The Boer War Memorial
If you drive down North Terrace, heading west towards Parliament House, on the right you will see at the entrance to Government House a memorial statue. This statue has had pride of place since 6 June 1914. For 103 years this 3.4 meter high statue of a mounted Bushman, carved and cast in Adelaide, has stood on the corner of King William St and North Terrace – but do you know what it represents?
This statue is the South African War Memorial dedicated to South Australians who fought in the second South African War, more commonly known as the Boer War. It was the first war in which South Australians fought overseas, with six contingents totalling 1,531 South Australian men, nine nurses and 1,510 horses who all sailed from Port Adelaide.
It remains the third-worst conflict in terms of casualties in our history.
When the Boer War broke out in 1899, Australia comprised six colonies on the verge of becoming a federation. The war was viewed as an opportunity for Australia to show its commitment to Britain and to define its identity.
The Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers, held Transvaal and Orange Free State, in what is now South Africa, while the British occupied Cape Colony. The war was fought for commercial reasons; the Boer states contained gold mines that were attractive to the British. A British raid in 1896 on the Boers, resulted in the Boers declaring war on Britain on 11 October 1899.
The South Australian (Citizen) Bushman’s Corps took pride of place amongst the South Australian contingents. It was funded by public subscription and the philanthropy of wealthy individuals. Its most prominent supporter was Adelaide businessman and parliamentarian Sir George Brookman who donated £1000 (approximately $152 400 today). There were three contingents of the Imperial Bushmen (paid for by London) and two of the Mounted Rifles.
As the war dragged on, Australians became increasingly disenchanted with the war, mainly due to the suffering of the Boer civilians and the court martial of South Australian Lieutenant ‘Breaker’ Morant in 1902.
Harry Morant and Peter Handcock were Lieutenants in a unit of the Bushveldt Carbineers. They were convicted of murdering 12 Boer prisoners and on 27 February 1902 were executed by a firing squad in Pretoria. Morant and Handcock admitted to shooting the Boers, but were adamant that they had been ordered by their British superiors to not take any prisoners. Although there was no proof that the soldiers were ordered to shoot the prisoners, the case remains infamous today and is seen as a symbol of British military injustice.
The Boer war saw at least 59 South Australians killed in action; with a further 16 dying in connection with the war, and another four dying in training on their return. Many of the horses sent to South Africa did not survive. Harsh conditions, and very little time to acclimatise, saw many die in battle or of disease, while others succumbed to exhaustion and starvation. Those horses that did survive did not return home.
In July 1901 Joseph Johnson, a retired parliamentarian, suggested a memorial to “commemorate a great event’ rather than a memorial to commemorate names. Due to the controversy surrounding the war not everyone was in agreement. The matter was decided by a motion of the new Premier, John Jenkins: ‘…it is desirable that South Australia shall have a worthy national memorial to commemorate the consolidation of the Britannic Empire…’
On 7 August 1901 a committee, including Sir George Brookman MLC, Premier Jenkins, Adelaide’s Mayor and Bishop of Adelaide, began the process of commissioning a statue and raising funds. The South Australian public and schoolchildren raised £2500 towards the cost of the memorial.
This year’s commemorative service paid tribute to those South Australians who fought and died in the Boer War.
The inscription at the rear of the memorial reads:
“The People of South Australia
To Commemorate The Valour
Of The Citizen Soldier Of The State
Who Fought In The
South African War