ss. Euryalus takes the 3rd Victorian Contingent to the Boer War 10.03.1900


Some of the Officers of the 2nd Victorian Rifles who departed Melbourne on ss. Euryalus

ss. Euryalus (date unknown)

On Thursday, December 21st 1899, the Victorian Cabinet decided to accept the offer of Messrs. A. Currie and Company, of the steamer Euryalus, 3800 tons, to take the 2nd Victorian Rifles to Capetown. This was to be Victoria's contribution to the 2nd contingent sent to the 2nd Boer War from Australia. It should be remembered that this is prior to federation so each of the colonies had their own defence force and defence minister.

The men were roused in the Flemington camp at 4.a.m Friday (12.01.1900) and rode out of the camp at 9.a.m. The members of the 2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles then rode through Melbourne, on, their way to the Euryalus.

There was a fair crowd of people in the streets who cheered lustily as the contingent passed. The men rode four abreast, but as some of them were in charge of lead horses and the majority had difficulty in controlling their own mounts, which, being country bred, did not view the trams with much favor, and exhibited a tendency to back away from them on the footpath, their formation was anything but perfect.

On arrival at Port Melbourne the troops lined up in front of the railway station. Then, the men having dismounted, the horses were led in single file along the pier to the side of the vessel. They were divested of their saddles and equipment, and they were walked on board. From the side of the ship to the pier a strong gangway had been erected, so that the horses could walk straight on to the vessel's deck. It was then that the real difficulty of the embarkation began. The horses had little objection to walking up stair's, but he usually entered a vigorous protest against walking into the hold of the ship by running backwards down the incline which he had just climbed.

It did not take many experiences of this sort to teach the four riflemen detailed to shove the horses on board that some means would have to be taken to prevent the animals from accomplishing a successful backward rush. The difficulty was now over come in a singularly effectual manner. As soon as the horse reached the summit of the incline the four men rushed in from behind and, seizing hold, of the animal's hind quarters, lifted him bodily on to the down ward pathway. As long as the horses kept going there was no need to adopt these forcible measures, but as soon as a block occurred the obstructionist was hustled along the gangway in no half-hearted way. With the horses now loaded the men embarked to spend the night on Euryalus.

Loading the horses in Port Melbourne

2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles march through Melbourne

The next morning the contingent marched up to Victoria Barracks to join the compliment of the Barracks for a parade through the streets of Melbourne in honour of the contingents departure. The troops left Victoria Barracks in St Kilda Road shortly after 2 p.m. and made their way to the gates of Government house (in those days, before the Shrine of Remembrance was built, the entrance was opposite Victoria barracks) where they were reviewed by the retiring Victorian Governor Lord Brassey, His Lordship and Lady Brassy's coach then led the parade as the contingent marched through the city.

The parade went down St Kilda Road, passed through Swanston Street, left into Collins Street, left again into Market Street, across the Queens Bridge and down Queens bridge street, before turning right to make their way to Euryalus at The Port Melbourne Railway Pier (now Station Pier), the entire route being lined by thousands of well wishers. Lord Brassey who was leaving that very day went aboard his personal yacht "Sunbeam" to start his voyage home.

At 4.45 the steamer Euryalus, under the command of Capt Colin McDonald, cast off her lines. As the band played Auld Lang Syne, some of the troops on the wharf cheered, others presented arms, the vessel gradually drew away from the pier taking 15 Officers, 250 other ranks, 305 horses and 6 wagons off to war.

Euryalus was escorted down the Bay by the steamer Pateena bearing the members of the Ministry and of both Houses of Parliament. Many other vessels and yachts joined in the festivities by lining both sides of the channel while the Sunbeam, Euryalus, Cerberus, and accompanying vessels passed between them.

Transcripts of some of the letters from the contingent an be read HERE. Saddler-Sergeant Allinson wrote home to say the contingent were much gratified with the send off accorded them. " It was fit for royalty." Many of the letters say that sea sickness was very prevalent those first couple of days at sea.

This is not surprising considering most of the soldiers had probably never been on a ship before with many of the country boys not having even seen a beach or the sea. In Merchant Marine circles the voyage from Melbourne to Adelaide is known as “The horror stretch”, ships tend to roll very badly as you are beam on (side on) to the continuous swell that rolls up from the Southern Ocean. Saddler-Sergeant Allinson also notes that after leaving Melbourne “About half the men were down with sea sickness and next morning an officer could be seen trying to find a bugler fit to sound the reveille".

ss. Euryalus pulls away from the Railway Pier

ss. Euryalus steams down Port Phillip Bay

On Sunday the 14th the weather was fine though there was still a heavy swell. Euryalus passed Cape Nelson at 2 p.m. signalling the lighthouse keeper there, "Thanks for adieus. All well. Goodbye."

On Monday (15.01.1900) the Captain advised Euryalus had steamed 302 miles in the past 24 hours. Dining arrangements for the Officers were as follows: - at the Captains table the Master had the Colonel and the Adjutant on his right, and the Chaplain Dr Wray and Surgeon Major Honman on his left. The chief mate sat at the head of the second table, with the lieutenants around him. The troops sighted of a school of whales which helped to break the monotony of ship board life for some.

Tuesday (16.01.1900) Euryalus put another 285 miles behind her the previous day. Despite the wind freshening towards the evening and the ship "pitching a bit" many of the men had their sea legs and were able to do a little drill, though under difficulties as it was a most difficult task to keep the line due to the motion of the ship.

There was an abundance of good food, plenty of fruit (although one letter notes an inadequate method of distribution), a piano, and large collection of books for the use of the men. Capain McDonald held several evenings of "limelight views" with his magic lantern (slide projector). One of his slide shows was called "The Voyage of the Sunbeam", Captain McDonald had some years previously, been the Sailing Master of Lord Brassey's yacht and it would appear he was quite the photographer.

Wednesday (17.01.1900) 262 miles steamed. It had been a fairly rough night with a heavy sea, the ship rolling and pitching, but weather was otherwise fine.

Thursday (18.01.1900) About 6 a.m. Euryalus passed a Dutch full-rigged three-masted ship, and exchanged signals. also saw the liner Argus, of the same shipping company as Euryalus, in the distance.

Euryalus unexpectedly called in to Albany at 5 p.m., and hove to in the Sound. She landed two men via the Pilot vessel, Trooper Ratcllffe who had been discharged for insubordination (refusing to be vaccinated), and Trooper Wilkinson, who was suffering from rheumatism and was taken to the hospital. The opportunity was also taken to land many letters and telegrams, the ship then resumed her voyage. On leaving Albany the ship rolled a good deal, going over as much as 22 degrees or so it is claimed. The Warrigul left Melbourne on the third of January with the N.S.W Contingent on board, ten days ahead of Euryalus, but it was advised she was only 54 hours ahead on leaving Albany.

The horses aboard Euryalus

No 3 Coy 2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles on Euryalus

A little inter-colonial rivalry came to the fore here. Captain McDonald announced he was going to attempt to overhaul the Warrigul and believed he would do in the course of about eight days. The band started practising " The ship we left behind us," and other appropriately derisive tunes.

Friday (19.01.1900) A French sailing vessel, a quarter of a mile distant, signalled to Euryalus "Good luck, well done Australia”. Cigar parade was held at 9 a m., 2 cigars for each man was issued; this parade was to be held daily. The captain had another magic lantern show.

Saturday (20.01.1900) The troops we went through a course of volley firing in the afternoon.

Sunday (21.01.1900) At 11 a.m. there was a church parade. The current position of Euryalus at 12 noon was , Lat 32=35S. ; Long. 102=31E. Euryalus had steamed 810 miles since leaving Albany and still had 4070 miles to steam before reaching Cape Town.

Monday (23.01.1900) At 10 a.m. the Colonel,Surgeon-Major Honman and Dr Wray accompanied Captain McDonald on the daily inspection of the ship. In the evening Captain McDonald again gave another interesting lantern show this time called "Scotland".

So many men down from the effects of the vaccination that Captain McDonald moved his sleeping quarters to the chart room. Major Honman and Dr Wray moved into the Captains cabin and their cabin was used for the sick troopers.

At 10.45 that evening the electric lights went out and there was a great commotion amongst the horses. There was a racket of stamping and neighing till the picket togeather with some officers and other men got to them and quietened them down.

A Section of the 2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles

COL Tom Price saying goodbye at Cape Town

Tuesday (24.01.1900) At noon Euryalus passed close under the stern of "the Rhine", an English full rigged sailing ship out of New York bound for Calcutta. This caused great excitement. The buglers mustered in the bow, the officers on the bridge, the band on the saloon deck, and the men aft. The buglers saluted her first—the band played "Soldiers of the Queen," and officers and men cheered. The ship replied, and Euryalus continued for the Cape.

25.01.1900 Full dress parade and inspection of kits ordered this morning. Rather warm in the middle of the day. Whales seen at odd times in the distance, porpoise, flying fish, and threshers. Our course now is due west along the 30th parallel.

Monday (05.02.1900) Euryalus arrived in Cape Town, despite leaving Melbourne 10 days Prior to Euryalus, Warrigul arrived in Cape Town only 4 hours before her.

Tuesday (06.02.1900) Euryalus was visited by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, VD, PC, FRSGS. He sent the following telegram to the Victorian Premier Mr McLean:-

Cape Town, Feb. 6.

"I had the greatest pleasure of personally welcoming here to-day the second contingent of the Victorian Mounted Rifles. I wish to express to your Excellency my high appreciation of the patriotic spirit which has led our fellow subjects in Australia to send such a useful and workmanlike body of inen to assist in the work of restoring peace, order, and freedom in South Africa."

In writing to Major-General Downer, Colonel Price remarks that the food on board the Euryalus Is, "If possible, too good." This Is satisfactory, and goes to show that Archibald Currie and Co. are determined not to be beaten by the owncrs of the Medic.


Breaksea at 3 p.m.

MELBOURNE, January 22. The controller of stores bas forwarded a report to the Minister of Defence concern- ing the defective equipment supplied to the second Victorian contingent.

Flriday Night. The members of the Victorian con tingeint went on board. the transport Euryalus to-day. While the embarka tion was in progress sad anecident hap pened to one of the spectators, a young woman named Lydia Elmore of Penshurst, who had gone down to see her brother Private Ernest Elmore, one of the departing soldiers. The crowd on the pier was an immense one, and the young lady in question was pushed over the side at the shore end. bihe fell heavily on this sandy beach below, fracturing her knee. The unfortunate girl was taken to the Melbourne hospital, -where she now lies. She is suffering greatly from shock.

Elmore Ernest Theophilus 205 Private Source: OZ-Boer database



The “Wild Beasts” class Italian destroyer Pantera

Italian Naval officers in Saudi Arabia




Survivors of the Italian destroyer Daniele Manin




Admiral Sir Walter Cowan, KCB, DSO, MVO

Repatriated sailors in TALMA (note the hatch cover on the left)

With the exchange completed, Talma sailed for Port Said on the 21st of March with her passengers that included survivors from the Destroyers Sikh and Hereward and the submarine cashalot, and, the quite amazing retired Admiral Sir Walter Cowan. Sir Walter had retired in 1931 with the rank of Full Admiral, however, with the outbtreak of the Second World War he voluntarily took the lower rank of commander and started training commandos in small boat handling. He somehow managed to get himself sent to the North African theatre of operations with the Commandos and shortly after arrival he saw action at the second Battle of Mechili in April 1941.

Sir Walter also saw action subsequently at the Battle of Bir Hakeim, where, having attached himself to the Indian 18th King Edward VII's Own Cavalry, he was captured on 27th of May 1942, having fought an Italian tank crew single-handedly armed only with a revolver! It should be noted that this gent was in his early 70's.

Talma arrived in Port Said on the 23rd of March 1943 under the protection of the Greek destroyer Miaoulis.

The first of the P.O.W's ashore was Admiral (Ret) Cowan, followed by another 861 seamen who were obviously happy to be back on friendly soil.

One problem solved, but as is often the case another one was created. Article 74 of the Geneva Convention of 1929 says that when wounded or sick prisoners of war are repatriated they can not later return to the field of battle, to send these servicemen back to war is considered a war crime. The problem here is those that drafted the convention had not foreseen a situation like there was in Mersin in 1943. From the Italian side of things, their people had not been prisoners of war, were not injured or sick. While the British had been P.O.W's they were not injured or sick either so the big question was did Article 74 apply?

In early August 1943 one of the repatriated British sailors requested to see the commodore in command of the Royal Navy depot in Devonport to get a clarification on his status. He informed the commodore that before his release from the P.O.W camp in Italy he had signed a number of documents, one of which, according to him, said he agreed that he would not take up arms against any of the Axis powers. Another document given to the sailor by the Italians was effectively a certificate of demobilization!

The British authorities thought on this long and hard on this matter which was also raised in the houses of parliment as recorded in Hansard. They finally came to the following conclusion:- no one questions the validity of Article. 74 of the Geneva Convention of 1929, however, the exchange of Anglo - Italian personnel in Mersin was held outside of the Convention, because the Italians were not repatriated prisoners of war but interned in a neutral country; and that although the British sailors were undoubtedly prisoners of war, were neither sick nor wounded, therefore not covered by the Geneva Convention. Especially since neither the Red Cross or other similar body had been in any way involved .

The Italians too decided that since the exchange had been carried out outside of the rules of the Geneva convention, as an independent initiative by the two involved countries, the former internees were not covered by the Geneva rules that stated that exchanged prisoners were not to return to active service; therefore, the survivors of the Red Sea destroyers soon went back to fighting, now in the Mediterranean, through the last few months of Italy’s war on the Axis side.

One final word on Admiral Sir Walter Cowan, KCB, DSO, MVO, he too continued to fight on (despite his advanced age). Cowan rejoined the commandos and saw action again in Italy during 1944. He was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order for "gallantry, determination and undaunted devotion to duty as Liaison Officer with Commandos in the attack and capture of Mount Ornito, Italy and during attacks on the islands of Solta, Mljet and Brac in the Adriatic, all of which operations were carried out under very heavy fire from the enemy". Cowan retired once more in 1945. After the war he was invited to become the honorary colonel of the 18th King Edward's Own Cavalry, and visited India to receive the post, which he considered the greatest he had attained in his extensive military career.

Ironically, considering the areas mentioned in the action of 1941, Talma's next voyage took her through the canal to Suez, Port Sudan and on to Massawa!


More photos of the British P.O.W.'s returning to Port Said can be seen here.


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