It’s a peculiar name, don’t you think, 1st Australian Horse? It doesn’t have much meaning for us today. However it resonated with young Rylstone men one hundred and twenty years ago, especially ones like my grandfather, whose trail I continue to follow.
For two years they had read about and watched from a distance as the volunteer military mounted force, the 1st Australian Horse, was formed throughout country NSW, enrolments beginning at Murrumburrah in 1897. The regiment was the brainchild of Captain Mackay, recently resigned from the Lancers and now taking on the role of commanding officer. He wanted young bushmen with their own horses (at least 15.1 hands in height), who were good horsemen, good shooters and physically superior (not under five feet six or less than a 34-inch chest). Interest was high. There would only be four squadrons of 100, each squadron with four troops of 25.
One of the first troops was raised at Lue; one of the first Lieutenants, Willoughby Dowling, from Lue Station. He commanded the Mudgee half-squadron and was keen to raise a Rylstone troop. That could only happen when the government voted to enlarge the regiment, which they did in 1898.
Notification appeared in the Mudgee Guardian early in January 1899 that enrolments in the crack regiment would take place at Rylstone on Saturday 21st. A good roll up of young men, living within twenty miles of the town, was expected. On that day young bloods, sons of pastoralists mainly, rode in to town on their horses, were inspected, learnt the conditions of the regiment and were sworn in at the courthouse. “A large crowd of townspeople attended to view the enrolment which has excited a great deal of interest and enthusiasm in this district,” reported the paper.
At the first drill a month later there was a roll up of 24 which included 14 recent recruits. There among the list was my nineteen-year-old grandfather, William Thomas Brown. The sergeant instructing the troop was Sergeant Instructor Messenger who had recently served in the 5th Dragoon Guards at Meerut in India. He was confident, personable and encouraging. By the end of the day another six had handed in their names.
What is it about young men in uniforms? The girls love them. And the boys love themselves. Certainly the uniform, issued out of a capitation of five pounds per head, was striking. Full dress in myrtle green with black facings, green slouch hat and black boots. The troopers were issued with black leather bridles, breastplates, saddles and saddle cloths, as well as a rifle and sword. The regimental badge like all military badges, was symbolic and emotive. The regiment’s motto ‘For hearths and homes’ reminded troopers that they were the protectors of loved ones, as much as they were protectors of country and empire. The shield of St George recalled the mother country but the other symbols – emu, kangaroo, stars of the southern cross and boomerang – affirmed the Australianness of this corps, at a time when the country was moving towards federation.
All troops need time in the field. That is why the Mudgee Squadron gathered on the Burrundulla paddocks at Mudgee and went under canvas for four days, from Thursday 21st September 1899 to Sunday 24th. Tents of course were pitched by the troops. The first care of cavalrymen is their horses so there were drills to do with watering, tethering, saddling, unsaddling and leg-roping, that last one causing most trouble from fractious horses. Reveille sounded at 5.30, the signal for the day’s hard graft including foot parade, mounted parade and escort of the Governor, their Colonel-in-Chief, who attended the camp. There was plenty of down-time too, much of it spent in the Canteen run by Mrs Albert of the Imperial Hotel. On Friday night there was a lecture with cigars passed around by Mr James Loneragan, on Saturday a camp fire concert, with music by the Mudgee band and most of the officers. On Sunday there was a church parade, followed by a service held under a large native appletree. Then there was a beer parade (and I’ll leave that to your imagination), before de-camping and catching the train back to Rylstone.
It was only a fortnight later that war broke out in Transvaal, South Africa. The Boers were fighting for independence, Britain was fighting to protect its African assets and Australians were fighting for Queen and Empire. Or rather, as Henry Lawson pointed out, they were fighting for the fun of it – ‘to have a spree’. Against all the jingoism and nationalism of the time, Lawson could not see why Australians were “willing to cross the sea and shoot men whom we never saw and whose quarrel we do not and cannot understand.”
There were plenty of volunteers for South Africa from the Mudgee squadron, though not my grandfather. It wasn’t long before reports came back of battles, skirmishes, woundings, deaths and enteric fever, which claimed many lives. Lieutenant Dowling, one of the first to volunteer was wounded, shot in the eye, hand and leg. William Bonner was the first local death, killed from shrapnel while riding alongside his brother Jack. Wallace Eames was one of the first to escape after being captured by the Boers.
Celebration of war was popular, the largest one occurring on 8th June 1900 when returned hero, Lieutenant Dowling was welcomed home, by no less than three members of parliament, a Major-General and the Royal Artillery Band. All had travelled to Rylstone by train. From the railway station through town to the hall went the procession, led by the band, the 1st Australian Horse and school girls carrying garlands of flowers. “The town was a mass of bunting, and Chinese lanterns were hung around in hundreds…Rockets soared high to the sky, Chinese crackers went off by the thousands…brilliant limelights illuminated a scene of unparalleled enthusiasm.” There were numerous speeches of course but the highlight was a presentation by the people of Rylstone district of an address and silver shield to Lieutenant Dowling while the band stationed outside played “Soldiers of the Queen”. It was “the greatest event Rylstone has ever witnessed,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Another event was less about war and more about romance, the (one and only I think) Rylstone Military Ball held in June 1903. The women got their names and dresses in the paper but the men were undoubtedly as appealing in their uniforms. The hall was draped in flags and one wall bore the arms of the troops. Entry was a high price at seven shillings and sixpence, but that reflected the importance of the occasion. Smart waiters served the food, organised by Mrs F Dunn, music was supplied by C H Taylor (cornet) and Miss Foody (piano) and dancing continued till 4.30am.
I am not exactly sure what happened to the Rylstone Troop of the 1st Australian Horse. Federation meant military forces came under the protection of the commonwealth not the states. The 1st Australian Horse was to become the Third Australian Light Horse. In August 1903 it was reported that Mudgee and Rylstone B Squadron resigned in protest against the military reorganisation. In any case by 1908 there wasn’t a local troop and the Mudgee Guardian reminded its readers “A lot of us remember how the 1st Australian Horse set fire to the ambitions of our bush youth. It bowled along successfully and then alas it died.”
You might know more about 1st Australian Horse, in which case why don’t you add your thoughts to this blog.
The newest recruits who attended the first drill on 18 February 1899:
Norman Leslie Ashe, Alfred Cooper Bayliss, George Brown, Thomas Brown, William Thomas Brown, Ephraim Clarke, Sydney John Finley, Alfred Joseph Herbert, Albert King, William McQuigguin, James Frederick Mills, Percy John Mills, George Thomas Mills, George Henry Soamberry. (Maitland Daily Mercury 3/3/1899)
Incomplete list of 1st Australian Horse Mudgee Squadron troopers who went to South Africa. Names were selected from
Mudgee Guardian 24/10/1899; 1/6/1900; 4/4/1900
The Australian Star 29/8/1901
Sydney Morning Herald 6/7/1900; 29/8/1901
National Roll, The 1st Australian Horse, Australian War Memorial:
Corporal John Alexander Stewart Andrews (died Cape Town hospital 5/3/1900)
Shoeing-smith Alfred William Armstrong (invalided Australia arrived 17/8/1900)
Leslie Stewart Bisley
John (Jack) Bonner Rylstone
William Thomas Bonner Rylstone (Killed Glen Siding 28/3/1900)
Charles Clifton Bosley
James Bucholtz Mudgee
Reginald Belmore Cox (died Adelaide hospital 24/1/1900)
Frederick William Dolman (invalided Australia arrived 15/9/1900)
Lieutenant Willoughby Vincent Dowling Lue (dangerously wounded Slingersfontein)
Wallace Eames Rylstone (invalided Australia arrived 30/8/00)
Shoeing-smith Michael John Ford (wounded Colesberg district; invalided Australia arrived 17/8/1900)
Troop Sergeant-Major George Allman Griffen (killed Slingersfontein 16/1/1900)
Alexander Hill (promoted Lance Corporal 17/2/1900; invalided Australia 6/8/1900)
Walter Joseph James (died Bloemfontein hospital 4/5/1900)
Herbert R Martin Rylstone (severely wounded Glen Siding; invalided Australia 6/8/1900)
William Patrick Meehan (died Adelaide hospital 24/1/1900)
Lawrence Alfred Palmer (severely wounded Poplar Grove; invalided Australia 24/11/1900)
Sidney Carew McDonald Parry (wounded near Johannesburg; invalided Australia arrived 28/5/1900)
Lance Corporal Sidney John Strike Mudgee (promoted Corporal 17/2/1900)
Frederick John Taylor Mundooran
Owen Albert Taylor Rylstone (wounded Drierfontein 10/3/1900)
Theodore Vehlmes Wessell Rylstone (severely wounded Glen Siding; invalided Australia 12/11/1900)
Corporal Rufus Roland Wilson
Selwyn Herbert Yarrington Rylstone (invalided Australia arrived 13/9/1900)