15th May 2022

South Australian Volunteers and Militia: part 2








The first SA volunteer force described yesterday started enrollment in 1840. Despite the South Australian Volunteer Militia being granted the title of ‘Royal’ in 1841 the corps was never truly operational; at drill in 1842 there were 17 officers with only two privates! By 1845 there was talk of re-establishing it, so it must have been non-functional before then.

The next mention of a South Australian Militia was when a bill was presented to government in 1854.  The impetus for this was the Crimean war. There was on one hand, much talk about volunteers being superior to militia (in that they were more motivated than “pressed men” would be) but a desire for adequate renumeration for volunteers on the other hand. This indicates they considered “militia” to be pressed/forced/conscripted/compulsory rather than volunteering for duty. To them, even volunteers should be renumerated (however this payment did apparently not eventuate).

Adelaide Times, 22nd August 1854 page 2.

A bill was passed late in 1854 allowing the raising of a volunteer force, (which despite all their interpretation of the term militia as meaning conscripted) was called the South Australian Volunteer Militia Brigade. Very confusing and inconsistent!  There were raised artillery, cavalry and infantry. Apparently these forces faltered following the end of the Crimean War in 1856, until the next scare provided by Napolean in 1859 when Volunteer Forces were re-raised.

My problem arises in trying to date South Australian uniform buttons. Cossum lists a SA Volunteer Rifles as circa 1855, a couple of SA Volunteers dating from 1860-80 and a couple of SA Militia that he dates from around 1880 until 1886. With respect to his pioneering work in the area of Australian uniform buttons (and the lack of Google in 1988), his datings are sometimes in error.

The first mention of South Australian Rifle Corps Volunteers appears in 1854, so the button depicting S.A.R. within a ‘slung bugle’ under a Crown might be from c.1855. Alternatively, it could date from 1860 as described in the article below:

The South Australian Advertiser, 10th July 1860 page 3.

However,  17 months later when the uniforms reached the warehouses, we have this description:

South Australian Register (Adelaide), 26th December 1861 page 2.

This dates the S.A.V. buttons being used from 1861 onwards. The button on Cossum page 18, bearing the title ‘South Australian Militia’ 1880-1885 I find problematic. It varies in design, having no “laurel wreath” around the Crown and lettering. Also, such a button was described for South Australian police troopers in 1847, so I do not think it is a military button.

South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide), 5th June 1847 page 3, quoting from the Port Phillip Gazette.

The S.A.M. buttons  date from after 1877 when following the winding back of previous volunteer forces, a new force was established. Uniforms for these new forces were delivered in 1878.

The Illustrated Adelaide News, 1st May 1877 page 2.

This article from 1878 describes how earlier volunteers (those with the SAV buttons) had not been issued with a new uniform since 1865!

Evening Journal (Adelaide), 4th July 1878 page 3.

Note: ‘E. Stillwell & Son, London’ were, according to their own description, “manufacturers of gold and silver lace and embroidery, military & naval appointments, cork helmet and cap makers, sword cutlers and die sinkers.” Starting around 1825, the firm became “& Son” around 1852 and traded until around 1957.

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