28th October 2020

Victorian Volunteers part 1: 1842-1883

Other dates are quoted online and in print, but I have cross checked these dates and facts with reports from newspapers of the day found in Trove.

See Cossum page 9 for an images of uniform buttons for the Volunteer Rifles from 1860-1880.

A  Yeomanry (cavalry) group called the Port Phillip Volunteers was suggested in 1842, but such a force required a special parliamentary act and so did not eventuate.

In response to the outbreak of the Crimean War (also the Ballarat riots) in 1854, the Victorian Volunteer Act was passed and Melbourne and Geelong Volunteer Rifle Regiments were formed in December 1854 and January 1855 respectively. A suggested uniform was described as ” a loose tunic, a kind of “jumper” of dark green, with suitable belts etc”.  A Royal Commission in 1856 recommended 13 new rifles corps.

The Argus (Melbourne), 1st July 1854 page 9.

These early volunteers had to provide their own uniforms and equipment. In 1858 the uniform tendered for by the government was recommended as a dark green coat, and a grey or “Oxford mixture” for the trousers, however the tenderers were not restricted to these colours, so long as the material was light and durable. The caps were also to be made of tweed, with white-metal ornaments. For example, in 1860 the Sandhurst Volunteer Rifle Corps uniform had been decided on as “invisible green cloth” with red facings, black braid and shako hat, for £4 10s. They may have looked smart, but the volunteers were not held in high regard by the public.

“… however pretty a uniform may look, it does not make its wearer a military man.”

In 1860 the British regiments in Victoria were removed to New Zealand to fight the Maori Wars, with the volunteers becoming responsible for the whole defence of the state.

SLV # 1726206 Brighton Volunteer Rifles, 1862.

Photographs printed between 1940 and 1950 from originals between 1850 and 1900.Cite as: Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria. This company existed from 1860-1871.


Australian War Memorial 1858 style Officer’s tunic of the Ballarat Volunteer Rangers. Worn with trousers of the same colour with a black lace stripe and a fur shako or busby. The Ballarat Volunteer Rifle Regiment was formed in 1858, becoming the Ballarat Volunteer Rangers in 1863.

In 1860 a Victorian Volunteer Mounted Rifle was formed but it was not the first mounted group. There was already a Mounted Artillery group (from at least January 1858) and the Victorian Volunteer Yeomany (cavalry) from 1855.

State Library Victoria. Victorian Yeomanry 1861 filename b28225

The Age (Melbourne), 13th April 1860 page 5.

 A Volunteer Engineer Corps was raised in 1860. In 1862-3 there was a reorganisation of the Victorian Defence Forces. All the various mounted troops were merged into one of 6 troops of the regiment of the ‘Victorian Volunteer Light Horse’ in 1862, renamed the  ‘Prince of Wales Victorian Volunteer Light Horse the following year’.  (See Cossum page 10).  They were disbanded in 1884.

Australian War Memorial 18070.001: Prince of Wales Light Horse Officer’s jacket c1863-73.

AWM P08328.002: unidentified Victorian Colonial soldier, a private in a Victorian volunteer cavalry unit , most probably the Prince of Wales Volunteer Light Horse (Hussars).

The Age (Melbourne) 8th August 1863 page 5.

State Library Victoria image Image IAN31/12/72/245. The Victorian Volunteer Engineer Corps throwing a pontoon bridge across the Yarra River, 14th December 1872.

In 1870 a “Telegraph and Torpedo Corps” was initiated, an interesting mixture of laying mines and telegraphing. (In the 19th century a torpedo was what would now be referred to as a mine.) It was also referred to as the Signals and Torpedo Corps.

All British Forces were withdrawn from Australia that year. A Permanent Victorian Artillery was then established only to be disbanded in 1880 then reformed in 1882. The Victorian Volunteer forces continued until 1883 when another reorganisation of the defence forces took place.They were mostly disbanded and replaced by a partially paid, fixed term, Victorian Militia Force. Cossum has a Militia Torpedo Corps button on page 17. He dated it 1875-1880, but the Militia Torpedo Corps was raised in 1882.

The Argus (Melbourne), 26th July 1882 page 9.

Thanks to Noble Numismatics. According to Cossum page 9 this is a Victorian Volunteer Service button c.1875. Although the Crown looks like the ‘Tudor crown’ adopted after Victoria’s death, it is based on the small diamond crown she wore from 1870.

Victorian Volunteer Service (1870-80 according to Cossum)

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