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Friday, 31 October 2003
3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse New South Wales, The Manhattan Military Incident Embarkation Desertions
Topic: BW - NSW - 3ACH

3rd ACH (NSW)

3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse New South Wales

The Manhattan Military Incident, Embarkation Desertions


The Manhattan Military Incident

[The Hobart Mercury, 5 April 1902, p.4.]


The Manhattan Military Incident

Possibly one of the major breaches of military discipline was know as The Manhattan Military Incident. It occurred on the night of 1 April 1902. The men were on board the SS Manhattan and had been given advance pay. From the men of the 3rd ACH and Carrington Horse, some 25 left the ship and went into Sydney. Ten men returned in a drunken condition but 15 remained in Sydney when the Manhattan left Sydney Harbour.

The breach of discipline was so large that the Commanding Officer of the 3rd ACH was sacked on the spot and replaced by a Victorian. 

Below is the transcript of the Hobart Mercury article which, at the time, best summed up the story.


The Manhattan Military Incident.

Lieut.-Colonel Wallack, who has been relieved of the command of the 3rd Battalion, left for Melbourne to-night.

The police have been supplied with the ' description of about 25 men, who deserted from the troopship, after drawing advance pay, but, it is now stated, that fully a dozen of them succeeded in getting back to the troopship after the shore officials had left.

A Military Sensation.

Carouse of Sydney Contingenters.

Officer In Charge Relieved Of His Command.

General Hutton Angry.

"For God's Sake Don't Tarnish The Name Of Australians."

("Argus," April 3.)

Sydney, Wednesday.

A sensation has been created in military circles, in foot, throughout the city, by the decisive action taken by Major General Hutton in relieving Colonel Wallack of the command of the Third Battalion of the Federal Contingent. The officers and men boarded the transport yesterday, and were not supposed to go ashore again. Early this morning rumours were flying abroad that by some means or other the men had managed to get ashore, and were drinking heavily in Sydney. Unfortunately, there was a good deal of truth in the rumours, and when Major-General Hutton boarded the transport Manhattan shortly after noon his quick eye detected something wrong with the battalion. The men were drawn up on deck, and there was an unsteadiness about them which angered General Hutton very much, and caused him to speak in severe tones. Long before he made his official speech it was explained that several of the men were missing from the contingent, having deserted during the night. There were also a few missing who had neglected to catch the transport at Woolloomooloo Bay. The contingenters were paid on board after embarkation, and it is understood that a very large number of them, assisted by their friends, got over the side of the transport into watermen's boats during the night, and made their way into Sydney. Even while General Hutton was on board the transport men were being helped on to the transport in a state of intoxication, and among those already on board there were a few who had taken more liquor than was good for them.

A sensation was caused on board by the announcement that Colonel Wallack, C.B., the officer in command of the battalion, had been relieved of his command, Major Clarke, second in command, was sent for by the G.O.C., and ordered to take command until the transport reached Adelaide, where she would take on board a new commanding officer, probably Major Wallace, of Melbourne, who was to have commanded the next battalion. A tender, conveying Lieut. Robbins, R.N., was at once sent to the Imperial transport authorities to secure the requisite permission for the steamer to put in at Adelaide on her way to Durban. Brigadier-General Finn, State Commandant, bade tho troops good-bye, and read a short farewell message from the Governor-General. The State Minister for Public Works, Mr. O'Sullivan, in the course of a short speech, bade the troops good-bye, and read a letter, from the State Lieut.-Governor, Sir Frederick Darley, wishing them God speed.

Meanwhile, Major-General Hutton had been standing by making observations, and there was fire in his eye and vigour in his voice as he stepped forward to make a few remarks. He said:- "Colonel Walleck, Major Brown, and you men of the Australian Commonwealth Horse and Carrington Contingent, - I am by no means satisfied with what I hear. I always think that when I look at soldiers in the face and they are called at attention and they don't stand absolutely at attention, there is something not quite right. Now recollect this, soldiers, there's the discipline of the barrack square, or outward form of discipline which ends short of the battlefield, and there's true discipline, the discipline of the men themselves, which remains always. It is not your horsemanship, remember; it is not your marksmanship, but it is the strong individuality of your individual characters that makes you Australians so valuable as soldiers. That individuality is worth nothing without discipline - not the discipline of pipe-clay or close heels, but the discipline you maintain among themselves. Now you officers recollect this, please. Your position as officers and leaders of men does not depend upon your uniform, it does not depend on your lace or stars, or on your shoulder-straps. It depends on your own strong will and experience, and the great care with which you look after your men, and the cool intrepidity with which you lead them into action. Now, something has happened within the last 24 hours that I heartily regret, and I feel Australia will be ashamed of, and I feel sure that you men here will also. I understand there are some men who had enlisted into this battalion who last night, after receiving their pay, deserted from His Majesty's service. Men guilty of desertion, of course, are liable to be tried by court martial, and punished, and I hope we shall get hold of and make an example of these men in this connection. Regarding the soldierly behaviour and discipline of Australian troops, I may say that in all my experience in South Africa I never had a single case of court-martial, nor, so far as I am aware, any serious lapse of discipline, and that in a force of 6,000 men. The word "attention" -is this, and that applies to your horses as well as yourselves. Every man's thoughts and ideas and actions centred on his leader, and it was the same with the horses. When, therefore, you get into a tight place and bullets are whistling all round you, then is the time when you are called to attention, and that is the time you want to stand thoroughly to attention. That is the reason why we leaders of men want you to be immovable; it is all towards your behaviour in action." The Major General then pointed out in characteristic language the absolute importance of perfect steadiness under arms. He said; "I trust that you officers and men realise your grave responsibility, and will maintain the high name for gallantry, good order and discipline in the field which are the proud attributes of Australian troops in South Africa. You have not got to make your name as Australian soldiers, you have to maintain it. Whatever you do is for the honour mid credit of Australia."

General Hutton after making reference to the shooting of Australian officers in South Africa, concluded thus: - I wish you good luck in South Africa, but for goodness sake remember you take with you both the honour and renown won already by Australians and for God's sake don't tarnish it."

The transports sailed for Durban shortly after 2 o'clock.


The suspected deserters

The following list has been produced detailing the names of the suspected deserters. No specific list was produced by the Department of Defence for publication so it has been produced through a process of elimination. All members who were accounted for through various orders, transfers, casualty and all other noted events, either gazetted or reported, the balance being, by process of elimination, those who never made it to South Australia and thus never returned to Australia or were demobilised in South Africa or went to Britain. Since there is no other explanation for their absence from any list, by default, there is every possiblity that they are the deserters from the 3rd ACH mentioned in the newspaper reports. The men from Carrington Horse who deserted cannot be located as readily and thus are not part of this list.


This list

1434 Trooper Charles BARKER

1436 Trooper James CASTRAY

1748 Trooper Daniel CAVANAGH

1462 Trooper Benjamin D FRASER

1821 Trooper William H NEWHAM
1619 Trooper Patrick J QUINN

1687 Trooper FM REYNOLDS

1496 Trooper Thomas W SMITH



The unanswered question to this day is: how did these men achieve this circumstance? Bear in mind that the ship was well guarded to prevent this very event from occurring while at harbour.  Most ships lost one or two men who were able to slip over the side of a ship through stealthy means. But here there were 25 men. The sheer number was too difficult to conceal. How did they get past the guards? That question still remains unanswered.

Then there was the problem of getting from the ship into Sydney. The water was cold which meant that swimming was out of the question as hypothermia would have killed any escapee within the hour. Boats were used. They had to have been previously arranged. One can only conclude that this was a well planned escapade amongst the 15 men who did not return.



Further Reading:

3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse New South Wales

3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse New South Wales, Roll of Honour 

Boer War, 1899 - 1902

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: 3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse New South Wales, The Manhattan Military Incident Embarkation Desertions

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 10 May 2010 1:00 PM EADT

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