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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

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Sunday, 14 November 2004
New South Wales Lancers 1885 to 1897
Topic: Militia - LHN - 1/7/1


New South Wales Lancers

History, 1885-1897

New South Wales Lancers [1885 - 1903]
1st (New South Wales Lancers) Australian Light Horse [1903-1912]
7th (New South Wales Lancers) Australian Light Horse [1912-1919]
1st (New South Wales Lancers) Australian Light Horse [1919-1929]
1/21st Australian Light Horse [1929-1935]
1st (Royal New South Wales Lancers) Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment [1936-1942]
1st (Royal New South Wales Lancers) Armoured Regiment [1942-1948]
1st Royal New South Wales Lancers [1948-1956]
1/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers [1956- ]

[The elephant's head used on the badges is taken from the family crest of Lord Carrington, Governor of New South Wales from 1885 - 1890 and was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Regiment from 1885 until 1928.] 

Tenax in fide - Steadfast in Trust

 South Africa 1899 - 1900

Allied with: King Edward's Horse (The King's Overseas Dominions Regiment).


The following history is extracted from Vernon, PV, ed., Royal New South Wales Lancers 1885 to 1985, Sydney 1986, pp. 3-23.



IN order fully to understand the reasons for the formation of the Volunteer Cavalry Corps in New South Wales in 1885 it would, perhaps, be as well to glance, briefly, at conditions both at home and abroad at that date.

As early as the middle of the century it had been the mother country's policy to encourage the independence of her children. The existence of the colonists in New South Wales was, therefore, shaped and coloured by natural conditions rather than by outside pressure. In 1870 Imperial troops were withdrawn, and in the following year colonial regulars were raised. These consisted of one battery of artillery and two corps (i.e., units) of infantry. In 1872 the artillery was considerably increased, the infantry disbanded. Under the relative Act of 1871, men between the ages of 18 and 40 enlisted for five years, and were permitted to re-engage for two to five years. A gunner's pay was 2/3d. per diem, in addition to free rations of bread, meat and groceries; free kit on joining, uniform, barrack accommodation, fuel and light and medical attention. Increased pay was given on reengagement. Rewards for good conduct were granted as in the Imperial Service, but no pensions.

The year 1870 and the decade that followed were significant not only for Britain and her young colony, but, too, for Europe and the Pacific generally. The sixties saw the rise of Prussia, culminating in the Franco-Prussian War. With the end of the Second Empire and the fall of Paris the Hohenzollern Empire became firmly established, to fall only in 1918 at the close of the First World War. After 1870, the decision and rapidity with which German annexations were carried out in Africa and the Pacific suggests considerable premeditation. In 1884 German colonies were established in New Guinea and the Solomons.

This rapid and menacing development in Germany, the unrest in Russia following the Crimean War and the significance of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 could not fail to cause deep concern in responsible circles, and between 1870 and 1880 Australian defence works received much attention under the advice of Royal Engineers of the standing of Sir William Drummond Jervois and Colonel Scratchley. Stimulus was given to the organization of local defence forces by the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War, with the possibility of British intervention.

In 1867 New South Wales had passed a Volunteer Force Regulation Act and volunteering was encouraged by grants of land after five years' continuous service. In 1878 some of the volunteers were reorganised on a "partially paid" basis, and in 1886 volunteers in receipt of payment were re-named "Militia".

No doubt military affairs were under discussion in 1884 when there arrived in Sydney from New Zealand one Robert Roland Thompson, one-time sergeant of the 4th Dragoon Guards, who had promoted the formation of the Dunedin Hussars in New Zealand. He was later, in 1897, to become the first adjutant of the 1st (Volunteer) Australian Horse, and later still to be prominent in forming the King's Colonials. He brought a letter of introduction to Senior Sergeant Charles Dalton of the New South Wales Police from Inspector Bevan in Dunedin, Dalton and Bevan being old comrades with long service in the 8th Hussars -in fact, both were survivors of the famous charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade at Balaclava in 1854.

Thompson, it is considered, is the person whose initiative led to the formation of a cavalry troop in Sydney at that time. He apparently confided in Dalton, whose role in the police was officer-in-charge of the Governor's mounted escort, for which reason he, with his family, was quartered at the Government House stables which later became the Conservatorium of Music. Dalton brought Thompson under vice-regal notice and, although it is not thought that the then Governor, Lord Loftus, played a prominent part in this cavalry movement, he was destined to be the first to receive the honour of a cavalry escort.

Thompson became active in spreading the idea of a cavalry troop among the many horse owners in Sydney and, if Governor Loftus gave no particular encouragement to the project, there were citizens whose enthusiasm more than outweighed his apathy. Malcolm Melville Macdonald, a veteran of Indian frontier fighting, retired and living at North Sydney, while at first hesitant, came to show very definite interest. During his active service he had commanded the Poona Horse in Upper Scinde and Baluchistan in 1847; after rigorous service against the Baluchis and Afghans he had held several important staff appointments. About 1854, for health reasons, he had been given leave to proceed to Australia and to act as a buying agent for horses for the army in India. and had remained there ever since. Of commanding presence, tall, straight and dignified, Captain Macdonald was a well-known City and North Shore identity. In retirement he had not lost any of his enthusiasm for physical fitness and the self-discipline bred of a life-time of military service. His influence and example were to prove of inestimable value and it is little wonder that he became known as the Father of Australian Cavalry.

A number of names having been collected, a meeting was held in October 1884 at the Oxford Hotel at the corner of King and Phillip Streets. This became the regular meeting house of the Lancers until about 1911, and, incidentally, it was here that the imperial Service Club was launched. At this initial gathering Captain Macdonald was in the chair, and the room was filled to capacity with the young and adventurous.
That a cavalry troop should be formed was proposed by Mr. J. M. Purves, later for many years major and quartermaster of the regiment. The motion was carried unanimously and a preliminary mounted parade was arranged. The new troop was toasted liberally and a decision made to take the matter up with the Government.

The preliminary parade took place in Moore Park early in December, probably where the Sports Ground now lies. About 40 men turned out, mostly well mounted. Besides such wellknown names as those already mentioned, men of high standing in the community answered the roll-call. Amongst them were A. J, and C. T. Metcalf, J. B. Donkin, G. Kiss (of the Horse Bazaar), T. K. Abbott, A. J. Barton, Dr R. S. Bowker, H. C. Doyle, C. B. Fairfax, C. H. Kerry, W. Kettel, S. E. Laidley, J. H. Sands and W. L. Vernon -names of sufficient importance to recommend the acceptance of the services of the men bearing them by the Government.

In January, 1885, the corps was gazetted as follows:

Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney.
3rd January 1885.
His Excellency the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council has been pleased to give Authority under the Fifth Section of the Volunteer Force Regulation Act of 1867, for the formation of a volunteer Cavalry Corps in Sydney: such Corps to be subject to the above-cited Act, and the Regulations made thereunder, and the members thereof to receive no assistance from the Government beyond being furnished with Arms (Sabres and Rifles), Cavalry Bridles and Saddle Cloths; the Corps to bear the designation of the Sydney Light Horse Volunteers.
William Bede Dalley.

It will be noted from the above that the volunteers provided their own horses, uniforms and saddles.

Staff Sergeant R. R. Thompson was enrolled on January 17; Captain M. M. Macdonald, with a salary of £50 per annum, and 59 others, all troopers, a few days later.

February of this significant year saw the fall of Khartoum and the offer by the New South Wales Premier, William Bede Dalley, of two batteries of field artillery and one battalion of infantry fully equipped, all expenses paid, to arrive in Suakim within 30 days. This was the first time that a colony had offered organised military assistance to the mother country, and of this gallant offer the infantry and one battery were accepted.

The new light horse troop made its first public appearance on March 3 1885, on the occasion of the brilliant pageant which marked the departure of the contingent for the Sudan. The troop, which paraded about 50 strong under Captain Macdonald, was detailed as escort to the Governor. Their uniform was blue: blue tunics and peaked caps with red bands; blue overalls, worn over short boots, were neat and serviceable looking. Spurs and ;polished brown pouch belts added a gleam. Swords and bridles had been obtained from the Police Department. Saddle cloths were dark blue, edged with white lines. The Governor with escort, the Sudan Contingent under Colonel J. S. Richardson (Commandant of the Military Forces) and other troops marched in procession from Victoria Barracks to the Orient Wharf, East Circular Quay, where the contingent embarked. The light horse formed up in line with the white walls of the Hill, Clarke and Company woolstore forming a very effective background. With addition of the red tunics and white helmets of the foot soldiery here was a riot of martial colour; the whole scene reflected the loyalty of the young colony to the mother country.

This display of good horseflesh and martial mien aroused much enthusiasm in visitors from the country districts and it as not long before troops began to spring up wherever a leader rose. From 1885 until 1889 all the light horse units were administered as independent troops, the whole constituting the Cavalry Brigade Reserves, with Captain Macdonald as Commandant. The headquarters orderly room was apparently at No. 17 O'Connell Street as there was an order about September 1885 directing all Cavalry Reserve Corps correspondence to be addressed to Captain Macdonald at that address. Macdonald was promoted to major on September 29 1885.
When the Sudan Contingent returned in August 1885 the Sydney Troop again escorted the Governor. Colonel Richardson brought back two lances, presented to him as a memento of the campaign by Colonel Palmer, 9th Bengal Lancers. One of his first official acts was to convert the Sydney Light Horse Troop into lancers, giving it a touch of "pomp and circumstance" that well became a troop that was to appear as vice-regal escort on so many occasions. This was the signal for a fresh pattern of uniform, one resembling that of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers but with silver braid instead of gold and a white dragoon type helmet instead of the traditional lancer cap. These blue uniforms with their red facings and silver buttons were ordered from London and paid for by the members of the troop. And although appearance was a great factor in those days, good riding must also have been well in evidence, for it was only seven years later that the New South Wales cavalry were winning prizes in London against Britain's best.

When Lord Carrington, Governor Loftus's successor, arrived in Sydney on December 12 1885 the Lancers turned out to accompany him from the quayside. There were no lances yet, but with enthusiasm unquenched by cries of "fishing rods" from humorists among the crowd of onlookers, the troop carried bamboo poles with red and white pennants attached. The Government was slow in providing arms and when, some months after his arrival, the Governor visited a country town the light horse escort, having no weapons, turned out with stockwhips.
Lord Carrington, later the Marquis of Lincolnshire, at once identified himself with the cavalry. His official position as Governor in those days carried with it the title of "Commander-in-Chief of the New South Wales Defence Forces." But in the early orders of the cavalry he is termed the honorary colonel, and he held this position with great interest, munificence and practical assistance, even though in England, until his death in 1928.

By early 1886 the Cavalry Reserves comprised:

Sydney Lancers

Seven troops of light horse



West Camden (i.e., Mittagong,    Grafton Robertson and district)    

Upper Clarence (two troops) West Maitland

The complete designation of a troop was in this style:

Illawarra Reserve Corps of Volunteer Light Horse.

The establishment of a troop was 60 all ranks, comprising: 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 1 troop sergeant-major, 3 sergeants, 4 corporals, 1 trumpeter, 1 farrier, 1 shoeing-smith, 46 troopers.

Easter 1886 saw the first encampment with other troops at National Park, and at least some of the country cavalry units were in this camp. Extracts from the General and Brigade Orders of that period indicate that there was, even at this early stage in the Sydney Troop's existence, no lack of interest in high standards of discipline and appearance, and that the unit was rapidly taking shape along the right lines.

In December 1885, Mr C. H. E. Chauvel, of Tabulam Station, had pioneered the formation of the Upper Clarence Light Horse. His first idea was to form a regiment of five troops, with headquarters at Tenterfield, the troops to be:

No. 1, Tabulam;
No. 2, Border;
No. 3, Tenterfield;
Nos. 4 and 5 on the Richmond River.

The first two troops were duly gazetted, and on January 2 1886 a meeting to enrol members was held at Tabulam. One hundred and twenty-nine were sworn in, nine more than required. Owing to the fact, however, that Major-General Richardson was opposed to the formation of further troops in the north, the proposed regiment did not come into being. Mr Chauvel was appointed captain and two of his sons, C. A. C. and H. G., were lieutenants under him. H. G. Chauvel, later Lieut-General Sir Harry Chauvel, became one of Australia's greatest military leaders.

Uniforms for the Upper Clarence troops, including scarlet tunics and white helmets, arrived just in time for the opening of the railway to Tenterfield in October 1886. The cavalry, mustering 75 of all ranks, formed an escort for Lord Carrington on this occasion. At this date there were still only about 20 men in the Border Troop, so more were enlisted in and around Casino, making a composite "Casino-Border" troop. This not so satisfactory state of affairs was resolved by headquarters. Major Macdonald, in a letter to the Officer Commanding the Upper Clarence Light Horse, in May 1887 wrote: "It is decided by the Major-General that we henceforth have no cognisance of these Border men." The Border Troop being struck off, the Casino Light Horse were referred to as No. 2 Troop, Upper Clarence Light Horse, and after No. 1 Troop joined the mounted infantry the Casino Troop was re-designated the Richmond River Light Horse in October 1888. The earliest officers at Casino were Captain W. J. Fanning and Lieutenant W. Hindmarsh who were acting in those ranks from February 1887. On the closing down of the Border Troop Lieutenant H. G. Chauvel was ordered to parade with the Casino Troop; however, in March 1889 he resigned and accepted a commission in the Queensland Mounted Infantry.

The early years of the cavalry's existence were fraught with trials and tribulations as well as with honours and success, the Order and Correspondence Books reflecting the usual minor domestic difficulties: instructors who had to be replaced, trumpeters to be instructed, returns that were continually late, rivalries between units, and troopers who would travel saloon instead of steerage suggest only a few of the matters that had to be coped with. But in spite of these there was a sense of stability abroad, made manifest by the recurring names of members, rising in rank, some becoming family names in the annals of the regiment. Only a few months passed before most members of the unit had serge undress jackets, provided at their own expense, marking them in the public eye as a force that had come to stay, a fresh and inspiring feature of the young colony's existence.

A General Order, issued October 30 1886 reads: "The Officer Commanding Lancers will, without awaiting further instructions, arrange for an escort of Lancers on all occasions when H.E. the Governor and Commander-in-Chief is proceeding in state." Lancer escorts then became a familiar sight in Sydney, appearing every few weeks. In those days the strength of an escort was not arbitrary, but was limited only by the number of volunteers for the honour able to make themselves available on any specific date.

In March 1887, the Queen's Jubilee Year, most of the military forces combined in a camp of annual training at National Park, whilst the Upper Clarence Light Horse camped at Tabulam. By now the headquarters orderly room had been removed to Phillip Street, Sydney. On May 24 the usual Queen's Birthday Review was held, being attended by the Sydney Lancers who fell in near the Captain Cook Hotel, Moore Park, and by some of the country light horse who had come by rail. This review was an established feature of Sydney's military pageantry for many years, and the ground near the Captain Cook Hotel remained a falling-in place for the Sydney Lancers right up to 1914. The Waterloo Day dinner in June was also attended by a number of officers from the country. In July 1887 the West Maitland unit was redesignated the Hunter River Light Horse. During this year, too, 100 more lances were issued to the cavalry, and a letter from headquarters recommended the issuing of lances on loan or sale to country troops. Revolvers were issued to the Sydney officers and non-commissioned officers, and four per troop to certain of the cavalry troops. Fifty books on trumpet calls were supplied, at 4/6 each.

The Jubilee Year celebrations in Victoria were distinguished by a military tournament at Flemington in June. An invitation to compete having been given by the Melbourne Corps to the Sydney Lancers, a team of about 12 was formed of Sydney and country members. Four of them were from West Camden Troop, whose Sergeant T. Ferguson won three of the events: tilting at the ring, tentpegging and lemon cutting. Other members of the team secured two second places and one third in various events. One reads that in July the residents of Bowral gave a complimentary dinner to the local representatives in the team and presented Sergeant Ferguson with a sword. Later in the year there was a review by Lord Carrington of a grand parade of cavalry at Moore Park, including detachments from Illawarra, West Camden, Hunter River and the Upper Clarence; this was followed by a cavalry tournament. The Upper Clarence detachment numbered 27 according to H. V. Vernon, but in a letter written in 1932 Sir Harry Chauvel put the number at "about 50 picked men" with three officers- Captain Chauvel and his two sons. With their own horses they travelled by train to Newcastle and thence to Sydney by sea. It has been stated that their expenses, except train fares, were all paid by Captain Chauvel.

The appointment of Mr William Scott, M.R.C.V.S., as veterinary surgeon to the Sydney Lancers in October 1887 is noted, this appointment lasting until 1889. Another interesting appointment in 1887 was that of Charles Albin Dalton, son of Senior Sergeant Dalton of the police, already mentioned. C. A. Dalton was born at the Government House stables and his soldiering commenced at the age of 14 when he joined the artillery as a trumpeter; when he was 16 he transferred to the newly formed Sydney Light Horse and rode in the escort on March 3 1885. In 1887 he enlisted as a permanent soldier and was appointed to the permanent staff of the cavalry as trumpet-major and orderly room clerk (General Order No. 128). He was a man of strong character and a keen soldier. After about 20 years with the regiment he was transferred to the Mounted Rifles as regimental sergeant-major and later helped to train light horsemen in Victoria and Queensland also. He was the only original member to witness the regiment's Diamond Jubilee parade in 1945.

Covering the period from 1887 to 1900 one can read scores of references to the Lancers in the Australasian Naval and Military Gazette.-' which was an unofficial monthly journal. It contained extracts from Government Gazettes, General Orders, copies of Inspection Reports by the Commandant of the Military Forces, reports of regimental activities such as camps, tactical exercises, tournaments, balls and a variety of articles on service matters. Unfortunately, copies of this journal are very scarce, but some may be seen in the Mitchell Library and in the United Service Institution of New South Wales. One of the earliest references was an account of a lunch given by the Sydney Lancers in the Domain, then part of Government House grounds, on March 9 1887. His Excellency, Lord Carrington, presided, as honorary colonel of the Reserve Cavalry, and there were a number of distinguished guests representing the navy and the army. The speeches at the function are reported: Major Macdonald referred to the constant help they had received from their honorary colonel; Lord Carrington in the course of his reply congratulated the corps on being self-supporting-a reference to their being unpaid volunteers-and complimented them upon their good horsemanship, mentioning Captain Weston of Illawarra, Trooper (later Lieut-Colonel) Markwell of Maitland, and the well-known tentpeggers, Lieutenant Purves (later quartermaster) and Trooper Kerry of Sydney. Major-General Richardson said they were wholly self-supporting and that the annual £2 allowance per member by the Government "very inadequately expressed the expense to which they were put"; he was glad to see that provision for an adjutant had been put on the Estimates.

The journal referred to gives evidence of annual tournaments having been inaugurated in 1886 at the various troop centres.

The year 1888 saw some changes. The Ulmarra and Grafton Troops were disbanded (Gazette, September 5). Approval was published "of No. 1 Troop of the Upper Clarence Light Horse being transferred from light horse to mounted infantry under the Partially Paid system and being designated the Tabulam Mounted Infantry" (Gazette, September 28) .

The Corps of Permanent Mounted Infantry was raised in Sydney in September 1888 with an establishment of 1 captain, 1 sergeant and 30 others. The first captain was H. G. B. Sparrow. The corps was intended to supply men and horses for the mounted branches and to form the nucleus of a regiment to be distributed by companies throughout the colony. Several companies of partially paid mounted infantry were raised about this time, each 50 strong - Tabulam, Bega, Queanbeyan, Picton, Campbelltown, Inverell - and before the Easter encampment of 1889 they, together with the permanent company, had been formed into an administrative regiment under Major H. B. Lassetter. The permanent company was employed chiefly on escort, orderly and guard duties, and was disbanded on July 3 1889 on account of expense and the current commercial depression.

In connection with the blue lancer uniform of the Sydney Lancers, General Order No. 223, November 5 1889, in part, is quoted:

"The Government having ordered the adoption and also provided the brown uniform for the whole of the Cavalry, the original lancer uniform will be discontinued from this date by the Sydney Lancer troop. The stable jacket and overalls will be retained by the Lancers, to be worn when directed. A fatigue cap will shortly be issued. Lancer officers will continue to wear the full dress uniform on state occasions."

It was a practice of the New South Wales Military Forces to utilise former Imperial soldiers as staff and instructors. R. R. Thompson, already mentioned, had become a warrant officer by 1886. R. J. Willcock, late corporal, 15th Hussars, was appointed a staff sergeant instructor with the cavalry in September 1887, followed by W. E. Clare, late sergeant, 17th Lancers, in February 1888 and in July by C. Cooke, late of the 9th Lancers. H. T. Read, from the 8th Hussars, who became one of the best known instructors in the regiment, was appointed in September 1888; he accompanied the Aldershot Squadron in 1899 and was on active service in the South African War. The next was G. E. Morris, late corporal, 2nd Dragoon Guards, who was appointed in June 1889; he served in the South African War and later attained the rank of captain, being adjutant at the time of his death in 1914. Later there came Warrant Officer C. E. Fisher who had seen service in Burma with the 17th Lancers and who also served in South Africa with the New South Wales Lancers. In January 1888, Captain C. A. Milward, Royal Artillery, became the first permanent adjutant of the cavalry, but his name does not appear in the Order Book after March of that year. Orders were then signed by Warrant Officer Thompson until Major H. B. Lassetter, late of the Staffordshire Regiment, was ordered to "assume command of the Permanent Mounted Infantry and act as adjutant of the Cavalry" from January 25 1889. Lassetter functioned as adjutant for only two months, after which date Captain A. J. Dodds of the Sydney Lancers became acting adjutant.

There were also interesting enlistments in the Hunter River Troop in July 1889: Trooper John B. Meredith of the Raymond Terrace detachment and Trooper George Leonard Lee. Meredith commanded the 1st Light Horse, A.I.F., in 1914-15, the 1st and 4th Light Horse Brigades, A.I.F., and after the war the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. Lee was commissioned in October 1889, was later staff officer (i.e., adjutant) of the Lancers, gained a D.S.O. in South Africa and rose to be District Commandant in New South Wales in the Great War, being made an honorary lieutenant-general in 1920.

One of the most memorable figures of this period was Captain Malcolm McNeill, 4th Hussars, later A.D.C. to His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught. He was specially selected and came to New South Wales in August 1889 to complete the work of organising the separate troops into a regiment of half-squadrons. A veteran of the Sudan campaign, 1885, Captain McNeill adapted himself admirably to the Australian temperament and conditions and proved to be an ideal man for the job. He carried the organising through to a successful conclusion and as a result the Government Gazette of December 10 1889 announced: "His Excellency the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council has been pleased to give authority under the 49th Section of the Volunteer Act, 1867, for the formation of the undermentioned Troops of Cavalry into an administrative Regiment to be called the New South Wales Regiment of Volunteer Cavalry ..." The troops and their commanders were:

"A"    Sydney    Captain A. J. Dodds
"B"    Illawarra    Captain E. H. Weston
"C"    West Camden    Captain J. J. Walters
"D"    Hunter River    Captain W. Cracknell
"E"    Richmond River    Captain W. J. Fanning
"F"    Murrumbidgee    Captain G. Coleman

The badge of the regiment was the Carrington crest, an elephant's head with coronet, on crossed lances, with sprays of waratah, the floral emblem of the colony. The collar badge was the Carrington crest alone. A brass letter denoting the troop was worn on the shoulder cords by the other ranks. The motto was the Carrington family's - "Tenax in fide" (steadfast in faith).

With effect from January 1 1890, the Gazette noted the promotion of Major Macdonald to lieut-colonel. And although the new organisation differed but slightly from that of the Cavalry Brigade Reserves, the promotion of the commanding officer and the new designation gave every member a sense of fresh and welcome responsibilities, of widening horizons.

In Young Australia of September 1889 one reads:

"The N.S.W. Cavalry-This regiment is to be armed with lances and 500 of these weapons have been ordered."

From January 1 1890 the cavalry regiment was placed on the Partially Paid Establishment.

Later in the year, on September 11, a farewell dinner was given at the Town Hall by Lieut-Colonel Macdonald and the officers of the New South Wales Cavalry Regiment to His Excellency, Lord Carrington.

Through the nineties the general public both in Great Britain and in the colonies was inclined to take a somewhat casual view of military matters, if not an actually hostile one. Lack of knowledge or experience of the necessity for trained defenders, even during apparently peaceful periods, led to jealous and offensive statements. The South African War, at the close of the century, gave the more responsible citizens of the Empire food for thought. But although Africa was a neighbour in this hemisphere, Australians on the whole felt comparatively remote from the scene of action. At its conclusion, leaders in Australia were absorbed in business and political affairs. "Federation" was in the air, and for the vast majority the new Commonwealth organisation, its political implications and its impact on the mercantile world overshadowed the vital questions of military training and national defence during the first decade of the new century., It was fortunate indeed that Australia's militia regiments held staunchly to their ideals throughout this period. There was not at any time an aggressive public display of militarism, though the average member of every regiment knew that he would be in the front line for defence in case of trouble.

During the great maritime strike of 1890, two troops of the cavalry regiment and two companies of the mounted infantry were sworn in as special mounted police. After the commencement of the strike, transport to and from the wharves was held up and an unruly element on the waterfront was stirring up a lot of trouble. Members of the regiment offered to assist the police if necessary and in particular, it is understood, the Illawarra Troop figured in this offer. As the police force was numerically not strong its inspector-general approved of this but wanted the approval of Sir Henry Parkes, the Premier. Sir Henry was ill in bed but a messenger was sent to him and he immediately scrawled a memo on official notepaper: "Do I understand that Cavalry Troops have volunteered to act as special constables. If so I approve of their being brought down tomorrow."-3 So the Illawarra men were brought to the city promptly and, with members of the Sydney Troop, were sworn in. They were dressed as police, lived for about two months in camp at Dawes Point and spent most of their time escorting waggons of free drivers to and from the wharves. Members on this duty were from time to time stoned and there were other acts of attempted violence but no serious casualties were recorded.

"G" Troop was formed at Lismore in June 1890 under Lieutenant C. E. Taylor (promoted to captain in March 1891), and on June 6 1891 the first enrolments in "K" Troop at Parramatta were made, thus commencing an association with that town which has lasted to the present time. "K" Troop's earliest officers were Captain James Burns (later Colonel Sir James Burns) , Lieutenant John Sulman (an eminent architect, later knighted) and, in 1892, Lieutenant J. Houison. There is a copy of a letter dated August 20 1891 to the Assistant Adjutant-General regarding Mr Sulman's application for the 1st lieutenancy in "K" Troop and the question of his being over-age. Several regimental precedents were instanced, and the letter goes on: "… the fact that the Parramatta Troop owes its existence to Mr Sulman's efforts ... has already shown evidence of being a most energetic and efficient officer". Burns also had been slightly over the prescribed age; he was said to be most influential in the district and much respected.

The year 1891 also witnessed the raising of a mounted regimental band, one which was to become a much admired unit in the colourful ceremonials of pre-1914 days. It had its origin in West Maitland, members of the regiment contributing towards the cost of equipping it and the officers of the Hunter River Troop providing horses at their own cost. There are references to the new band in the regimental outward correspondence book of April to December 1891. A letter of June 4 mentions the clothing allowance for 1891 - £2 for every man on the Partially Paid Establishment; apparently this was for maintenance as the letter also mentions "separate item as a first issue to the Regimental Band". One reads in a letter of July 19 to the Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General:

"herewith all correspondence referring to the enrolment of the Regimental Band, together with the invoices showing the amounts paid for instruments and Band property. It will be noted ... that the original offer of services was for 20 men and one kettle drummer. To guarantee this number on parade, 24 men would be necessary, to provide against casualties. It will also be noted that the amount of £297/5/3 has been paid [to Potter & Co., London] for instruments and band property. £100 was authorised by the G.O.C. from the No. 2 Band Fund, the balance having been made up by private subscriptions from the whole Regiment. Besides this, the officers of the Hunter River Troop have provided grey horses at their own cost, and are willing to keep same if the amount of £7 per horse, per annum, for 24 horses is allowed as part forage allowance . . ."

Another letter mentions Bandmaster Fitness and Band Sergeant Andrews. The former was bandmaster until 1898. Elsewhere there is reference to the amount of £50 being an annual allowance in aid of the expenditure in connection with the band.

According to the recollection of Bandmaster Taylor in 1938, the New South Wales Government allowed £250 annually towards upkeep, but when the Commonwealth took over in 1903 this allowance was reduced to £150, and again in 1914 to £75. Had not the officers of the regiment, practically from the beginning, paid several pounds each, annually, to maintain the instruments, music, horses and saddlery, the band could not for long have remained in existence, even in the days of the Government's greatest munificence. As it was, the horses were generally on agistment, and looked better on parade in the mass than when critically examined as individuals. But for some years a fine piebald for the drums was a sight worth seeing. The kettle drums were furnished with bannerettes, edged with silver lace and fringe and embroidered with the regimental badge. The two earlier sets were crimson, and about 1900 a magnificent pair, of scarlet cloth with the badge very heavily worked upon them, was presented by Colonel Burns's daughter.

A General Order of 1894 promulgated the marches approved for the use of the lancer regiment at all ceremonial parades:

March past at walk    "The Dragoon Guardsman"
March past at trot    "The Cavalier"
March past at gallop    "Bonnie Dundee"

The correspondence book mentioned earlier contains much interesting reading, of which the following are only samples. From one letter it is seen that the Queen's Birthday review in Sydney was attended by the band, the Hunter River, West Camden and Illawarra Troops; with the Sydney Troop there would thus have been four troops. The letters were sent from No. 113 Phillip Street, Sydney, the headquarters of the regiment. A complaint to the postal authorities about incorrect deliveries implies that "A" Troop had its orderly room near Circular Quay. "C" Troop, to gain more efficiency in drill, especially in the use of sword and lance, was ordered to hold special drills in plain clothes and any men failing to attend were to be down-graded to the Recruit Roll. The adjutant wrote to the secretary of the Sydney Gas Company: "has to request that you will be good enough to cause the two extra lamps in Government House grounds to be lighted at 7.30 on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, these being the nights on which the Sydney Troop attend drill." It can be seen that the establishment of a troop was now 50 all ranks, including three officers, one sergeant-major, one trumpeter. A letter of August 14 orders regimental badges for field service hat and cap from D. Jones and Co. Messrs Weekes and Backhouse, of Druitt Street, were asked to submit a tender for the supply of 50 sets of each of the following for "K" Troop: valises, pads and straps complete [these were carried at rear of saddle]; bridles, bit and bridoon reins complete; Pelham bits; sets of cape straps; breastplates; pairs of spurs and straps; headropes, brown; sets of Ds; pairs of straps for overalls. "F" Troop at Wagga Wagga was warned that, failing improvement in specified matters, "the O.C. Cavalry will have no alternative but to disband the troop". In September Dr, Fiaschi (later Honorary Brigadier-General T. H. Fiaschi) is mentioned as the honorary surgeon of "A" Troop. There was active organising for a team of the cavalry regiment to proceed to England to compete at the Royal Military Tournament.

Many of the letters to erring troops are terse but they are always dignified. In signing, Captain McNeill never forgot that he was merely on loan to this regiment; his usual style of signing was like this: "M. McNeill, Capt, 4th Hussars, Adj. N.S.W. Cavalry".

On August 11 1892 Colonel Macdonald gave evidence before the Royal Commission on Military Service.  It makes interesting reading. Colonel Macdonald outlined his military service in India, and from his remarks one learns that he was active in the two short-lived troops of yeomanry which had existed in Sydney at earlier periods, one in 1854-55 and the other in 1863-64. He himself was now 74 years of age and felt he was no longer fit to make visits on duty to a place as distant as Lismore. He contended that the cavalry would be much better managed if he had a freer hand, "more especially in the interests of my successor". He had not been allowed to keep McNeill as adjutant so he had sent Lieutenant G. L. Lee of Maitland to England for instruction as the future adjutant. Lee had been very well reported upon and his instruction was finished off with an attachment to the 20th Hussars. In the meantime he, Macdonald, had to manage without an adjutant. He advocated importing a r(-:tired British officer of field rank to succeed him, so that young Lee would have the benefit of greater experience ("moral force") over him than if there was a "young native" there. There was discussion of the cost, £500, of transporting the two northern troops down to camp near Sydney. He said the Casino Troop had to swim three rivers before it got to railhead. When coming to the last camp it had to swim one river in high flood, which they did with the loss of nothing except a sword, "and that the troop dived several times for". "As for the men themselves," the colonel said, "I never saw more enthusiastic cavalry men in my life . . . the very best troops are at Casino and Lismore." At one point he referred to the Parramatta Troop, speaking highly of both the officers and the men. In general he considered "the cavalrymen here so superior to the yeomanry cavalry that they are worth cultivating", and he thought a country troop would always be superior to a city troop.

At another point of the report of the proceedings establishments are given:

Partially Paid Cavalry    420
Partially Paid Mounted Infantry 418
Permanent staff would have been additional.

The section which deals with the cavalry in the report of the Royal Commission commences: "The high state of efficiency to which this force has attained is a strong inducement to the Colony to maintain it." Then it goes on to propose that the financial vote to maintain this arm should be drastically reduced. The Lismore Troop maintained its standard well, for in a General Order of April 12 1895, which gave an efficiency report for the year 1894, the list of the best squadrons and companies in the Partially Paid Forces is headed by No. 4 (Lismore Half) Squadron, New South Wales Lancers.

Owing to the difficulty of obtaining officers, "F" (Murrumbidgee) Troop was disbanded about December 1892, thus reducing the number of troops to seven.

The visit to England of a tournament team took place in 1891. This was not the first of such ventures from the colonies as in 1891 Lieut-Colonel Tom Price had taken a team of the Victorian Mounted Rifles, which had acquitted itself very well.

The New South Wales Cavalry Regiment's team was equipped and sent at the regiment's own expense and while in England was horsed by the British cavalry. The name of New South Wales had little more than geographic significance to the British public in those days and, notwithstanding the fine performances by the Victorians in 1891, the fact that a colony could produce yeomanry cavalry able to beat the regulars in sports still came as a surprise to a large section of the crowds attending the Royal Military Tournaments at Islington and Dublin.

The New South Wales Government's attitude to this expedition barely stopped short of absolute prohibition. Eventually, however, the regiment gained permission, and the team sailed on the Orizaba on March 11 1893. The call for volunteers brought far more than could be accepted and a strong team was selected after eliminating competitions. The strength of the party was 18: Captain Dodds, in command, Warrant Officer Thompson, instructor, and 16 competitors. Captain McNeill, erstwhile adjutant, now back in England, took charge of arrangements there, and they were quartered with the 17th Lancers, the "Death or Glory Boys".

The following is a list of the members of the team and the prizes gained:
Troop    Member    Islington    Dublin
Sydney    Sgt Barracluff        2nd (eq.), Tilting
Illawarra    Tpr Catt        
    Tpr James        
    Tpr Wood        
West Camden    Sgt Blencowe    4th, Sword v. Bayonet    1st, Heads and Posts
    Cpl Seery    4th, Sword v. Lance    1st, Sword v. Lance
        2nd, Sword v. Bayonet    
    Tpr Charker    6th, Sword v. Lance    
Hunter River    Cpl Cole    3rd, Riding & jumping    3rd, Sword v. Sword
            1st, Lance v. Bayonet
    Cpl Gollan    1st, Lemon Cutting    1st, V.C. Race
        1st, Tentpegging    
Casino    Sgt-Tptr Crouch        
    Tpr Riley    4th, Sword V. Sword    3rd, V.C. Race
    Tpr Livingstone        
Lismore    Sgt Daley    1 st, Sword v. Sword    
        2nd, Lance v. Bayonet    
        3rd, Heads and Posts    
        4th, Lemon Cutting    
    Cpl Robson        
Parramatta    Sgt-Maj. Weston 1st, Riding & Jumping    2nd, V.C. Race
Tpr O'Grady    6th, Sword v. Sword 5th, Sword v. Lance Team
3rd, Section Jumping Trophies for Bush. ranging Display and Lance Exercise
Eight first places were gained in competition with some of Britain's best.

Corporal Tom Seery, who died in 1960 at the age of 94, recalled having the good fortune to defeat a sergeant-major who had been unconquered for some time. The event was Lance versus Sword, at Dublin, and Lord Wolseley himself entered the arena to congratulate the tall colonial from West Camden. Seery also recalled the team being inspected by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, and on another occasion being entertained by the Prince of Wales.

The team formed part of the Queen's escort at the opening of the Imperial Institute. From reports it appears to have made a very good impression during its stay in England and not only did the regiment benefit by the experience gained by its representatives, but also the colony of New South Wales gained favourable publicity.

While its chosen representatives were upholding the honour of the regiment abroad, a significant change in the organisation of the mounted units took place. By General Order No. 149, July 19 1893, the cavalry regiment and the mounted infantry, now renamed the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, formed as from August 1 the New South Wales Mounted Brigade. A squadron organisation was introduced, two troops now forming one squadron; each troop consisted of two divisions and each division was subdivided into sections of four men, one of whom was the section leader. (Within a year or two the troops became known as half-squadrons, and the divisions as troops.) The order shows that Captain Lee was adjutant and the squadrons were:

1st (Major Dodds)    Sydney, Parramatta
2nd (Captain Walters)    Illawarra, West Camden
3rd (Captain Cracknell)    Hunter River
4th (Captain Taylor)    Lismore, Richmond River (Casino)

Major Dodds became commanding officer on November 20 1893, to be succeeded on April 27 1894 by Major J. J. Walters.

The Mounted Rifles, under Major H. B. Lassetter, had at that time half-companies at Liverpool, Campbelltown, Picton, Camden, Bega, Queanbeyan, Tenterfield and Inverell.

The formation of the Mounted Brigade brought these two pioneer regiments into closer touch, and their desire for efficiency produced an enthusiastic rivalry which lasted for many years. Out of this came that high standard of courage and efficiency that paved the way for success when squadrons from both regiments found themselves at war in South Africa.

Major-General E. T. H. Hutton, C.B., A.D.C. to the Queen, Commanding the Military Forces, when referring to the Mounted Brigade in a report on the forces in January 1894, stated: "It would be impossible to speak too highly of the spirit which animates all ranks, the horsemanship and the physique of the mounted troops generally. An excellent degree of practical efficiency has been reached, especially in the Lancers." The report gives these establishments:

Cavalry, including band and staff    406
Mounted Rifles, including staff    387

While on the subject of the Mounted Brigade, Lord Hampden, Governor of the colony, was appointed its honorary colonel in March 1896. This, of course, did not affect Lord Carrington's position as honorary colonel of the regiment. It appears from a portrait that the uniform which Lord Hampden elected to wear as honorary colonel of the brigade was that of the Lancer Regiment.

Senior cadets at Casino and Parramatta had become affiliated to the regiment by January 1894. While the Casino affiliation may have lasted until perhaps 1897, the Parramatta Lancers Cadet Half-Squadron was a flourishing adjunct of the regiment for over a decade, finally being disbanded about 1911. Cadets provided their own mounts, as did the adult members of the regiment, wore a brown uniform and brown leather equipment and were trained with under-sized lances.

In January 1894 a half-squadron was formed at Singleton under Doctor Bowman and was linked with the Maitland (formerly Hunter River) Half-Squadron to complete the establishment of No. 3 Squadron. The original officers at Singleton were Lieutenants A. S. Bowman, G. H. Allan and R. H. Dangar.

The designation of the regiment was altered to the New South Wales Lancers by a Gazette notice in January 1895. The new name seems to have been taken into use in 1894.

Another change in the organisation occurred in August 1896, when the Wollongong Troop, or Half-Squadron, was disbanded. This sub-unit had never been up to strength. In 1895 Captain C. E. Eglese was the only officer and attempts to fill the two vacancies for subalterns were unsuccessful. Also, an artillery company was raised at Wollongong and with the limited personnel available the maintenance of artillery was considered of greater importance. In December Captain Eglese submitted his resignation. Although the half-squadron was granted a reprieve for a probationary period until March 1 1896, it was found to be futile to retain it. Upon its disbanding in August 1896 a new half-squadron was immediately formed at Berry under Lieutenants A. Hay, H. M. Osborne and H. D. Morton.

Surgeon-Captain T. H. Fiaschi, eminent in medicine, viticulture and other fields, who had been attached successively to the Lancers and the Mounted Brigade since 1891, was the head of a family with a fine military record and a long connection with the regiment. In 1896 he was accepted for his medical experience to serve with the Italian forces in the Abyssinian War and in April obtained six months' leave from the regiment. While in Abyssinia he wore the uniform of the New South Wales Lancers, complete with feather plume and double red stripes on breeches, thus being the first to wear it at war. After his return he gave a lecture on his experiences abroad at the Sydney orderly room.

Colonel Macdonald, owing to advancing years and failing health, retired from active military life in June 1896. This was a distinct loss to the Mounted Brigade in particular and to the military forces of the colony in general. Major-General G. A. French, C.M.G., R.A., general officer commanding the local forces, paid high tribute to Colonel Macdonald and his work in a valedictory General Order, in the course of which he remarked:

"His influence and example of soldierly rectitude have been of enormous value in placing his special branch of the service in this colony upon its present efficient basis."


No immediate successor as Commandant of the Mounted Brigade was appointed.

At some date after 1891 regimental headquarters were moved from Phillip Street to Richmond Terrace alongside the Domain. In 1897 they were transferred to the old barracks at Parramatta, where the local half-squadron had its headquarters, and which now became known as the Lancer Barracks. The Sydney Half-Squadron orderly room became established in a building in Chancery Square at the rear of the old Immigration Barracks at the top of King Street, Chancery Square being entered through a grass forecourt opposite St Mary's Cathedral. From here the Sydney squadron was administered until the building was demolished in 1910 to make way for the Registrar-General's building, when the orderly room was re-located in an old store at No. 71 Macquarie Street.

Throughout the nineties the Lancers were often in demand for displays and mounted competitions at various gatherings and functions in the community. Tentpegging, lemon cutting, wrestling on horseback and other mounted competitions were spectacular and held the attention of the audience. One reads that for the Military Tournament on the Sydney Showground on April 20 1897, 12 mounted events were listed, with cash prizes totalling £166. 10. 0. At this period, too, the annual Lancer Ball was usually a feature of every squadron or half-squadron's programme. Even a funeral could be the occasion for meticulous ceremony. In 1895 at the funeral of a highly respected staff sergeant, J. E. Sparks of Parramatta, the bier was carried on a gun-carriage which was followed by the deceased's charger, saddled, with boots reversed in the stirrups, and by detachments of the half-squadron, led by Captain Burns, and of the local infantry in which Sparks had formerly served.

On September 17 1897 Major Burns was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and gazetted to command the regiment. He was a man of fine character and a generous nature, of ability and enthusiasm for his regiment. Although a busy city man with many interests, he devoted a good deal of time to the regiment, sparing no effort to increase its efficiency and taking a great interest in its members. His period of command, practically six years, might be regarded as an era in itself.


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Next: Royal New South Wales Lancers 1897 to 1900


Further Reading:

1st/7th/1st (New South Wales Lancers) Australian Light Horse

New South Wales Lancers, Boer War Contingent

Militia Light Horse, New South Wales

Australian Militia Light Horse


Citation: Royal New South Wales Lancers 1885 to 1897

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 1 July 2010 1:40 PM EADT

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A note on copyright

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre is a not for profit and non profit group whose sole aim is to write the early history of the Australian Light Horse from 1900 - 1920. It is privately funded and the information is provided by the individuals within the group and while permission for the use of the material has been given for this site for these items by various donors, the residual and actual copyright for these items, should there be any, resides exclusively with the donors. The information on this site is freely available for private research use only and if used as such, should be appropriately acknowledged. To assist in this process, each item has a citation attached at the bottom for referencing purposes.

Please Note: No express or implied permission is given for commercial use of the information contained within this site.

A note to copyright holders

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre has made every endeavour to contact copyright holders of material digitised for this blog and website and where appropriate, permission is still being sought for these items. Where replies were not received, or where the copyright owner has not been able to be traced, or where the permission is still being sought, the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre has decided, in good faith, to proceed with digitisation and publication. Australian Light Horse Studies Centre would be happy to hear from copyright owners at any time to discuss usage of this item.


Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

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