16th November 2020

South Australian Defence Forces

The history of infantry in the colony of South Australia was quite convoluted, with volunteer forces being repeatedly raised, merged and disbanded. From the Diggers History web site ” The constant raising and disbanding of Militia Forces in the early colonial days, was a direct result of the citizen’s reaction to direct threats to their security. Their numbers rose and fell as these threats were realized and then subsided.”

 There was a short lived attempt to establish a volunteer force in 1840 “resplendent in scarlet, piped with blue”. It was embodied in September 1840 but may have drilled only for a few months.

The Advertiser (SA), 1st September 1936 page 73.

According to Wikipedia, …” it was disbanded in 1851; for the final six years of its existence it had been a force that had existed on paper only.”  That may be generous, as by 1845 it was already being described as if it was a past entity.

In September 1854, in response to the Crimean War, an Act to raise volunteer military forces in the colony was passed. 

South Australian Register, 10th November 1854 page 3.

 A detailed listing of the volunteer uniforms as of 1854 can be seen at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/49197681?searchTerm=volunteer%20uniforms

In January 1861 the South Australian Rifle Association (S.A.R.A.) was formed as a sporting body. However, it also functioned as a de-facto reserve force.

A committee review of the uniforms for the ‘South Australian Volunteer Military Forces’ was held in 1860. This was probably in response to what some saw as a lamentably wide variety in uniforms across the colony.  The suggested uniform was received with dismay as too fancy and unsuited to the climate.  It took until around December 1861 for the new uniforms to be available.

South Australian Register (Adelaide), 26th December 1861 page 2. This possibly describes the initial unpopular design. The buttons sound like those pictured in Cossum on page 18 for the 1855 volunteers.

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

Observer (SA), 21st Jul 1906 page 27. Members of the South Australian Free Rifle Company in 1862.

Late in 1864 an alteration to the uniform was being discussed. The previous coat was too tight for comfortable drilling, and some suggested scarlet instead of grey, to be the same as the regulars. Many of the volunteers were not keen on scarlet, however …

South Australian Register (Adelaide), 26th November 1864 page 2.

State Library SA image B72996: Probable officer’s uniform of the Adelaide Regiment of Volunteer Rifles. This was raised in 1860 and became Prince Alfred’s Rifle Volunteers in November 1867.

Thanks to Noble Numismatics. According to Cossum page 19; the SA Volunteers, c.1860-70. Note the SAV uniforms were not provided until late in 1861.

In 1869 the Volunteer Force was partially disbanded, although the S.A.R.A. was still active. The British Regiments left by 1870, but it took until 1877 for a partly paid Volunteer Military Force (V.M.F.) to be properly established. Unfortunately, their rate of pay was lower than in the other colonies. The Rifle Volunteer Force( R.F.V.) was started soon after, in 1879. The V.M.F. was based mainly in Adelaide, and the R.V.F. mainly in the country.

NB: The title of the partially paid volunteers wass often written down as “Volunteer Militia Force” but was officially the “Volunteer Military Force”. When Parliament suggested changing it in 1881 some of the volunteers objected.

Australian War Memorial image A03857. SA militia sergeants, 1878.

The first small permanent artillery troop was formed in 1889.

SA Militia Forces Scottish Company. See Cossum page 19.

The first Scottish Company, the no. 2 Adelaide Rifles, was formed in 1866. The next was the Scottish Company of the S.A.M.F from 1899 until 1903 when it was renamed the SA Scottish Infantry until 1912.

The Mail (Adelaide), 28th July 1934 page 1.A corporal in the Scottish Corps c.1903.

Although a naval reserve existed from the 1870s, South Australia had no naval ship (apart from a training hulk for wayward boys from 1876-1891) until 1884 with the arrival of the ship  ‘Protector’.  That is probably why a bill was passed in parliament that year to establish the SA Naval Brigade. As well, there had been a torpedo station established around 1885, which was a bit hopeful as there weren’t any torpedos (mines) in South Australia. The navy was reduced by half in 1892, however the Protector would serve in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. After Federation she became HMAS Protector of the Commonwealth of Australia Naval Force.

Australian War Museum image A04936. HMCS Protector c.1901.


Her Majesty’s Colonial Navy (South Australia) c.1899. See Cossum page 55.

See https://www.navyhistory.org.au/occasional-paper-62-the-navy-in-south-australia-from-colonial-days-to-the-present/


Around 1,500 South Australian men volunteered for duty in the Boer Wars. Just prior to Federation, there were only 135 officers and 2797 other ranks in South Australia’s forces.

SA contingents to South Africa 1899-1902. Cossum page 20.

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