmother Lucy Leane of the Cabrogal (Liverpool) clan of the Darug petitioned the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board describing herself as

the only surviving Native Woman of the Georges River and Liverpool District, residing here ever since her birth Fifty Three Years ago, as the undersigned witnesses can vouch for and attest. Being a bona fide Original Native of Australia & of this District, your Petitioner requests of you the supply of a boat as granted by Government in all such cases, for the purposed of carrying on trade on the Georges River The Sydney Morning Herald 9 June 1893.

LUCY LEANE'S PETITION

Lucy Leane’s Petition  Courtesy Judy Joyce

Her petition was unsuccessful and she died two years later. Nevertheless her son Albert Charles and grandsons Albert Edmund and William Arthur served in World War One and two great grandsons Leslie and Sydney served in World War Two. Albert Charles, 55th Battalion was badly wounded and captured by the Germans at Armentieres, France on 20 July 1916. Edmund William Leane yet another son Of Lucy volunteered unsuccessfully in 1918.

On 14 March 1931 Albert Edmund Leane placed an advertisement in Smiths Weekly, known as ‘the diggers paper’, couched in that mixture of euphemism and understatement characteristic of the way digger humour made light of the harsh realities of war. The request contained in this advertisement was testimony to Leane’s desire to maintain links with those he served with during World War One:

Bert ‘Darkie’ Leane 2nd pioneer Battn. wonders how many of the boys of C Company are still able to sit up and read Smith’s and how many of No 1 Section who shared an issue of 5.9 on the night of July 4 1918 together with himself, Phil Dynes, “Chopper” Alderman, Corp Sullivan, Vic Carrington, Dave Wright, “Curley” Howell and others still have votes. After 12 years he would be grateful to hear any news of them or from relatives.

The issue of 5.9 he mentions is a reference to the bombardment by German 5.9 artillery shells. The date 4 July 1918 was a momentous one for Leane and others in his section and the last day of his active war service. The wounds he received in action on the evening of 4 July resulted eventually in his being invalided to Australia. His own entry in a very sparse diary kept during the war years reads

Wounded on the left at Villers Bret about 10 pm Carried out by four Americans. Arrived at Casualty Clearing Stations.

The other friends in C Company mentioned in Leane’s letter were either killed or wounded on the evening of 4 July or the early hours of the next day. The war diary of the 2nd Pioneers for 4 July, headed ‘Somme’ states injuries to C Company were two killed and one officer and thirteen others wounded. A letter from one of the latter, Dave Wright, contained six pages of comment on the fateful day in July 1918 and news of friends.

Dear Darkie,
Just a line to let you know I have just drunk your health … Well I was pleased to see your note in Smith’s and you can guess I was pleased to hear from you after considering how you got on, as I never saw you after you were knocked.
The last I heard of you was from some yanks at a dressing station you had gone through ahead of me. I took Vic Carrington out also had Stasbourg the sergeant with me but I didn’t see them again … Vic Carrington though I carried him out that night saved me … it was through Vic singing out ‘Chopper Chopper’ that stopped me running … Well Darkie it makes a man feel years younger  when he looks at those names. Phil Dynes he said to me in the afternoon it would be alright if a man knew what his future would be and a few hours after he was killed … I have just thought of Curley Howell when I was going down the road with Vic hanging on my back Curley passed me going ‘hell for leather’. I called out to him are you hit Curley. Yes he said.

Albert Edmund Leane

Albert Edmund Leane Courtesy Judy Joyce

Bert ‘Darkie’ Leane emerges as a thoughtful man affected by his wartime experiences and one who developed and later sought to revive the bonds commonly referred to as ‘mateship’ with those he served. His skin colour was acknowledged but if those who called him ‘Darkie’ connected this with Aboriginality, it is obvious from Bert’s query in Smith’s and Dave Wright’s reply, that his complexion and its implications were not an issue.

Men from the Leane family were not the only descendants of Lucy Leane to serve in World War One. Lucy’s granddaughter Marion Smith moved with her family to Canada as a child and later married a Canadian, Victor Walls. She trained as a nurse at New England Hospital, Boston USA qualifying in 1913 and in 1917 volunteered for service in World War One, serving with the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) in France, Belgium and Italy. After the war she was responsible for the introduction of the Canadian Red Cross to Trinidad where she and her husband were teachers at a missionary college. During World War Two she was Trinidad’s Red Cross commandant and awarded the Distinguished War Service Medal. She is to date the only identified woman of Australian Indigenous heritage who served in World War One. There will be more on Marion Smith in a later post.

Writing runs through the Leane story from Lucy’s petition to the works of Marion and her cousin Albert ‘Darkie’ Leane. As well as his World War One letters and diary, in 1952 Albert registered copyright for a literary work – a poem to his wife entitled Here in a Cottage Garden. Marion was the author of the school hymn, still used at the missionary college where she taught and compiled a book which gave guidance on elementary home nursing in the tropics.

Lucy Leane’s request to the Aborigines Protection Board has parallels with the actions of Yuin Aboriginal woman Coomee Nullunga or Maria of Milton, New South Wales (born c 1833) who in the latter part of her life demanded payment from local white families on the birth of a child, seemingly in recognition of her prior ownership of the land. It also has overtones of the actions of fellow Darug woman Maria Lock who in 1831 petitioned Governor Darling for her deceased brother Coley or Colebee’s land grant at Blacktown. The actions of these three Aboriginal women demonstrate strength and spirit and a sense of entitlement derived from their Indigeneity.

The Leane family record shows a strong streak of creativity, individualism, strength of character and willingness to serve in different and difficult capacities. Their history is all the more remarkable considering the history of dispossession, disadvantage and discrimination which is inseparable from their Aboriginal heritage.

My thanks to Judy Joyce niece of Albert Edmund Leane for her comment, access to family papers and family information. Judy points out that Albert’s boomerang is a ‘killer’ boomerang and not the returning kind. However in general the symbolism of the boomerang in the public mind remains.

Philippa Scarlett 30 August 2013

Posted in WW1 | 2 Comments

A LIFE CUT SHORT: LESTER ‘MICK’ FELL – JOCKEY AND SOLDIER.

 Lester Fell outside Jimmy Pike's gate

Lester Oliver Fell at J.E. Pike’s stable gate. Courtesy Colin Stuart

 Another jockey whose Aboriginal heritage, like that of Percy Kennedy, has to date been unrecognised, is Lester ‘Mick’ Fell. Lester Fell’s family had their Aboriginal roots at Merrigal station in the Warren area of New South Wales – Wiradjuri county.

Attending a country race meeting in 1946 the turf editor of the Sydney Morning Herald made an interesting discovery:

Sydney racing men will remember Lester Fell, who began his apprenticeship under the master horseman, James Edward Pike, and rode his first winner when he weighed under 5 stone. Today I saw him ride five winners in six mounts at Orange Jockey Club’s New Year meeting.

There have been a lot of people named Fell in racing in the western parts of New South Wales. After this one had ridden Ned Roi, winner of the Maiden Handicap, I had a look at him. “You’re Lester Fell?” I asked him, mainly because I had heard him addressed as “Mick.”

Then it came back to me. I remembered what one of the ‘Herald’s photographers in New Guinea had told me. He had met a soldier, a diminutive little fellow in a paratroop unit in the front line in New Guinea. It was Lester Fell, who long before had given up riding in Sydney. One would have expected him to be a paratrooper or something of that sort.

Fell told the journalist that he had come back from the war weighing 9 stone but was now 7 and was hoping to gradually ease himself back into the Sydney racing scene. He was doing this, despite having sustained a severe war time back injury, when he was tragically killed in a car accident three years later.

In September 1941, aged 18 Fell interrupted his promising career to serve in the Australian Army, initially with the CMF in Narromine where he was allotted to the 6th Light Horse Regiment. He transferred as a volunteer to the AIF in September 1942 becoming a trooper with the First Australian Mountain Battery and in 1944 qualified as a parachutist when the Battery joined the First Parachute Battalion. The First Mountain Battery was an AIF artillery unit whose support for the Australian and US infantry at Salamaua in 1943, culminated in the capture of Mount Tambu and the fall of Salamaua. The terrain and conditions at Salamaua were described as worse than Kokoda.  Salamaua was the scene of some of the most famous depictions of mateship and suffering during the fighting in wartime New Guinea.

Lester Fell Mt Tambu 1943                                                                                                                                                                                                      Lester Fell (right) with an American soldier, Private Gilbert Irins of Michigan, at Mount Tambu 1943. Courtesy Colin Stuart

Fell’s formal career as a jockey had begun seven years before, after he visited Taronga Park as a 13 year old with the Far West Scheme. He already had a background in carnivals and rough riding and drew attention to himself by climbing into a zoo enclosure to ride a zebra bare back. Subsequently he was noticed by Jimmy Pike, well known amongst other things for riding Phar Lap (thirty rides for twenty seven wins) and the next year he became Pike’s apprentice.

Lester Fell’s particularly small stature, while helping him to secure wins, created other problems. He was described in the Sydney Morning Herald as

one of the smallest apprentices at Randwick, and one of the smartest. He weighs only 5st 3lb, and although he will not be 15 years of age until August, he has already been indentured to Pike for more than a year. He has only had five mounts, and his difficulty in handling his saddle and gear on returning to weigh in, particularly when a fair amount of extra weight is required, has generally brought forth sympathetic remarks from those around the enclosure.

Despite this minor issue, by 1939 his career was well on its way. Fell had won his first race at Kensington – the Three and Four Years Old Handicap on The Palmist, raced and trained by Pike. The successes which followed created a sense of great expectation in the racing fraternity.

The Rise of a Young Apprentice. Fifteen-year-old L. Fell looks like following in the footsteps of Sydney’s leading apprentice, W. Lappin. This protege of Randwick trainer, Jim Pike won on Hole in One and Grey Derby at Moorefield recently and in each instance he rode a perfect race.  Fell comes from Bourke, where his father is a drover … The Randwick trainer Jim Pike heard of the kid’s ability, secured him as an apprentice and to date he has ridden eight winners. It is only on rare occasions that Pike allows the lad to accept mounts out side of the stable. He can go to scale at 6.7. Jim Pike claims that, with more experience, Fell will be one of the leading riders in Sydney.

Lester Fell and Jimmy Pike

Jimmy Pike trainer instructing his apprentice the young Lester Fell c.1936 at Moorefield race course. Courtesy Colin  Stuart 

 Lester Fell 1938                                                                                              

Lester Oliver Fell at Rosehill Races 1938.  He  appears to be listening to instructions no doubt from Pike. Courtesy Colin Stuart

But all this promise was to come to nothing. The news report broadcast on the ABC on the evening of his death on 6 December 1947 noted with under-statement that ‘he was one of the most capable horseman to have plied his trade in the western districts of NSW during the last decade’. He was only 23 – his life and a great career cut short by war and misfortune.

I was directed to much of this information by Colin Stuart, first cousin (once removed) of Lester Fell and himself an ex-apprentice jockey and ex-servicemen (Citizen Military Forces – Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Royal Australian Regiment – Vietnam).

George Stuart and Glamour Tourch

Colin Stuart, aged 15 with his mount Glamour Torch, Kembla Grange, Wollongong Cup 1958. Photo John Redden  (Note Colin’s surname is incorrectly spelled in the caption).  Courtesy Colin Stuart

Lester Fell’s brother Cecil also served in World War Two with the 2/19 Battalion AIF and lost his life in 1942. He is buried in Kranji Cemetery Singapore. His cousin Raymond Colin Stuart and nephew William Fell served in Korea with the Signal Corps and Infantry Corps respectively. Lester’s uncle Theodore Hilton Fell volunteered for World War One in October 1918, aged 17 but did not serve overseas.

Philippa Scarlett 20 August 2013

 

 

Posted in Aborigines sport, WW2 | 5 Comments

ABORIGINAL ENLISTMENT IN THE FIRST AIF: USEFUL WHEN NEEDED

On 7th August 1916 William Garnet South, Chief Protector of Aborigines, South Australia wrote the following letter to the Officer in Charge, Recruiting Centre, Currie Street Adelaide.

As legal guardian of all Half Caste Aboriginal children (vide clause 10 of the Aborigines Act No 1948/19117) I hereby give consent for Rufus Rigney to enlist with the Australian Military Force, he being under the age of 21 years.

Rufus Gordon Rigney was an Aboriginal man from the South Australian Point McLeay mission. He was 19 when he volunteered for the AIF and went on to fight in France before going ‘missing, wounded’ on 12 October 1917. He died four days later in a prisoner of war camp and was buried ‘by German hands’ in the military cemetery at Iseghem, Belgium.

South’s 1916 letter was in effect an endorsement of Aboriginal war service by the South Australian Aboriginals Department. It was however in conflict with the provisions of the Commonwealth Defence Act which barred men not of substantial European origin from serving in the Australian armed forces. Despite this South’s action did not cause dissension between the Commonwealth and his state of South Australia – far from it. In fact the army medical form in Rigney’s service record, which was used for enlistment purposes, unambiguously refers to his Aboriginality: Section (b) of the form is headed ‘slight defects but not enough to cause rejection’ and contains the commentreferred to PMO. Half Caste. States mother & father both half castes’.

Rigney’s success in enlisting provides another interesting example of the loosening of the provisions of the Defence Act. During the course of the war inability to reach recruiting targets progressively led to the relaxation of the physical standards operating in 1914. In this sort of climate it became increasingly acceptable for some recruiting centres to enlist an Indigenous man who was fit in all respects – apart from his lack of substantial European heritage. The partial relaxation of regulations in May 1917 to allow enlistment of an Aboriginal man with one white parent was a specific response to this situation. Lloyd Robson in 1970 in The First AIF. A study of its recruitment 1914- 1918 commented on the erosion of enlistment standards relating to age, height and minor defects in the last years of the war. However he did not mention the one relating to Aboriginal men. Nor, in line with the lack of recognition of Aboriginal war service, does his study mention Aborigines and the issues relating to their recruitment. In doing so he provides another example of the exclusion by scholars of Aboriginal war service, through ignorance or because it was considered irrelevant.

Despite the lowered standards and acceptance of previously excluded non Indigenous and Indigenous men, recruitment continued to fall short of the goals set. By 1918, months before the end of the war, the South Australian State Recruiting Committee, like other state committees, was anxious to emphasise that men were still needed at the front. Under the heading THE CALL FOR MEN it told the public that

Although the Germans are on the run to their own border, and notwithstanding all the talk of peace, the end of the war may be still a long way off, and … every effort must be made to bring the Huns to their knees and to force them to accept the terms which must be dictated to them by the Allies.

In the face of slow recruiting, one device noted by Robson was to publish enlistment numbers by district – in an effort to bolster enlistments by engendering inter-district rivalry. Another variation of this ploy is evident in the location of an article about the service of Aboriginal men which follows on from the South Australian ‘Call for Men’. The report was headed PATRIOTIC NATIVES and details names and casualties, some fatal.

The following aboriginals and half-castes from the Point McLeay and Lakes districts enlisted. In four instances the soldiers made the supreme sacrifice:—Privates P. Wilson, C. Wilson, G. Wilson, L. Wilson, G. Rigney, C. Rigney (killed in action), R. Rigney (killed in action), A. Varcoe (killed in action), A. Rankine (prisoner of war), R. Rankine, W. Sumner, E. Sumner, M. Mack (returned gassed), D. Hodgkiss, W. Gollan, A. Cameron, G. Karpaney, W. Karpaney, H. Muckray, H. Milera, L. Lindsay [enlisted as Power], J. Bews, A. Weetra (returned), P. [R] Carter (prisoner of war), H. Tripp (returned), and A. Walker (died of wounds while prisoner of war).

This constituted an effort to promote non Indigenous recruitment based on
the perception that white men would be shamed into volunteering when they saw the sacrifice of Aboriginal men. It had at least one precedent in South Australia. In April 1916 a commentator, referring to Point McLeay enlistments, said ‘It is a crying shame that any [non volunteering white men] should so far demean themselves as to be taught their duty by dependants of an aboriginal mission.’

Similar tactics were evident in Victoria.

Five half caste brothers enlist. Melbourne, May 21. A striking example to eligible white men has been furnished by a half-caste family at Heywood, named Lovett, five sons having enlisted for active service. Alfred Lovett has been wounded in France, and is in hospital in England. Leo Lovett and Edward Lovett are all in France with their battalion and Herbert Lovett is in camp at Broadmeadows. The fifth and last son, Frederick Amos Lovett, was accepted on Thursday at the Town Hall Depot.

The use of Aboriginal enlistments in this way and the pragmatic approach to acceptance of Aboriginal men by recruiters throughout the war, particularly in its later stages, is a clear illustration of the sentiment expressed by William Cooper in 1938. In this year he wrote to the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons ‘Although usually treated with marked indifference when we are not being ill-treated, there are times when we are considered useful.’ His remark was made specifically in the context of Aboriginal war service. [Quoted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF  p.63]

Despite this pragmatism, Aboriginal volunteers were rejected throughout the duration of the war. Rejected men comprise approximately one fifth of the Indigenous AIF volunteers identified and referenced in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF. Most of the remainder, a least before the change in regulations in May 1917, were probably irregularly enlisted. But even after May 1917 in some parts of Australia, Aboriginal men who appear eligible under the changed rules were still unsuccessful.

Indigenous enlistment in the AIF and its corollary the continuing exclusion of Indigenous men, are both evidence of discriminatory attitudes – one was that of expedience partially overcoming racism to create a qualified acceptance, one which led, after May 1917, to the inclusion of statements with attestations confirming a man had one white parent and had associated with white people all his life. The other underlined the persistence of racist attitudes which stopped a man’s enlistment, even in the face of the increasingly frenetic efforts to secure recruits during the last years of the war.

William Cooper’s words were all too true. Need at least partially overcame the racism inherent in the Defence Act and in the community at large – although not uniformly and only for the purpose of the war effort – and in no way did it guarantee that men so enlisted would be treated with equality by their comrades or by society after the war.

Philippa Scarlett 22 July 2013

Posted in WW1 | Leave a comment

HE LOST BOTH LEGS: POSSIBLE ABORIGINAL SOLDIER OF WORLD WAR ONE

Casualties for the AIF were devastating for the mainly young men who left Australia sound in body. A widely reported statement of the number and types of casualties incurred by the AIF during WW1 gives sobering statistics.

A.I.F. CASUALTIES.,

MELBOURNE, Friday.—Of 72,750 members of the Australian Imperial Force who had returned to Australia to the end of December 30,675 were discharged as the result of wounds and injuries, 32,772 as the result of sickness, and 9303 for miscellaneous reasons. Injuries to the eyes accounted for the discharge of 34 officers and 2768 men. Of these two officers, and 29 men became totally blind, 18 officers and 920 men lost the sight of one eye, or their sight suffered as the result of gunshot wounds. 20 men lost both legs, 554 the left leg, and 531 the right leg, two men lost both feet, 79 lost one foot, and 16 officers and 584 men lost an arm. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW) 15 March 1919 p.5.

Just some of this number are shown in a photograph taken in England on 4 April 1917. The subject is a group of Australians with various injuries from G Ward, Horton War Hospital, Epsom, County of London. Horton, previously a mental asylum, became a military hospital for the period of the war.

The image is particularly startling because of the condition of one man in the front row. Discoloration of most of his hands may indicate burns but more significant is that he has lost both legs.

blog image for double amputee Aboriginal

From his appearance, there is a possibility this man is of Aboriginal heritage. Attempts to identify him are ongoing but to date have yielded no results. The six members of the AIF who lost both legs so far located are John McLaren  511, Hugh McDonald, 4248, Walter Benjamin Ashcroft 3451, Malcolm Brown 4439,  Joseph Allen Baillie 22, Frederick Trice 2176 and Ivor Murray Wilson 733. (1)  None of these men are the man in the photograph.

The only known member of the group is Leslie John Hackwood of Warwick,  Queensland who wrote the information on the reverse of the photo – ‘Australians in G Ward. Horton War Hospital Epsom England. April 4th 1917. Les J Hackwood.’

HORTON WAR HOSPITAL SURREY 4 APRIL 1917 G WARD

Information about any of the other men in the photograph could possibly prove useful in identifying the  man without legs. Information about servicemen who lost both legs could also be helpful, even if only for elimination purposes. In particular oral family history may hold the key to identification of this AIF member.

Note. The photograph, which was advertised on Ebay in June 2013, was located by Peter Bakker of Hamilton Victoria.  

(1) Alexia Moncrieff, PhD Candidate, School of History and Politics, The University of Adelaide, researching Australian Army Medical Services in WW1.

Philippa Scarlett 24 June 2013

 

Posted in WW1 | 1 Comment

WILLIAM PUNCH OF GOULBURN: ABORIGINAL ‘MASCOT OF HIS BATTALION’

At 3 pm on 31 August 1917, Private William Joseph Punch, AIF was buried in East Cemetery Boscombe, Bournemouth, in England. He was accorded a full military funeral with the firing party supplied by the New Zealand Engineers, Christchurch. Wreaths were sent by Australian friends and his fellow comrades from ‘C’ Floor, Mont Dore and the Mont Dore Nursing Staff. According to information in his service record he was 37.

Only two days earlier, he dictated his will in Mont Dore Military Hospital, on 29 August, the day he died. By then although able to write with facility he was too weak to do so and signed with a cross, obviously determined to communicate his final wishes.

He signed up as William Joseph Punch but was known in his home town of Goulburn, New South Wales simply as Punch and referred to himself as such. His real name is unknown. Punch is sometimes said to have come from Queensland but was actually born in New South Wales, probably near the Bland north west of Goulburn, where he was found after the murder of his Aboriginal family in retaliation for cattle spearing. He himself gave New  South Wales as his place of birth on his attestation. In fact the story of his Queensland origins was a subterfuge to disguise his early history.

Punch’s story was published in 1992 and 1993 in the Journal of the Goulburn and District Historical Society by Albert Speer whose family lived in the Goulburn area and knew Punch well. Punch had once saved Speer’s father’s life. Speer’s contact with an old resident of Goulburn revealed that Punch’s clan had been murdered by a group of Goulburn area locals seeking land to adjist their cattle. He grew up in the Goulburn district where he worked as a labourer on the surrounding farms and became a well known and well liked member of the community. This may explain the fact that despite the prohibitive military regulations, when he volunteered at Goulburn he was accepted into the AIF – his attestation clearly refers to him as Aboriginal. His identity is underlined by photographs taken of him in uniform before embarkation.

WILLIAM PUNCH portrait courtesy Albert Speer

Portrait of Punch in AIF uniform. Courtesy Albert Speer and Goulburn and District Historical Society.

PUNCH IN GOULBURN AIF group February 1916

Punch is centre, middle row in this detail from a group photograph of Goulburn recruits dated 22 February 1916.  Courtesy Albert Speer.

Newspaper reports of Punch in pre-war days confirm he was popular and extroverted. One report, of the 1908 Boxing Day Junction Social at Woodhouselee near Goulburn, shows that at the same time he was clearly demarcated by his Aboriginality.

The music was all that could be desired, and when I mention such first class violin players as Messrs. Will Gallaher and J. Siggs, and “Punch,” ably relieved at intervals by other players whom the writer did not know, it shows that the dancers had nothing to complain of on that score … One of the characters of the evening was a coloured “pusson ” rejoicing in the soubriquet of “Punch.” He was all over the place, and as lively as the proverbial “bag of fleas.” Just as some of the guests were departing “Punch” bounded out of the door, no boots on, took a flying leap on one of the horses behind the rider and saddle, stuck his heels into the horse’s flanks, and gave the company an exhibition of buckjump riding which showed that he had not been among horses all his life for nothing. 

Punch’s companion John Siggs was the member of the Siggs family who rescued him as a baby. Will Gallaher was also a Siggs relative as was Oswald Gallaher named by Punch as next of kin and a joint beneficiary in his will. The other beneficiary was Eliza Jane Lynch or Mrs Michael Lynch of Laggan near Goulburn, where Punch was employed before the war. One of her daughters married into the Siggs family and another into the Gallaher/Gallagher family. Punch’s recognition of these people in his will attests to the nature of his relationship with the Siggs and connected families.

Punch volunteered at Goulburn at the age of 36 and served with the 1st and 53rd Battalions. After a few weeks in Egypt he went to France where he was twice wounded, in September 1916 and April 1917. On 13 May 1917 he was sent back to hospital in England and died four months later of pneumonia. The report of his first injury also tells much about Punch and his situation.

5th October 1916. PUNCH” WOUNDED. Mr. O. Gallagher, of Bourke Street, Goulburn, on Wednesday received a telegram from Base Records stating that Private Wm. J. Punch had been wounded. Private Punch is an aboriginal, and was better known as “Siggs’s Punch,” he having been reared by the late Miss Siggs and the late Mr. John Siggs, of Pejar. Mrs. Gallagher (mother of Mr. O. Gallagher) is a sister of the late Mr. Siggs, and Mr. Gallagher was a great friend of “Punch.” “Punch” was trained in the Goulburn Camp, and was a favourite. He was looked upon as a mascot. He was very adaptable, and was a good rifle shot. He was with the Australian forces in France. 

Punch as well as being wounded had severe problems with his feet which resulted in his spending time in hospital in December 1916. A letter to another friend, Mrs Emily McLachlan whose children grew up with Punch, shows he was still out of action in mid January:

France 18 January 1917

Dear Mrs McLachlan

Just these lines hoping they will find you enjoying the best of health. I have been in the hospital but I am in a convalescent camp now & am better again. Remember me to the boys and girls. I have had no letters for quite along time but I hope to get some shortly. I will close now with best wishes from

Your sincere friend Punch

Mrs McLachlan's card from Punch 18. 2. 1917

Copy of a gum leaf and a post card, sent by Punch to Mrs E. McLachlan. Courtesy Albert Speer.

Punch was not the only Aboriginal man to volunteer at Goulburn in late December 1915.  At least one other recruit was also Aboriginal and became like Punch a member of A Company 1st Battalion. This was James Merritt (aka Middlemas) of Queanbeyan who is probably the unnamed Aboriginal man in a photograph of the Goulburn recruits taken on 22 February 1916. However it was Punch who was nominated as a battalion mascot by his fellow Goulburn volunteers, perhaps a reflection of the character he displayed at the Woodhouselee social. Merritt had a very different upbringing with his Aboriginal mother – whereas Punch was deprived of this connection and while popular was also objectified as ‘Sigg’s Punch’ in the white community he lived in.

Troopship 'Ceramic' autographed by troops 13 May 1917

Autographed photograph of the troop ship Ceramic, Exchange Studios, Pitt Street Sydney. Punch’s signature is bottom far left. The signature of James Merritt is immediately above the forward mast of the ship. The original was shown to Albert Speer by Mrs Welch of Bungonia. Courtesy Albert Speer.

Punch’s story is a tragic one. He was treated well by the family which took him in and was liked by his community but at the same time, unbeknownst to him, lived amongst the descendants or even the actual people responsible for the deaths of his real family. There is no evidence that he associated with other Aboriginal people in the area – although they may well have been relatives. Rather he lived until the age of 36 as something of an anomaly in his community, respected but different. Like Punch, Douglas Grant, another Aboriginal member of the AIF, was the victim of a massacre and taken in by a white family. Grant achieved some success after the war but in the end his life crumbled around him as he was unable – or society itself was unable – to resolve the issue of an Aboriginal man alienated from his culture trying to exist in a white man’s world. It is likely the future for Punch may have not been so unfortunate but this is unknown. The community acceptance he did have ultimately did him no service as it facilitated his entry into the AIF which in turn led to his premature death.

More information about Punch can be found in

Albert Speer, ‘William Joseph Punch 31.3.1884 – 29.8 1917’, Journal of the Goulburn and District Historical Society, No. 267, October 1992 and No. 271, April 1993.

Australians at War  ‘Aborigine survives Family Massacre but dies in war’.

My thanks to Albert Speer, Monica Croke and Goulburn and District Historical Society

Philippa Scarlett 12 June 2013

Posted in WW1 | 6 Comments

WILLIAM ‘MICK’ KING AND THE POSITION OF ABORIGINES IN THE AIF

Information requested from volunteers for the AIF did not include details of race although this may be mentioned incidentally in service records. In other instances secondary sources can assist in establishing the fact that an individual is Aboriginal and may also provide more about him and about Aboriginal service in general.

William King service number 3422, is one of three men in the AIF named King who are known to be Aboriginal. William Alfred King, service number 3650 and Richard King, service number 579, can be identified as Aboriginal from information in their records linking them to missions in New South Wales and Victoria. William King 3422 was born in Maitland NSW and belonged to both the 56th and 36th Battalion. His service record contains nothing which points to Aboriginality. However Henry Raine, a private in the 56th Battalion, makes this clear in a letter to the RSSILA journal Reveille, 29 July 1931, written in connection with Aboriginal service. In this the he states 

I think Mick King, who enlisted with the ninth, reinforcements of the 56th battalion was also a full-blood. 

Raine refers to King as Mick King but explains that this is a nickname derived from the fact that King was an amateur boxer and there was at the time another well known white boxer of that name. Although Raine either did not know or did not bother to give King’s real given name, his battalion and reinforcement details plus place and death details, show that Mick King was in fact William King 3422. 

Raine’s letter does more than simply identify King as Aboriginal. It focuses on his qualities as an individual and in doing so gives an insight into the position of Aboriginal members of the AIF.

He writes that King was one of the ‘quietest and gamest members of the Battalion’ going on to tell how as an Aboriginal man he was (ironically) racially taunted by a group of West Indian soldiers.

[They] must have thought they had scored a bloodless victory, but they were sadly mistaken, for Mick slowly put out his pipe and then walked over and knocked out four of his tormentors with four punches – each as clean as a whistle.

Raine finishes with the words ‘although he was black he was a White man and a dinkum Aussie.’ In saying this Raine, whose respect for King was undoubted, sees attributing white characteristics to an Aboriginal man as praise of the highest order. This in essence was a deeply racist concept. His letter is a significant one because of the manner of his tribute to King and the fact that his comments are not an isolated example of such thinking. His comments make plain the qualified nature of the acceptance of Aboriginal AIF men by their comrades and show that whatever the achievements of Aboriginal men they were still judged by the fact that they were not white.  It is comments like this by an unquestionably sympathetic party which call into question the idea now prevalent that Aboriginal men achieved equality in the AIF. This is too simplistic and is something which needs to be examined more carefully – not brushed aside by warm generalisations about mateship.

King had been transferred to the 36th Battalion before he was killed in Belgium in October 1917. Raine says he was ‘blown to bits’ shortly after the incident he described. His premature death meant that his service medals could be claimed by his family. However examination of his service record shows that the army was unable to trace his next of kin, (named as his wife Katie* c/o Post Office Guyra NSW). In 1927 his Memorial Plaque and Memorial Scroll and possibly the two medals he was entitled to, were – and still may be – unclaimed.

Further information about the family of William ‘Mick’ King – and the other Indigenous Kings in the AIF could assist with another problem of identification. King is also the surname of an Aboriginal servicemen from an earlier conflict. F. King was a tracker and member of the New South Wales A Company of the 1902 Federal Contingent to the Boer war. This William King 3422 and/or the other Indigenous Kings in the AIF may be connected to F. King affording an opportunity for additional research.

* The name of William King’s next of kin was later changed on one copy of his attestation to Janie. This appears to be a consequence of a temporary but rectified confusion apparent in the record of this William King with William Alfred King.

Note. Peter Stanley explores relationships of non-white peoples and Australians in World War One including reference to Mick King in ‘ “He was black. He was a White man and a dinkum Aussie”  Race and Empire in revisiting the Anzac legend.’ in Santanu Das, Race Empire and First World War Writing, Cambridge University Press,  2011, pp. 225 -226.

Philippa Scarlett 5 June 2013

Posted in WW1 | 1 Comment

JEROME LOCKE: ABORIGINAL SERVICE IN THE COLONIAL AND AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES

On 16 September 1900 Mr. Walker, Member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, gave an impassioned speech to a public meeting at Windsor, calling for the establishment of a Windsor volunteer rifle corps. Citing unrest in Europe and specifically referring to Russia and France he urged that ‘Every district in the colony should be ready to take up arms for the general defence.’ In doing so he was echoing the perception throughout the 19th century of the precariousness of Australia’s position in the wider world. The Windsor Volunteer Rifles was just one of many volunteer units formed in the 19th and early 20th century. The history of volunteer rifles in the Windsor area encompassed the Hawkesbury Volunteer Rifles active in the 1860s, an earlier Windsor Volunteer Rifles /Windsor Corps in the 1870s and 1880s and the Windsor Volunteer Rifle club, active in the 1890s.

Walker went on to exploit the already demonstrated local patriotism of the Hawkesbury area when he declaimed that

as loyal hearts were to be found in their little town of Windsor as in any portion of Her Majesty’s dominions ; and if they did not come forward willingly and enrol themselves as volunteer he considered they would not only be doing injustice and discredit to themselves, but would in a manner be ignoring their British origin.

One man who belonged to the Windsor Volunteer Corps in 1889 [Shut Out from the World p.66] and who may also have belonged to the later unit, the subject of Walker’s address in 1900, was Jerome Locke. He too had the British blood emphasised by Mr Walker (his Darug Aboriginal grandmother Maria was the wife of an English convict, Robert Lock) but he and his extended family were known as Aboriginal and from the inception in 1883 of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board  lived the their lives under its shadow.

jerome locke windsor corps 1889

Jerome Locke c1889   Courtesy Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation

Jerome Locke was not only a member of the Windsor Corps but was one of the Corps’ more accomplished marksmen. On Saturday 22 June 1889 the Windsor and Richmond Gazette reported that ‘A pleasant afternoon was spent by the Windsor Corps … competing for prizes, kindly contributed by the merchants and others of the town, for the purpose of encouraging the members of the corps in rifle practice.’ Present on this occasion was Private Jerome Locke who distinguished himself by being one of the nineteen prize winners. In joining the Windsor Corps, he became possibly the first Aboriginal man to serve in a colonial military force. But not only that, despite being over age in 1916 he also served in World War One.

On 22 December 1915 Jerome Locke, by now a member of the St Marys Rifle Club,  joined the Rifle Reserve Thousand recruitment march. This group mustered at Government House before proceeding to Victoria Barracks to volunteer for active service in the AIF. The Rifle Thousand was a recruitment movement inspired by Ambrose Carmichael, New South Wales Minister for Public Information, one which aimed to utilise the talent and training in state rifle clubs to augment the AIF. To this effect Carmichael conducted a letter writing campaign to newspapers all over the state and held public meetings promoting the idea of a Rifle Thousand. He emphasised that a state of emergency previously feared had now arrived and that it ‘It will now become more than a struggle between Briton and Hun. We are at present fighting for civilisation; we may have to fight for racial existence.’ This  added irony to the service of Jerome Locke and was in line with the White Australia sentiment which saturated Australia. The recruits enlisted as a result of Carmichael’s recruiting drive went on to dominate the membership of the 36th Battalion AIF. This was raised at Broadmeadow Camp in Newcastle, New South Wales in February 1916.

Jerome Locke’s application to enlist  dated 3 January was annotated ‘Rifle Club Battalion’ and his attestation paper was completed on 6 January 1916 at Liverpool.

Giving his address and place of birth as St Marys New South Wales and his occupation as contractor, he nominated his son Laurence R. Locke and later a brother John of the same address, St Marys, as his next of kin. A widower of 44 years and 5 months, he still had dark hair, his eyes were brown and his complexion dark. The Lock Family In World War One p.2.

He was allocated to A Company Rifle [36th] Battalion at Broadmeadow on 24 February 1916 and left for the United Kingdom in May, serving in France and Belgium before transferring to the 53rd Battalion in early October. However his service did not run smoothly. 

By late 1917 concern for her uncle had prompted Miss H. [Harriet] M. Sims of Camden Haven, Laurieton NSW to write inquiring about his welfare. A reply dated 14 November from the Officer in Charge, AIF Base Records stated

I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 1st instant… if the soldier you refer to is No. 117A Private Jerome Locke 53rdbattalion … I have to advise that he returned to Australia on 12/5/17 and was discharged from the Force in Sydney on 11/6/17 on account of being over age. A communication to the following address may reach him – Mr J Locke St Marys Cumberland NSW. The Lock Family In World War One p.5.

Jerome Locke served seventeen months in the AIF – mainly overseas and was hospitalised in November 1916 with trench foot. Although forced to return to Australia in 1917, he twice attempted to enlist again in 1919, the second time with success. Despite the fact that hostilities had ended when the ceasefire was signed on 11 November 1918, it was not until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919 that there was a formal end to the war with Germany. Jerome Locke re-joined the AIF on 11 June and shortly after left for London as a member of the Traffic Control Detachment (Special Service Unit). This had the task of providing guard duties for German deportees from Australia to the United Kingdom.

Jerome’s second attestation in 1919 had some differences in personal details from those he supplied in 1916.

He [again] described himself as a widower but he was showing his age – his hair now described as grey – and this time he gave his place of birth as Blacktown and his date of birth as 23 August 1868. This made him almost 51 when he left Australia for England in early July and was a more realistic statement of age than that on his original application. However he was still understating his actual age by two years.( A birth date of 1866 is given in Kohen, The Darug and Their Neighbours,  p.174). Neither of his attestations refers to his service with the Windsor Corps, Volunteer Infantry although the attestation paper specifically requests details of any previous military service. However omission of this information is consistent with his attempts to disguise his real age. The Lock Family In World War One p.5.

Jerome Locke right with sons Olga left in uniform and Willam

Olga, William and Jerome Locke Courtesy Noel Morley

Jerome Locke’s acceptance and service in the Windsor Corps is an indication of his standing in the Windsor community. His total military service, considering his age and Aboriginality, was unusual if not outstanding. Noteworthy too is that in addition to his own service, at least 20 other members of the Lock and extended family volunteered for World War One. These included two of his sons Leslie John and Olga , the latter serving with him in the 36th and 53rd battalions.

Philippa Scarlett 31 May 2013

Posted in WW1 | 2 Comments

ABORIGINAL TRACKERS: BOER WAR

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.

F King Black Tracker

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.

More discussion of this issue can be found in the Desert Column Forum  and the Victorian Wars Forum

Philippa Scarlett 2 May 2013

Posted in BOER WAR | 5 Comments