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colonial military heritage Pt 1
researcher interested in the military history of their South Australian
family will need to identify the appropriate regiment/s their ancestor
was involved with. This in turn will lead to a greater understanding
of the role played by the person concerned in their day-to-day military
life. Such an approach will ensure a better understanding of one’s
In South Australia, military history occurs in three phases.
The first involves the British garrisons based in South Australia
from the earliest days of settlement.
The second stage covers that relatively short period when the
South Australian Colonial Government were responsible for the
The final and present stage covers the period of the Commonwealth
of Australia when the Federal Government took over responsibility
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colonial military heritage
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In undertaking this research use family sources such as birth, death
or marriage certificates, stories of particular battles, diaries,
photos, medals and uniforms to narrow the search to when, where or
what event took place.
Always note these features of army records which are usually applicable
in your research, namely:
Regiments have remained the basis by which the army maintains
Officers and Other Ranks (Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned
Officers and Private Soldiers) are the main groupings into which
records are divided.
Officers’ records are easier to search as so much is provided
about them; they are a smaller group and they were organised alphabetically
The British Garrison era 1836–1870
British troops arrived in South Australia with the very first settlers
and remained in the colony until their final withdrawal in 1870. These
garrisons were headquartered in eastern colonies and usually were
represented in Adelaide by a company only.
regiments involved included:
Royal Marines 1836–1838
In the period 1863 to 1866 Imperial troops were diverted to the Maori
1/96th Regiment of Foot (A Company) 1841–1846
99th ((Lanarkshire) Regiment of Foot 1846 (pictured adjacent)
11th Regiment of Foot 1845–1857 (pictured below)
1/12th Regiment of Foot 1854–1863
2/40th Regiment of Foot (A Company) 1852–1860
2/14th Regiment of Foot 1866–1867
Resources and how to access them
50th Regiment of Foot 1867–1869
2/14th (the Buckinghamshire) Regiment of Foot 1866–1867
50th (the Queens Own) Regiment of Foot 1867–1869
Cavalry—no regiments served in Australian colonies.
Artillery—some detachments of the Royal Artillery Regiment
served in Australia to 1870 including 7th Battalion (3 Company)
Engineers—various corps served in every colony
Other Corps represented included: Commissariat Department, Ordnance
Corps, Medical Corps, Chaplains Department and Pay Corps.
from the specific resources based on regimental museums and the like,
there are a range of general references that may assist the researcher.
The National Archives Kew
Muster rolls and pay lists give the enlistment date, movements and
discharge date of all soldiers in the British Army. They can be used
to trace the service of soldiers who were not discharged to pension.
However, to trace a man’s movements by way of the musters, you
do have to know his regiment.
Regimental musters, from the early 18th century onwards, were taken
every month or quarter (frequency varied over the years). They were
used for pay and accounting purposes. The musters are now bound together
in annual volumes for each regiment, and are held in WO 12. The first
entry for a recruit usually gives his age, place of enlistment and
Description Books give a description of each soldier, his age, place
of birth, trade and service, and are in WO 25/266-688 . They are arranged
by regiment, in alphabetical order of soldiers’ names. The overall
dates are 1756 to 1900, but for most regiments there are volumes for
the first half of the nineteenth century only.
Hart’s Army List (officers only) was an unofficial list, produced
between 1839 and 1915. It is useful because it contains details of
war service from 1839, which the official lists did not do until 1881.
A full set, together with Hart’s own papers can be found in
record class WO 211.
Records of service of officers fall into two main groups —those
compiled by the War Office (WO 25) and those compiled by the regiment
Records giving personal information about an army officer were created
routinely at various stages in his career: upon the granting of his
commission, his promotion, his resignation or his being placed on
the half pay list. Provision of an authentic baptismal certificate
was mandatory for those in government service: membership of the established
church implied loyalty to the crown. As a result there are many baptismal
certificates for army officers in the War Office records. The main
sets for the period of interest are in WO 32/8903 to WO 32/8920.
There is a raft of records relating to army officer pensions but since
none of the men serving in SA achieved officer status there is little
point expanding on this matter.
State Records of SA
GRG 48/5/2: Despatches from the SA Colonisation Commissioners to
the resident Commissioner, Adelaide pp105-106 lists Chelsea pensioners
resident in SA
State Library of SA
GRG 122/4: Commissariat (Control Office) Statements, returns and
British War Office Military Pensioners in AJCP CO reels only pertaining
The library holds research notes RN25 RN118 covering organisation
of forces 1840 to 1930. The library also holds other military records,
including enlistment nominal rolls.
Government Gazettes record some material that may assist although
a lengthy search may be necessary as the information will not necessarily
National Archives of Australia Adelaide Office
This office has a limited collection of colonial military
D1051 Torpedo Station Magazine North Arm (15 folios) 1847–1980;
Flinders University of SA Library
This library holds the full AJCP (Australian Joint Copying Project)
set of mircoforms and you will need to access this series to view
WO (War Office) material relating to SA. The handbook is held in the
Central Library Reference Collection (Call Number: 994.005 A924h)
It is possible to purchase the appropriate AJCP handbooks from the
National Library online. These handbooks are an essential
guide for users of the microfilm:
Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook Part 2: Colonial Office
A brief summary of what will be found in the War Office material is
outlined in the following paragraphs. The material in the Colonial
Office records is not as clear cut to locate.
Australian Joint Copying Project Handbook Part 4: War Office $5.00
Muster rolls and pay lists (WO 12)
The muster lists were compiled quarterly and have been arranged in
yearly volumes . Officers are listed by rank while the soldiers are
listed alphabetically. These records can be useful in establishing
dates of enlistment, discharge or death although these events may
be beyond the scope of reels held specifically as part of the AJCP
collection. The collection covers the period immediately prior to
departure for Australia, the period of duty in Australia and New Zealand
and the period immediately following their departure from Australia.
The first entry for each soldier should indicate his age, while the
last entry should show his birthplace, non-military occupation and
his enlistment date. Other informative documents include the paymaster’s
declarations, stoppages of pay for imprisonment or time in hospital.
Each pay sheet shows the number of days each soldier was entitled
to pay, where he was stationed at the time of the muster and how he
was employed if other than on normal guard duty. Many early rolls
are not easy to read. However tracing a soldier’s records over
the period he was enlisted provides a very good picture both of his
military and personal life.
Monthly Returns (WO 17)
The Returns are numerical summaries of regiments. These provide, on
a monthly basis, information about when a particular regiment was
stationed in the colony and make it possible to pinpoint the time
of arrival more exactly and to determine the location of troops. If
information about the soldier’s regiment or family detail is
unavailable, knowing the colonies in which he was stationed is useful
as regiments posted to SA were usually headquartered in eastern colonies.
Returns are available for all Australian colonies 1854-1865.
Embarkation and Disembarkation Returns (WO 25/3502); reel 1303
These show officers’ names—not all regiments that served
in Australia are listed.
Muster Master List General’s Index of Casualties (WO 25/1342);
These may show the date of a soldier’s discharge, death, desertion
or transfer which may be unavailable any other way.
Out-Pensions Records, Royal Hospital Chelsea (WO 22)
There are a variety of records in this series. One of greater interests
to SA researchers is the official proposals regarding discharge of
troops in Australia and New Zealand which is on Reel 1506.
If you can access a film reader it may be possible to order the appropriate
film/s via an interlibrary loan. You can even request printouts of
some material, the current cost being $13.50 per fifty pages from
a single film.
Several useful books are available on the subject:
Allan Box; A Soldier in the Family: A Source Book for Australian
Military Genealogy: The First Fleet to the Gulf War, 1994.
Ronald H Montague; How to Trace your Military Ancestors in Australia
and New Zealand, 1989.
Peter Stanley; The Remote Garrison: The British Army in Australia
Graham Jaunay. Researching South Australian military ancestors,
The histories of the regiments can be found by trawling through the
information at the well known web site, Land
forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth.
In the next issue we will look at forces raised within the colony
such as the Adelaide Lancers in 1883 as pictured adjacent.
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