31st December 2021

New South Wales Lancers, 1899-1903

History of Cavalry In the Australian Colonies

Inaccurately, the New South Wales Lancers are often described  “the pioneer cavalry unit in Australia, and its history goes back to January 1, 1885, when it was formed under the title of the Sydney Light Horse.”  Whilst it may be the oldest existing cavalry (now-a-days a motorised armoured corps), it certainly not the pioneer of Australia, let alone of New South Wales.

In NSW the first volunteer cavalry, the NSW Yeomanry Cavalry, was raised in August 1854. It was absorbed into the newly raised NSW Mounted Rifles in 1860. A second corps, named the Sydney Light Horse Volunteers (not the similarly named 1885 unit) was formed on 19th June 1861. In Victoria the earliest cavalry was the Victorian Volunteer Yeomanry formed in 1855, followed by the Victorian Volunteer Mounted Rifle in 1860. In 1859 Queensland became a separate colony, and as a result various volunteer units, including cavalry, were formed in 1860. The first volunteer cavalry in South Australia was the Adelaide Volunteer Cavalry in 1840. (This unit may not have lasted for long; there was a similarily named unit around 1877.) In 1854 a new South Australian Volunteer Mounted Rifle Corps were training.  The Launceston Volunteer Mounted Rifles and the Midland Volunteer Cavalry Corps were raised in 1860. In West Australia the Pinjarrah Volunteer Cavalry Corps existed from 1864.


New South Wales Lancers

The “Russian invasion scare” following the Crimean War lead to the re-organisation of defence forces in all the colonies, and the raising of new corps, including, as mentioned, the Sydney Light Horse in 1885. It wore the uniform of the 10th Hussars.

New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney), 13th January 1885 page 399.

Illustrated Sydney News, 11th April 1885 page 13.

Its first public duty was to act as escort for the Governor, Lord Lucas, when the Soudan Contingent left Sydney that year. Later that same year the corps was change to the Sydney Lancers (i.e.  armed with sabres). In 1889 the eight light horse regiments that by then existed were integrated into the NSW Cavalry regiment around 1889, which was renamed the NSW Lancers in 1895. They existed until 1903, when as a result of Federation they became part of the Australian Light Horse. The Royal title was bestowed to the Lancers by King George V in 1935 on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee. The following year a reorganisation of the militia took place. Some units, including the Lancers, were changed to motorised machine gun regiments. The 1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers is the current incarnation of this regiment.

In 1899, a squadron of the Regiment, which had been training in England, became the first colonial troops to arrive in South Africa for active service against the Boers in the South African War. This squadron was reinforced by further drafts from New South Wales. A uniform from this campaign is shown below:

From the Australian Dress Register:

The uniform of Otto Armbruster from Lismore, NSW.

The collar badge of the NSW Lancers 1893-1903 was an elephant head. This comes from the crest of Lord Carrington who was Governor of N.S.W from 1885 until 1890 and honorary Colonel of the New South Wales Regiment from 1885.

The buttons are the universal NSW Military Forces (1880-1901) design.











Note that although the Lancer’s collar badge is found on this uniform, the buttons are that of the  NSW Defence Forces, not the button bearing the Carrington Crest as shown on the replica at the start of this article, and featured on page 6 of Cossum’s book. Cossum dates the regiment’s button to 1899-1903. The soldier who wore this uniform was one of the squadron who arrived at Cape Town in November 1899, straight from training in London; perhaps the regiment specific buttons were only then produced in an enthusiastic response to the unit’s involvement in the Boer War, and so were not found on this soldier’s uniform.

c. 1898-1901

On the back of the card: “undoubtedly the oldest cavalry regiment in Australia, the N.S.W. Lancers was formed in 1885 and named the Sydney Light Horse. The title was changed in 1894 to N.S.W. Lancer regiment, and this was one of the first to serve in the Boer War. The Regiment also was service in World War I and World War II.”

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