General Sir Harry Chauvel, GCMG, KCB in the Boer War




Activities of France and Germany in the Pacific, along with the rising power of Japan and Russia further north, had for several years been of concern to the fledgling State. The security of Queensland relied entirely on the ships of the Royal Navy.


Queensland had a very small navy, and a very small army including 150 all ranks of the Permanent Artillery who manned the forts at Thursday Island, Townsville and Fort Lytton at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Its infantry component included the Moreton Regiment to which Chauvel was posted as Adjutant.


The two battalions of the Moreton Regiment comprising ten companies had centres in Brisbane, Ipswich, Southport and other smaller localities. This kept Chauvel more than busy because to some extent he was still learning his trade. Hence he spent much of his spare time studying military history, particularly the American Civil War.


In 1897 he was selected to go to England with the Queensland Diamond Jubilee contingent and stay on for attachment to regular British infantry and mounted infantry units. He also qualified at the School of Musketry, Hythe—no doubt this reflected the skill he acquired growing up in country NSW and Queensland. The Queensland contingent rode behind Lord Roberts in the great procession through London on 21 June. Young Trooper TW (Bill) Glasgow rode behind him in the contingent and served under him in the Boer War and World War 1—a respect and friendship which lasted all their lives. Chauvel was to serve under Roberts during the Boer War.


While in England he was in the group which accompanied the Premier of Queensland to Warwick in the Midlands to present a silver cup and other gifts from Warwick in Queensland—sister city relationships obviously go back a long way. The Queenslanders proudly wore the emu plumes for the first time while they were in England.

Australian Rifles and Lancers in London 1897 Diamond Jubilee

The Queen's Jubilee medal (Image: AWM)

Back in Queensland, he resumed his life as adjutant of the Moreton Regiment—camps, inspections and administrative duties. He also indulged his love of horse racing, winning acclaim at the Warwick races in 1899. In March of that year, he was appointed Acting ADC to Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland, accompanying him on State visits to NSW and Victoria.


1899 was the year in which the move to Federation was still being pursued, but interest was overshadowed by events in South Africa. War on that sub-continent was imminent. Chauvel and Lieutenant Colonel Percy Ricardo, commander of the Queensland Mounted Infantry (QMI) began preparing to send a contingent. Chauvel was the enrolling officer and visited QMI centres on the Darling Downs and other areas. Together their efforts led to 250 volunteers from the QMI and a machine gun section from the Queensland Royal Australian Artillery being offered by the Commandant and the Premier for service in the event of war breaking out in South Africa.


War did break out on 11th October 1899 and Chamberlain, Britain’s Foreign Secretary requested each of the colonies to send troops. The QMI was ready under command of Ricardo, and Chauvel was its Adjutant, but there was still much to be done assembling horses and stores for the long sea journey. The troops departing comprised 14 officers and 248 men of the QMI, plus 1 officer and 16 gunners of the machine gun section.


Preparation of the contingent aroused much interest throughout the colony and volunteers were feted.  Farewell dinners were held during which the soldiers, on one occasion, had to sit through ten speeches. Funds were raised to ensure each member of the contingent for 250 pounds. The Lady Mayoress formed a committee of ladies who prepared a guidon which was presented at a parade before embarkation.


The contingent marched through the streets of Brisbane where they were reviewed by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Samuel Griffith. They were given rousing cheers by the citizens who lined the streets. 1st November 1899 was declared a public holiday so that the families and citizens could farewell the troops as they sailed from Pinkenba wharf on the SS Cornwall. At last, the Queenslanders were on their way to active service.