Monday, July 31, 2017

More lost Australians?

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

On 19 August 1933, an E.H. Stephens, former trooper in the West Australian Bushmen, 3rd Contingent, wrote to the Editor of The West Australian from the Cecil Hotel, Umtali, while on a return pilgrimage to the places he had travelled through when serving in the Boer War and he described each place as they were now compared to 1900.

Marandellas in the 1930s
(The railway line and station are behind the photographer.)
Copyright Tony Ward

What he had to say about Marandellas throws up more evidence that supports the erroneous recording of deaths from diseases and accidents and that far more men may lie in Paradise than previously thought:

“On arrival at [Marandellas] I found a new and up-to-date school built on the very site where our horse lines were located when we passed through that place in 1900. I was distressed to find there sixteen graves of soldiers with no inscription on them whatsoever. It would appear that the names had been painted on the iron standards at the head of each grave some considerable time ago, but in the course of time all these had become illegible. I made inquiries from the police at Marandellas and was informed that they did not know who were the men buried there, but thought that they were Australians. I am taking up this matter with the Minister of Defence at Canberra to see that, if these are Australian graves, some suitable inscription should be placed there to mark the fact that Australians passed through Marandellas to the relief of Mafeking in the early part of 1900.”
Sixteen graves found by E.H. Stephens! Even allowing for some of them to be soldiers from other British contingents, it is still astonishing and adds yet another angle to this series of blog posts that was originally intended to try and establish the backgrounds of the mere handful of individuals thought to be buried at Paradise Cemetery but, with each discovery, is shaping up to be a far more complicated project that turns a lot of official Boer War information on its head.

Stephens goes on to write this about Umtali and the other graves en route to Beira. 

“From Marandellas I came down to Umtali and I found the graves of a large number of Australians and Imperial Yeomanry, who died in that town, chiefly of malarial fever. I am very pleased to state, and no doubt relatives of the fallen will be pleased to know, that the graves of these men have been carefully tended and looked after ever since their burial, by the Loyal Women’s Guild of Umtali. When my wife and I visited the cemetery fresh flowers were on every soldier’s grave, and a little bush of Christ-thorn had been planted on each grave, and each plant was flowering gaily in memory of the brave men who gave up their lives in the service of their country so long ago.”

Whether he did get any action from the Australian Defence Ministry is unknown, but it is so sad that today the cemetery at Umtali (Mutare) once so “carefully tended” and its graves of Boer War soldiers are now reduced to this:-

Other graves en-route were not faring so well either by the 1930s and it is assumed no trace of any now remain.

“I was very grieved to hear that graves of all the soldiers who were buried in Portuguese territory, which lies between Umtali and the town of Beira, were in great disrepair, and not one single name was filled in on these graves. In most cases, tall rank grass covered the spot of these men’s last resting place. It is a serious reflection on our country that the graves of our men who died on foreign soil should be treated in such a way. I am mentioning this matter also to the Minister of Defence to see if any Australian graves are amongst these, so that evidence of these men having been buried there should be erected.”

He concludes with wishing his “old comrades of the Boer War” well and his “memories of the many fine fellows of whom it was my privilege to be a comrade so long ago.”

Here are some Australians who may be among those sixteen buried at Paradise Cemetery but with their deaths erroneously attributed to other places and before well-meaning groups like the Loyal Women’s Guild belatedly tried to restore their markers, only to add to the mess. The best clue as to where they died is by correlating dates of their deaths with the movements of their units (on the understanding, of course, some sick men may have been left behind and not recorded as so). 

John Campbell Duncan McPherson Swan, Private 584, 3rd Contingent, Victorian Imperial Bushmen. 

Born Purnim  near to Warrnambool, Victoria, on 16 March 1877. His occupation, a station manager at Purnim and his marital status, single. His next of kin were his parents, John William Swan and Jane Swan (nee Campbell). A Protestant by religion, he stood 5 feet 11 1/4 inches. Sailed on the Euralyus from Melbourne on 10 March 1900 and disembarked at Beira on 3 April 1900 to join the Rhodesian Field Force.

Although official cause of death on 28 May 1900 is shown as enteric or malarial fever (these cannot be the same thing, enteric is another name for typhoid) there are also reports that in his delirium he took carbolic acid by mistake instead of his proper medicine and died of poisoning and thus is also listed as a suicide. As with the tragic mistakes discovered earlier that went on in the field hospitals of the time, this is something that would cause outrage in our day and be the subject of a major inquiry. One wonders if his family were ever told the truth or got to the bottom of it. Australian Boer War entry here. 

Thomas Barham Foster, Private No. 367 of D Squadron, 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen.

When Captain Joseph Dallimore wrote about Trooper John Kiley’s death (see earlier blog post here), he mentioned Kiley was “the second” man from D Squadron to die in Marandellas and thus the first must have been Thomas Barham Foster. (D Squadron had arrived in Marandellas in July.)

Born Sale, Victoria, 27 July 1875, he stated his occupation as a Miner from Inglewood. He was single. He shows his brother, Arthur Alexander Foster, of Dunolly, Victoria, as next of kin, and parents William Henry Foster and Catherine McLean Foster, nee Paterson. Religion, Church of England. Sailed from Port Melbourne on the Victorian. Died of enteric on 22 August 1900.

In 1903, his old college at Ballarat arranged a memorial plaque for him and three other old collegians who died during the Boer War, but it is not known if it still exists. Australian Boer War entry here.

Sergeant Herbert Brent is described in the book That Ragged Mob as the “first casualty of the Victorians”, who died after an accident on the railway line on 14 May 1900.

Sergeant Brent had served with the New South Wales Militia prior to going to live in Victoria and “was one of the first to be offered Sergeant’s stripes when he was accepted for the Bushmen Contingent.”  This entry from the Bendigo Advertiser of 23 May 1900:

Carisbrook, 22nd May
This afternoon Mrs. Brent received a telegram from the Minister of Defence conveying the painful news that her husband, Sergeant Herbert Brent, of the third Victorian, or Bushmen's contingent, had been killed in a railway accident near Umpati [sic. Umtali]. Most of the residents were at the time engaged in making preparations for the Mafeking demonstration tomorrow night, and Major Bruhn immediately postponed it to Thursday. Sergeant Brent, on joining the contingent, relinquished the business of the Carisbrook hotel. His previous experience as a member of the New South Wales permanent forces led to his appointment as a non-commissioned officer of the contingent. He was a member of the Carisbrook Borough Council, and the vacancy created by his departure, was only filled a few days ago. He was also a lieutenant of the Carisbrook Fire Brigade. He was about 36 years of age and leaves a widow and four young children. The sad news cast a gloom over the town.
The reasons for his death have several versions, but the basic fact is that he was accidentally killed by the train that was bringing the men from Umtali to Marandellas. His “particularly gruesome” end happened when he fell from the engine and had his arms cut by the wheels. Some reports say the engine driver was intoxicated and Brent tried to drive the train, or that he’d been travelling on the running board and collided with an embankment. Some even went so far to ask what was a untrained publican doing trying to help drive a train anyhow?

Apparently there is a private letter that states Brent was buried “the next day at 7 a.m. in Marandellas 'on a bright sunny morning with full military honours'.But, then you have some newspapers telling their readers that Brent died in Winburg, a town in The Orange Free State of South Africa over 1,000 miles away!

A brief investigation of Herbert Brent via Ancestry family trees suggests he was older than stated (b. 1863) and the son of a convict transported for larceny, also that he had been married twice and had many more children than just the three/four mentioned in the reports. One has to wonder why a man with so many responsibilities wanted to volunteer for such an enterprise in the first place.

Carisbrook Hotel, c. 1930

I was about to include Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant John Nathaniel Walton No. 275 of the New South Wales Citizen Bushmen as another possible in Paradise, as he has several entries suggesting he was buried at Marandellas, but this detailed report in The Ballarat Star of 17 July 1900 by Reverend James Green, the Chaplain accompanying this contingent, confirms beyond doubt he died and was buried at Iron Mine Hill. 

It is worth including here this poignant extract as it gives some idea of how the graves of these men have become lost to history (also that of the pioneer father and his two children). Perhaps the pile of stones is still there although any wooden cross would not last long in Africa:-

" ... At noon of the 21st, Quartermaster-Sergeant John N. Walton, who had been ill more or less since leaving Marandellas became very much worse. He had been relieved of his duties ... and was lying on the waggons during the trek. He became unconscious when being assisted off one of the waggons. Captain Machattie decided that it would necessary to leave Walton at Iron Mine Hill. I stayed with him, and had a supply of invalid's food and some medicine with which to nurse him. Mrs. Svenson, the proprietress of the store, was very kind and we occupied a Kaffir hut near the store. I kept my horse with me, in order to follow the detachment. Unfortunately I was disappointed in my hope of nursing poor Walton well, for he gradually sank, and never regained consciousness. He died at 3.10 a.m. on 22nd May of congestion of the brain following malarial fever and bronchitis. I stopped a waggon-load of "boys" who were going to work on the road at 4 a.m. The foreman allowed me three boys to dig a grave. They worked until 2.30 p.m. as the ground was rocky. We dug the grave in a line with three other graves, in which were buried Mrs. Svenson's husband and two children, who died of fever at Iron Mine Hill. The only two white settlers, who were very kind, tried their best to make a coffin of packing case wood, but found it impossible with the short wood they had. We were reluctant to bury him in his blankets, though that is the custom on the veldt. After searching we found an old sheet of corrugated iron; this we placed on the bottom of the grave. We built a wall of stone around this, and made a strong lid to fit on top of it. At 4 o'clock on the same day we buried him. We put a wooden cross at the head of the grave, with name and suitable inscription painted upon it. ...."

Some nations and veterans organisations spend an inordinate amount of time and expense restoring cemeteries from the last two world wars, creating beautiful gardens and fixing up weathered or damaged gravestones, yet the scattered war cemeteries in Africa seem doomed to be neglected or completely forgotten. 

The photograph below taken in 1980 is probably the last time any Australian soldiers tended to the graves at Paradise and it is unlikely to happen again while the regime in Zimbabwe remains hostile towards any commemoration of its prior colonial history.

Front page, The Canberra Times
February 19, 1980

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The man who never reached Paradise.

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below

When I began this project of researching the stories of what I thought was a mere handful of individuals buried in the tiny Paradise Cemetery in Marandellas [Marondera, Zimbabwe], I had no idea where it was going to take me, let alone how complicated it would get. The more I delve into the sources available to me, the murkier it all becomes. 

And I certainly had no idea I would stumble across a story about one man's treatment that created a major controversy in New Zealand in 1900-1901.

I am also finding yet more confirmation of official records that don't match with the evidence, errors and confusion over town names as to who was buried where or when and that it is highly likely that there are more Boer War personnel buried in Paradise than those listed in the published sources. 

One man said to be buried in Paradise is definitely not there. Although it means I've had to diverge from my original focus, his story and what happened after his death is worth putting on the record.

Although ZimFieldGuide and the Sabretache article suggest that Trooper F. Saxon of the New Zealand Rough Riders is buried in Paradise, I have now established that he never even reached Marandellas in the first place. He did not get beyond Beira and was laid to rest in the Santa Isabel Cemetery.

Follow this newspaper link for details of his full military burial service conducted by Her Brittanic Majesty's Consul in Beira. Feilding Star 27 August 1900.

A dashing New Zealand Rough Rider
Image from Te Ara

Shortly after this funeral, accusations of incompetence in hospital care were made in The New Zealand Times by that newspaper's official correspondent to the Boer War, Alfred Morton.

It has all the ingredients that would be right at home in our own 21st Century media scrum. Genuine investigative journalism or "fake news"? True recollections of fellow soldiers or "mis-remembrances"? Army cover up, political point-scoring or personal vendetta?

Who and what to believe?

In my earlier post about John Kiley from Australia, it was an army officer who gave his own private opinion on the disgraceful state of affairs in the hospital where Kiley died, but nothing further seems to have come of it. But here is a case debated publicly across New Zealand that no doubt caused the family considerable anger and stress to add to their grief and went as far as questions being raised in the NZ House of Representatives.

What makes it even more poignant is that this is the first image that I have found to put a face to a name; a handsome young Rough Rider whose natural robust health should have helped him to conquer a malarial fever that far less fit men managed to overcome but who became the victim of inadequate medical care at a critical time in his illness.

Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph

The saga is largely gleaned from the pages of New Zealand newspapers available online via Papers Past. Although mindful that what you read in newspapers is never to be fully trusted, one has to draw one's own conclusions and ask the important question:-

Why would the war correspondent, Alfred Morton - who described himself as a "conscientious journalist" - deliberately risk his career by challenging the top brass in the NZ army contingent with an invention? 

John Frederick Hyde Saxon was born in 1873. He seems to have been known as Fred and he signed his enlistment papers as Frederick. His occupation was Farmer, his height 5 ft 11 ins. His family were well-known pioneers in the Manawatu District.

Fred joined the 7th Company of the 4th New Zealand Rough Riders and sailed on the SS Gymeric from Lyttleton, NZ on 31 March 1900. 

SS Gymeric prior to her departure from New Zealand

The NZ Archives hold the Boer War record of service for Frederick Saxon, including statements relevant to his illness that can be read online here. They give his date of death as 19 June 1900 from malarial fever and burial in Beira, Mozambique.

On 25 June 1900 this appeared in the Feilding Star[original block text in these reports has been broken up into paragraphs to make the reading easier]
The Late Fred Saxon
When the news reached Feilding on Saturday of the death of Fred Saxon, a son of Mr John Saxon (now of Kereru, but one of the oldest and most respected settlers in this district) very general sorrow was felt and expressed.
It will be remembered that Fred Saxon joined the fourth contingent of Rough Riders, and  sailed for South Africa in the Gymeric. He was well liked by all owing to his many amiable qualities, and was of a most affectionate and kindly disposition combined with courage and determination. He was also a hard worker, and promised to make a good soldier as well as a useful settler.
Very general sympathy has been expressed for the bereaved parents and other members of this esteemed family. As a token of respect for the deceased soldier the flag at the Volunteer Drill Hall was hoisted at half mast.

Reports in various NZ newspapers including Nelson Evening Mail 16 October, also Otago Witness, 10 October 1900, printed various edited reports of Alfred Morton's statement that Fred Saxon had been subjected to shocking treatment during his final days.

Most of the reports are in a similar vein, but here is one of the more complete transcripts from the Feilding Star of 5 October 1900 

Death of Trooper Saxon
Writing under date Marandellas, July 24th, the special correspondent of the New Zealand Times, recorded as follows the disgraceful circumstances under which Trooper Saxon, of Feilding, went to his death in South Africa: —
In a previous letter I mentioned that Trooper Saxon who had been left behind on the hospital ship at Beira, was reported to be dead, and stated that if the report proved to be correct, I would have something further to say about his case. I would that poor Saxon had lived to make known with his own lips the shocking manner in which he had been treated, but as he now lies beneath the sod it is clearly my duty as a conscientious journalist to speak for the dead, regardless of consequences to the living, though it causes me great pain to do so, for I feel that what I have to say will inevitably bring discredit on someone, and just as likely as not on the wrong one.
On my return to camp after an absence of two days, I found the place deserted. Camp had been "struck," and the squadron to which poor Saxon belonged had entrained for Marandellas. Knowing that a number of New Zealanders were in the hospital, an old building which had been re erected at the end of the paddock a day or two previously, stretched out on a heap of straw in a more or less neglected state, I immediately proceeded to the hospital to see what had become of the unfortunate patients for whom I had many times felt in inclined to intercede but of course would only have laid myself open to be told to mind my own business, as it was no part of my business as a correspondent to interfere with camp arrangements.
My feelings on entering the building may be more easily imagined than described when to my surprise I found one solitary occupant, the emaciated form of Trooper F. Saxon, once a fine, strong young fellow, whose acquaintance I had made during the voyage. There, on the dirty floor, in the midst of swarms of flies, fragments of some decomposed food and dirty utensils, the poor fellow lay as helpless as a child, with nothing but this filthy chaos and the dirty, dismal walls of the building and complete solitude to cheer his rapidly expiring spirits.
A second glance was not necessary to convince me that my appearance had intensified the cause of the poor man's grief, for his eyes were still full of tears, and no wonder. I never in my life saw such a scandalous state of things. If the poor man had been a common criminal he could not have been treated in a more brutal manner.
In reply to my inquiry as to his condition he said, “I am well enough, only I feel dreadfully weak. I have been starved. I have had nothing to eat since evening, this was at 4 p m yesterday, when I had a bit of biscuit and a drop of tea. I am supposed to get beef tea and cornflour, but I have only had it once or twice. When I complained to the man who is supposed to attend to us he told me to get up and attend to myself or go without. I have not been able to walk for some time, I have been too weak. No one seems to take any interest in us or care whether we live or die. None of the officers have been near us.” Contradicting himself, he said, “Well, yes, Lieutenant Collins frequently came to see us, but most of the Auckland officers called almost every day to see their men.”
These statements, of course, were not made exactly in the order in which they are given, and in justice to the dead I may add that they were not made in a vindictive tone or spirit. Far from it. The poor fellow was too much overcome to entertain ill feeling towards anyone even though it was certainly deserved. I felt very indignant to learn that a helpless fellow countryman had been treated in such a heartless manner, and expressed my determination to let the New Zealand public know how the field hospital was being conducted.
But poor Saxon burst into tears and said, “Oh, please don't say anything about it just now. It would kill my poor mother if she knew how I was being treated.” It was most affecting. I shall never forget the incident -- to see an unfortunate young fellow, once strong and active, crying and sobbing as though his heart would break, evidently conscious that his end was near and that he would see his aged mother no more.
I, of course, did my best to pacify him, and went immediately to the staff officer to see what could be done for the poor fellow. I explained that he was in a dying condition without food, attendance or necessaries of any kind, and that he had been in that condition for 24 hours The officer sent two stretcher bearers away for the invalid at once, with instructions to remove him to the hospital ship without delay.
Nine days later poor Saxon breathed his last, and on the following day (June 17th [19th?]), he was buried at Beira with full military honors, E squadron, Victorian Imperial Regiment, forming the firing party. 
For reasons which will be appreciated by all intelligent readers, I have remained silent up to present moment, but I have no hesitation in saying that poor Saxon’s death was largely, if not entirely, due to neglect, and I say this fully conscious of the seriousness of the statement.

This sensational report was swiftly followed up on 8 October 1900 by a contradictory one in the same Feilding Star:
Trooper Saxon's Death.
Trooper De Loree of the Third Contingent, who was invalided home from South Africa lately was in Palmerston on Friday. In conversation with a representative of the Manawatu Times, he alluded to a statement which had been published by the New Zealand Times concerning Trooper Saxon's death, and said he was anxious that certain facts supplied to him should appear in print, as he was convinced the account published by the Times was incorrect.
Trooper De Loree then proceeded to state that the steamer by which he returned from South Africa also brought, amongst others, three Australian Bushmen who had been sent down from Beira as invalids. 
The Bushmen furnished many details concerning Beira and especially alluded to the hospital arrangements. They stated that in the same hospital as themselves was a young man named Saxon, belonging to one of the New Zealand contingents.The Bushmen had become acquainted with Saxon and they gave an account of his illness and how he eventually died.
At this time nothing was known on board the ship as to the statements made regarding the alleged neglect of Saxon, and Trooper De Loree says the Bushmen, unsolicited, praised the hospital in which Saxon and themselves were placed, and specially stated there was no fault to be found with their treatment.
Trooper De Loree says, in the face of the statements made to him by the Bushmen, he does not believe Saxon was in any way neglected, as there was nothing to be gained by the men telling him a wrong story, and even then when it was related to him none of them on board ship had any idea that a statement had been forwarded to New Zealand with regard to Saxon. Trooper De Loree says Colonel Hoad, of the First Australian Horse, has the names of the Bushmen referred to, which the Colonel will be only too willing to supply should further information be required.
And here is Fred's father’s letter to the editor of the Feilding Star, 25 April 1901 [unfortunately the issue of 17th is unavailable] and it is clear John Saxon was not happy with the explanation he eventually received from the man in charge, Col. Joe R. Sommerville.



SIR, -- In your issue of the 17th inst. you give an abridged account of Colonel Sommerville’s explanation re the treatment of my late son Trooper Saxon. I can only say the Times correspondent made a straight accusation of gross neglect, giving the time he was left alone. The same has been corroborated by many others. If it is not true then there is a libel on the commanding officers, and the correspondent should be made to prove his statement. At present nothing has been done to refute it.
 I am, etc.,
Koputarua, Manwatu Line. 
Fred's father, John Saxon (1837-1912)
Maj. (later Col.) J.R. Sommerville

And here is another side to the story from The Manawatu Times, 7 June 1901, Although the correspondent Alfred Morton definitely reported from Rhodesia, this Trooper Houston says he never went there! Dislike of reporters? Selective memory?

The Late Trooper Saxon.
The Tikokino correspondent of the H.B. Herald supplies the following: Trooper Houston, of the New Zealand Fourth Contingent, who has just returned from South Africa, is visiting relatives in this district, and has met with a cordial welcome here. Trooper Houghton has given most graphic accounts of the doings of the Fourth and Fifth Contingents in South Africa, and he says that the letter which was sent from Beira by a correspondent which referred to the illness and death of the late Trooper Saxon was a wilful misrepresentation of the facts of the case.
All that was possible to be done was done for the dying man, and the reason why the other officers besides Captain Pringle (Captain Pringle did visit the sick trooper) did not go to see Trooper Saxon was because they were down with fever themselves. The correspondent who wrote the misleading letter did not go with the contingents to Rhodesia, and he was "not missed" when left behind.
Alfred Morton did not alter his story. Here are some links to various reports in the same vein - including the possibility of bringing the matter before a Royal Commission - but whether Fred Saxon's father and family ever received a satisfactory explanation or apology is unknown. (Any descendants or others reading this who can throw further light on the matter, please do contact me to set the record straight.)

3 October 1900

4 October 1900

5 September 1901

14 September 1901

A typical ward on board a Boer War hospital ship

There are a number of genealogical sources online for the pioneering Saxon family in New Zealand. One describes a memorial service being held in 1901 for Fred Saxon at St. Mary’s Church, Levin, when a stained glass window was erected in his memory that read:
“To the glory of God and in memory of John Frederick Hyde Saxon, Fourth Contingent Wellington Rough Riders, who died of malaria at Beira, South Africa, June 19th 1900. Aged 26 years
The NZ War Graves Project has the sad statement that the lone New Zealander's grave “no longer exists” in Beira. It is not known if his grave ever had a marker to begin with, but at least he is remembered in perpetuity in a beautifully crafted artwork in his homeland.

(Note the initials J.F.H.S within the wreath)
The Saxon stained glass window
Lady Chapel of St Mary's Anglican Church, Levin, New Zealand
From Kete Horowhenua

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.e.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

From 'the sunlit plains extended' to Paradise

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below

This poignant memorial to just one individual can be found in the small town of Sea Lake in the heart of Australia’s wheat belt. It commemorates another young man who lies in the woodland of Africa in the Paradise Cemetery and far away from his home on the sunlit plains extended *

Private John Kiley, Trooper of the 4th contingent of the Victorian Imperial Bushmen, Service No. 418, lies either in grave No 2 or No 7, depending on which source you follow as per the ZimFieldGuide. As with others buried there, there is much confusion and even a mix-up with another trooper called Kelly, but the Australian Boer War records are pretty clear as to his name being Kiley. See the Boer War database. He is also officially commemorated at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

John Kiley was born in 1870, possibly in Garvoc, Victoria, the eldest of ten children born to Irish immigrants to Australia, Patrick Kiley (1846-1928) originally from Marlfield, Clonmel in Tipperary, and Annie Welsh (1845-1905) who came from Tuam, Galway. ** 

More information about John Kiley is found in the excellent and eye-opening work on the 3rd and 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen, That Ragged Mob by Robin Droogleever, which tells the stories of Australian volunteers to the Boer War in considerable detail. What is particularly interesting - and at times almost disturbing - is the incompetence and mismanagement at all levels and general disarray that accompanied a good part of Australia’s contribution to the Boer War and led to irritation, outright anger and even ill-advised actions on the part of its participants. Commenting on any of this in depth is far from the remit of this blog which is purely a genealogical research project into a handful of individuals buried in one cemetery, but the book is highly recommended reading for anyone who wishes to study the topic in greater depth. Also, many of Droogleever’s sources are not available in the public domain and his book is invaluable in it is the only source of many photos and extracts of diaries and journals that have not been reproduced elsewhere and are still in private hands.

As our John Kiley never got to see active service, the fighting campaign detailed in the book is not relevant to him. The biographical entry matches most information available elsewhere with the addition of an actual birth date, religion and physical characteristics:
“KILEY, John, Private [418], D Squadron. Born 19/3/70. Farmer. Single. NOK: Father, P. Kiley, Boigbeat. Religion: Roman Catholic. Height 5 feet 11 3/4 ins. Chest measurement 40 1/2 ins. Left Port Melbourne on the Victorian, 1/5/00 for South Africa, disembarking at Beira, 23/5/00. Died of pneumonia at Marandellas, 13/10/00. Buried Marandellas (now Marondera, Zimbabwe) Medal entitlement: QSA and two clasps: cc/rhod.”
Boigbeat is in the Mallee, a region of sand and salt bush, with the odd scattering of red gums. Life there in the latter part of the 19th Century would have been extremely tough and challenging with droughts and dust storms and plagues of mice, rabbits and grasshoppers, but the Kiley family would have learned how to cope, to be self-sufficient and enterprising in order to survive and make some sort of success of it. He was probably an excellent horseman and used to roughing it outdoors in rugged terrain. Temperatures in the Mallee can be extreme, searing heat in the summer, frosts in winter. Even today, it can be a daunting environment for any soft city dweller.

Images of farming The Mallee, c. 1900  (State Library of Victoria)

What made John Kiley, a Roman Catholic of Irish origins, give up his farming and decide to go a’soldiering on behalf of Queen Victoria is unknown, but the fact that his future commanding officer, Captain Joseph Dallimore, DSO, came from the Warrnambool area and that Kiley’s family had previously lived in Garvoc not far away hints at some possible link.

The selection process required physical strength, excellent riding and shooting skills and no doubt John would have passed these without difficulty. After training at “Australia’s Aldershot”, otherwise Langwarrin, the contingent and their horses sailed on the Victorian for Africa, arriving at Beira, Portuguese East Africa [Mozambique], on 23 May 1900.

 S.S. Victorian

In spite of earlier bad experiences, the port continued to be used for strategic reasons as it was the gateway to Rhodesia and the northern defence against the Boers to the south in the Transvaal.

Offloading horses of the 4th VIB at Beira (Australian War Memorial)
Beira c. 1900s (Wikipedia)

Beira at that time was notorious, described by one traveller as a fly-blown and wretched place built on sand” and riddled with fever due to the swampy malarial land behind it. Horses fell ill from diseases such as African horse sickness and glanders. Men who didn’t get sick from fever or dysentery and had too much time on their hands often got drunk or indulged in the usual attractions of a seedy cosmopolitan port with the inevitable problems with discipline.

Captain Joseph Dallimore was increasingly annoyed with the delay but by the time “D” Squadron was ready to move on from Beira he tells us that: “Two men, Alexander Gillanders [559] from Cargarie and John Kiley [418] from Boigbeat were left behind, having been sent to the hospital ship with fever.”

While John Kiley was on the hospital ship, his squadron embarked on the journey from Beira to Marandellas (approximately 190 km/118 miles) by train. On the way, men continued to fall ill, some of them dying and being buried at Bamboo Creek, the point on the railway where they had to transfer from the narrow Portuguese railway to the broad gauge one that had been constructed for Cecil Rhodes’ Chartered Company.

Today, Bamboo Creek is known as Nhamatanda. Traces of any Boer War burials there are likely to have long since disappeared - although if anyone reading this can enlighten me otherwise, please do get in touch.

The open carriages that carried men to Marandellas (Australian War Memorial)

The 4th VIB’s time at Marandellas was one of continued frustration and even boredom as some companies moved on while others, including “D”, were forced to stay behind awaiting orders.

At some point John Kiley caught up with them and on page 284 of That Ragged Mob, we finally discover what happened to him and the anger felt by his commanding officer revealed in comments from his diary, dated 14 October 1900.
"Dallimore had expected to be in Bulawayo by the end of October. As commandant at Marandellas he was in a position to act against what he saw as dreadful mismanagement of the Marandellas Hospital. His crusade came about as the result of the death of another Bushman, John Kiley, from Boigbeat, on 13th October:
He died from nothing short of neglect. He was sent into the Hospital ship at Beira and discharged because the doctor there wanted to close up and get away. He then went into the Umtali Hospital and discharged from there, although I believe he was looked after there. However, this hospital finished him and we buried the poor chap a few days ago. The treatment they get in some of the hospitals is disgraceful … Kiley was discharged from the hospital here as fit for duty, but as I thought he looked ill I asked for a report by two doctors. They reported he had a touch of fever and ordered him back again. The next night he was dying from pneumonia and no fever at all. He died at 1.30 in the morning and the hospital orderlies had a row and woke up all the other patients quarrelling as to who ought to remove the body. Next day I went in to see him put in the coffin and I found the lazy beggars had not even straightened him out properly … I’ll give some of them pack and shot drill until they won’t be able to stand up … They live off the medical comforts that are supposed to go to the sick and very often are too lazy to give a dying man a drink … As my men are getting ill I am having them invalided to Cape Town at once.' "

Although I have no personal connection to John Kiley, I did once linger beside his grave and wonder who he had been in life. Now, so many years later, at last I know a little about him. Reading Dallimore’s angry response to his ill-treatment in his last days on earth is enough to bring anyone to tears, but one hopes Kiley’s family would never have known anything of it.

While he neither faced the foe nor won awards for gallantry and his name remains wrongly spelled on his grave, there is some comfort that he was loved and remembered by all those he left behind in Australia who recognised his contribution in the memorial at Sea Lake where it can still be visited today.

Image Copyright ZimFieldGuide

Weekly Times, Melbourne, 20 October 1900
Although quite a lot of men of the 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen have photographs in That Ragged Mob, and there are many group photos in the book, there is none that points to John Kiley himself. However, this one shows the members of “D” Company and with a height of almost 6 foot, it may be he is one of the taller individuals at the rear.

Image copyright acknowledgment That Ragged Mob, Robin Droogleever, page 227

Boigbeat in more recent times.

Wheat silo at Boigbeat 1962 (State Library of Victoria)

Railway siding. See video on YouTube

Miscellaneous sources:

4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen

Items belonging to John Kiley’s commanding officer Joseph Dallimore are in the Warrnambool Art Gallery. (Dallimore was tragically drowned with other family members off Cape Otway in 1905.)

Scapegoats of the Empire by George Witton

* From Banjo Paterson's poem "Clancy of the Overflow". "And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended and at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars"

** Thanks to Ancestry member V. Fawcett for this family tree information.

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.