29th September 2020


Up to recently I’ve not tended to collect British backmarked uniform buttons, preferring to collect those made in Australia (e.g. Stokes, Sheridan, Amor, Parkes, etc) or marked with an Australian tailor’s name. However, this is somewhat arbitrary, as some of those (e.g. A.Bowley) are clearly marked as made in England. Even those not so marked may have been made there.  According to J. K. Cossum ”  … by the mid 1860s (Thomas Stokes) was supplying military outfitters in the other (non-Victorian) colonies, in some cases stamping the reverse side of the buttons with the name of the outfitter.”  Whilst intriguing, I don’t know where he got this information from, and whether it is correct. (He mistakenly stated that Stokes imported a press from England, when it was actually imported by the backers of the ill-fated Kangaroo Office, then sold to Stokes in 1857. Cossum may have made other errors.)

Therefore, I have a nice excuse to expand my collecting, (Ha! Who needs an excuse?), and realising that some historical Australian uniform buttons may not made locally at all, I’ve started to buy some buttons with British backmarks.

Tasmanian Defence Forces

Hobson & Sons Golden Square w.

According to Cossum, page 25, this button dates from 1884-1901. This agrees with the backmark, as Hobson & Sons were at 1-5 Lexington Street, Golden Square, West London from 1887-1901. However, please note that the dating in Cossum’s book is out in this instance by a couple of years for the actual uniform buttons.

The history of  the colony’s  defence forces was one of government disinterest,  poor or no funding, poorly placed batteries, small permanent force numbers and volunteer units that waxed and waned until the Second Boer War increased interest and support.

In 1874, a government report detailed that only the Hobart and Launceston Artillery Corps remained in the state from a once larger number; the Hobart corps existing in name only, with five officers and no men and “80 stand of arms and accoutrements unaccounted for.” Launceston had a total of 22 men and officers. This small loyal group  kept this corps in existence, with no support or recognition, and only obsolete rifles with no ammunition. In the meantime, there were no volunteer forces in the south of the state from 1874 until 1877 when new volunteer rifle groups were raised. These groups dwindled from 1880-1883, then a new Commandant arrived from England. A revival of the forces under this new command, plus the passing of a Defence Bill in 1885, seems to have prompted the production of the button above to supersede the previous button. The previous button, according to Cossum, had a similar design but was labelled with ‘Tasmanian Local Forces’. The article below indicates the buttons and other accoutrements arrived from England in 1880 for the Tasmanian Local Forces.

Launceston Examiner, 13th July 1880, page 3. The force was formed in 1878 but the uniforms did not arrive until 1880, with some units not receiving them for several years.

The Mercury (Hobart), 27th February 1886 page 2. From an article on the release of Tasmania’s Defence Force Manual.  Uniforms including the above button did not arrive by ship until 1889.

The Tasmanian (Launceston), 11th January 1890 page 24. From an article describing  the new uniforms.

In 1900-01 there were 27 permanent and 2527 volunteers. The batteries were in poor repair, the forces poorly equipped with old, “useless” rifles and were wearing either no uniforms or worn out second-hand uniforms. The State Minister of Defence stated  … that it (the forces) had become probably more of a menace to the state than a security.”  Even after federation it took several years before issues of pay and uniforms were dealt with.

Libraries Tasmania’s Online collection: c. 1890 Tasmanian Volunteer force.