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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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Saturday, 9 May 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Part 2
Topic: Militia - LH

The Australian Light Horse

Part 2


A Tasmanian Light Horsmen photographed in the 1880's.


The following is an extract from the book by Hall, RJG, The Australian Ligth Horse, Melbourne 1967, pp. 15 - 23.


Regional Development

The second period of development of the Colonial Forces received a favourable impetus by the outbreak of the Franco Russian war and a highly coloured suggestion that a naval "filibustering" expedition from San Francisco was to raid Sydney. The inhabitants of Sydney recalled, no doubt, the occasion in 1839 when Commander Wilkes, with two United States cruisers, entered Port Jackson and anchored off Circular Quay without anyone knowing about it until the following morning. The Naval and Military Act (1871) provided the means of raising permanent forces. The national lack of confidence in matters military now made itself shown. An appeal was made in 1876, for the assistance of a military personality. This was to be repeated in 1938 when General Squires, British Army, was invited to become Inspector General of the Australian Military Forces.

The result of the 1876 appeal was the appointment of Major General Sir William Jervois GCMG CB (1821-1897), as Governor of South Australia and Commissioner of Defences for all colonies with the exception of Western Australia. The subsequent reports did little for expansion of Mounted units, as they were based upon the British fleet's command of the seas.

Emphasis was placed upon armed vessels and forts. The greatest value of the reports of Jervois and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley was their advice on the question of partially paid militia. The best way of ensuring regular attendance at training periods, they contended, was to provide pay. Whilst this disregarded the potential of the spirit of youthful adventure, it was a sound approach in a community which was still developing its rural industry.

In 1885, as the recommendations were beginning to take effect, the following distribution of Mounted Troops existed:

NSW - New South Wales Cavalry Brigade Reserve with 7 Light Horse Troops
Vic - A Militia regiment of mounted Infantry (Victorian Mounted Rifles);The remains of the Royal Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (PWLH Hussars) represented by the Sandhurst Cavalry Troop
Qld - A mounted Infantry troop (Brisbane Mounted Rifles)
SA - Adelaide Mounted Rifle Corps
WA -  A Mounted Rifle Detachment
Tas - 1st Light Cavalry Corps

The position occupied by the horse in the community and the areas in which it was used were to be great factors in the development of the Light Horse centres. As the rural districts spread, so communities were established where the horse was a vital means of transportation. The decline in the standard of horse flesh, when industrialization made its presence felt, naturally occurred in the capitals and centres of the major secondary industries. This decline can be easily traced in the 1921 regimental linkings.

The service of the militiamen, as distinct from the permanent soldiers, was on a part time basis. The militia service of the mounted troops, from the first, became associated with the district in which they worked.

The history of these districts is almost the rural history of Australia. The rural territories, whose activities are now finding their place in the commercial world at home and abroad, are monuments also to the enthusiasm of the light horseman. They were to bear these names as troop, squadron and regimental identities for the many years of their militia service.

The following section is devoted to a brief territorial description of these centres and the regiments appearing therein up to 1901.


State Titles

Captain James Cook RN, a valued servant of the Empire, took possession of the whole of the eastern coast in 1770 and called it New Wales, later altered to New South Wales. As the initial colony, and by general acceptance (at least by New South Welshmen), New South Wales has the accolade of senior State. Therefore, the use of the title as part of the territorial identification of regiments has certain significance. The senior of these regiments is undoubtedly the New South Wales Lancers who, in 1884, first raised a mounted troop called the Sydney Cavalry Troop.

When Major General Richardson, the Commandant of the New South Wales defence forces, returned from the Sudan, he converted this troop to Lancers -probably the first volunteer Lancers recorded. By 1893 the title, New South Wales Lancers, was in popular use.

The second "parent" New South Wales regiment was the Mounted Rifle Regiment and owes its origins to the permanent Mounted Infantry raised in 1888. Costs and local depression caused the untimely disbandment of the regiment in 1890, but the districts of Mudgee, Camden and Forbes retained their association with the state and descriptive title, to subsequently raise troops of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles.

The Australian Horse

A volunteer unit, titled 1st Australian Horse, was recruited from the districts of Cootamundra, Gundagai, Goulburn, Tamworth and Armidale, in 1897. When the original unit passed away with Federation, the title was to resound within the Empire and beyond, after the actions of the Australian Commonwealth Horse in South Africa.

The Northern Rivers

In 1892, Captain Henry John Rouse RN explored two rivers which he named the Richmond and the Clarence. In 1885, the Upper Clarence Light Horse was raised by Captain Chauvel, whose son General Sir Harry Chauvel [GCMG, KCB, Commanded Desert Mounted Corps 1917/19. Inspector General in Australia 1919/30. CGS 1922/30. Born Tabulam, 16 April 1865, died 4 March 1945.] was to distinguish himself as one of the great Australian military personalities. The unit recruited from Tenterfield, Tabulam, Casino, Fairfield and Cullenden.

As the numbers increased, there emerged the Tabulam Mounted Infantry (later to become the Tenterfield Mounted Infantry) and the Richmond River Lancers (later to become the Northern Rivers Lancers).

The Hunter River

Early in the history of the colony, some enterprising convicts, somewhat dissatisfied with their lot, obtained a boat and departed for more suitable places. Lieutenant John Shortland RN, whilst conducting an unsuccessful search for the absconders, discovered an attractive river which he named the Hunter, after the second governor. The districts surrounding the Hunter River originally supported rural industries. Later, with the discovery of coal deposits, the towns of Maitland, Newcastle and Singleton cut into the natural grounds for supporting horses and horsemen.

The influence of the Royal Navy continued to be recorded in the Light Horse story. Lieutenant John Oxley RN, in the course of one of his frequent trips of exploration, came upon a rich pastoral area in the North East of New South Wales. In 1818, he named this district, New England, “because of the similarity of the climatic conditions to those of Britain". Despite the apparent poetic licence employed by Oxley in his justification of the name, he was later to become a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. Some of the recruiting areas for the Australian Horse (1897) lay within the New England district, giving the first New England Regiment (1902) a distinct link with pre-federation organizations.

Gwydir River

The Gwydir River flows from the New England mountains into the Darling River, after passage through the pastoral districts on the Queensland border. Although the Gwydir Regiment was not to appear until 1937, mounted troops were raised from the districts of Armidale, Inverell, Glen Innes and Moree from 1897.

The Riverina

This district is generally described as being that bounded by the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers. However, in the early part of the century the name was applied to the districts north of the Murrumbidgee as well. Once again, the Australian Horse recruited in this district before the Riverina Regiment came into existence in 1937.

The Illawarra District

Lake Illawarra lies just south of Wollongong. A light horse troop was recruited from this district as early as 1885. The regiment bearing the Illawarra title later recruited as far South as Milton on the east coast.


State Titles

The activities of bushrangers in Victoria in 1854 and the popularity of seeking, finding and transporting gold, caused the appearance of a Light Cavalry Company; the 40th Regiment (2nd Somersetshire) (1852-1860) mounted one of their companies and equipped it as a light Cavalry. The first Victorian titled regiment came into existence in 1862, when part of the Prince of Wales's regiment and the Royal Victorian Mounted Artillery amalgamated as the 1st Victorian Volunteer Light Horse. For a while, titles and uniforms were more significant than actual training, until the Victorian Mounted Rifles were raised in 1885. This unit rapidly attracted a large number of recruits and they attended a Field Camp near Queenscliff during Easter 1886, with nine companies all mounted. The VMR had detachments in Broadford, Yea, Avenel, Cathkin, Mansfield, Rushworth and Shepparton from the First Battalion, and at Ballarat, Clunes, Talbot, Maryborough, Elmore and Wharparilla from the Second Battalion.

Western Districts

Lake Corangamite is one of the largest natural inland waterways in Victoria and was discovered in 1837 by an explorer named McLeod. He apparently used a native name and early maps show it to be spelt as "Korangamite". In 1885, Colonel Tom Price raised the Victorian Mounted Rifles, the second battalion of which recruited in the districts to north and east of the lake. By the time the title "Corangamite" was to be employed, recruiting for the Victorian regiments had been extended as far west as Camperdown.

The Yarrowee River is first related to the Victorian Cavalry in records of the Prince of Wales's Light Horse (Hussars) (1862-1883). Many rural settlements along the banks of this river raised independent troops prior to 1862 and became part of the Prince of Wales's Light Horse in 1862-63.

The Indi District

Infrequently used as a name today, the lndi district was the area of the upper Murray to the Ovens River. The Victorian Mounted Rifles had detachments at Wangaratta, Beechworth and Rutherglen in 1885. These centres continued to support this very popular unit up to Federation and one finds both "lndi" and "VMR" used in the naming of the early post federation Light horse regiments.

The Gippsland District

Angus McMillan first discovered the forest areas in the south east of Victoria, but it was Count Strezlecki who gave to it the present name in honour of Sir George Gipps a former Governor of New South Wales. The Gippsland district was developed as, and continues to be, a rural and timber area. Early horsemen also belonged to independent troops and subsequently saw service with the Prince of Wales's regiment and the Victorian Mounted Rifles.


Moreton District

Captain James Cook, during the course of his explorations of the eastern part of Australia, entered an inlet to the North of Botany Bay. On 17 May 1770 he named this inlet Moreton Bay, in honour of the Earl of Moreton. Settlement of the area did not commence until 1824, when Lieutenant Miller commanded a detachment of soldiers and convicts who established themselves on the Brisbane River.

In 1860, two troops of mounted infantry were raised in Queensland. They were known by their district titles as The Brisbane and Ipswich Troops respectively. As further troops were raised in the surrounding areas, the title of the Brisbane Mounted Rifles became more frequently used during the years 1877-1885. In 1891, the Brisbane troops and those from Dalton and North Pine were formed into the "Moreton Mounted Infantry". In 1900, the title Queensland Mounted Infantry was applied to all the Mounted Troops.

Burnett District

The Burnett River was named after Charles Burnett, in recognition of the great service he gave with the Surveyor General's office in NSW. The title as a regimental identification was not used until 1927.

Darling Downs

This district, bounded roughly by the Burnett River in the North, the Boyne in the West and Ipswich in the South, became a prolific source for the mounted militia.

In 1887, the districts west of the Moreton settlement were opened up by the botanist Alan Cunningham and the Darling Range was named after Sir Ralph Darling. In 1891, when the Brisbane troops formed the "Moreton Mounted Infantry", those troops located at Warwick and Toowoomba became the Darling Downs Mounted Infantry.


Capital and State Titles

Colonel William Light sailed from England in 1836 to survey for the new Colony of South Australia. He was followed by the first governor, Captain John Hindmarsh RN, who presided over the new (Adelaide) settlement on 28 December 1836.

Five years later, a squadron of cavalry was formed in Adelaide and they took the name of the Adelaide Lancers. This name changed, in 1884, to the Adelaide Mounted Rifle Corps with troops at Molong, Adelaide, Strathalbyn and Reedbeds. In 1899, the unit had adopted the State title of Fourth Australian Mounted Rifles with troops at Yankella, Inman Valley Port Victor, Jamestown, Mount Gambier and Wallaroo.

Barossa District

Colonel Light formerly served with the 4th Dragoons. During the Peninsular War, the British troops, which included the 4th Dragoons, defeated Marshal Victor at the "Heights of Barossa". On finding some hills in South Australia with similar features to those original heights, he named them the Barossa Range. The title Barossa did not appear until the reorganization following the Great War.


In 1829 Western Australia was proclaimed a British Colony at Fremantle.

The pattern of individual mounted troops appearing briefly in the mounted firmament, then falling into disrepair and disbandment was also evident in Western Australia. One of the earliest of these troops was the Pinjarra Mounted Rifles raised in 1858. The Guildford Mounted Rifles appeared in 1887 and between 1895 and 1899 a number of troops appeared in Perth only to fade away in the face of other interests.

The first use of a state Title occurred in 1900, when the Western Australian Mounted Infantry had detachments at Perth, Victoria Park, Cannington and Fremantle. The Bunbury Rifles had a mounted detachment in 1899. All these areas were to become the districts for the Western Australian Mounted Infantry following Federal reorganization.


The mounted troops in Tasmania are first recorded in 1860 when the Launceston Mounted Rifles are shown. By 1865 these troops rejoiced in the title of the 1st Light Cavalry Corps and remained thus until 1887. The Tasmanian Mounted Infantry was formed at Ulverstone during 1889.

The States' cavalry contribution to the new federal defence organization was as follows:

State Officers Officers Other Ranks Total Troops
NSW 88 1,695 19%  
Vic 52 1,033 17%  
QId 53 741 20%  
WA 32 799 29%  
Tas 5 91 5%  
  230 4,359 90%  

The new force consisted of:
  • 18 Light Horse regiments
  • The Sydney University Scouts
  • 29 Infantry regiments
  • The Melbourne University Rifles

Previous: The Australian Light Horse, Part 1

Next: The Australian Light Horse, Part 3


Further Reading:

The Australian Light Horse


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Part 2

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 15 May 2009 9:40 AM EADT

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