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Defenders Of The Queen Imperial And Colonial Defence 1850-1901

Defenders Of The Queen Imperial And Colonial Defence 1850-1901

Keynote – Dr Craig Wilcox

One-day Conference Sunday, 5 November 2023 Waverley RSL

161 Coleman Parade, Glen Waverley, Melbourne

Dr Kilsby is the convenor for this conference.

About the conference – The period of the British colonies in Australia and especially during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), saw British Army regiment garrisons until 1870 and a Royal Navy station which remained through to 1911. In the meantime, coastal fortifications were built at key points on the Australian coastline to defend the colonies from foes, real and imaginary. The colonial militias gradually grew larger and evolved along with the technology driving changes to weapons and equipment. Local military leaders emerged who came to fore especially after the departure of the British Army. Maritime frontier wars and Victorian Era wars developed in New Zealand, Sudan, China and South Africa in which Australian volunteers, militia and infant naval forces were involved. Many of those who served in South Africa would go on to serve in World War 1.

In this conference, historians and experts on the era will present on both the strategic and the tactical. It will explain how and why the Imperial strategies evolved and in turn affected colonial thinking in the day, both land and maritime. The internal security battle at Eureka and the development of Governor La Trobe’s ‘army’ after the colony of Victoria was declared in 1851 will be examined along with the involvement of Australian volunteers and armed settlers in the New Zealand wars. A paper on the engineer who planned some of the most iconic coastal forts will be examined – and supported by a National Archives of Australia facsimile display of some of those original plans. Details of a colonial training exercise in Victoria in the late 1880s will show how local leaders and military technology had developed by the late 1880s, as well as a discussion around some of the first mounted troops deployed to South Africa in 1899.

Keynote Speaker – Dr Craig Wilcox

Paper – Maritime frontier conflict, and other items from the colonial military history to-do list

Abstract – What do we know about Australian military history from 1850 to 1901, and what don’t we know? A lot in both cases, but one gap in our understanding seems striking. For all the attention given to the struggle between British settlers and Aborigines in nineteenth century Australia, we’re not seeing a maritime counterpart to it in commercial scuffles on islands around Australia, in the policing of Pacific islands by warships based in Sydney, and in the occupation and pacification of Papua. Thinking about a maritime or Pacific theatre of frontier conflict reminds us of Australia’s longstanding power in the region. It also challenges how we think about conflict on the Australian inland.

Bio – Craig Wilcox is a historian who lives and writes in Sydney. His books include Australia’s Boer War (2002), Red Coat Dreaming (2009), Badge Boot Button (2017) and Australia’s Tasman Wars (2022). He also wrote the entry on historian Charles Bean for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006) and on the NSW Labor politician Graham Richardson for the Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate (2017).

Dr Kilsby will also present a paper:

Paper – The Battle for Oakleigh Station 1888: Nordenfelts, Landmines and ‘Khakee’

Abstract – With the establishment of a Defence Department and formal militia in 1885, in the midst of war alarms, it was believed that Melbourne could potentially be attacked via Westernport Bay. A series of training exercises took place which tested out the potential defences of the important rail hub at Oakleigh, which gave direct access to Melbourne and avoided the marshy coastal strip. The advent of new military thinking, equipment and organisation was demonstrated in an exercise in 1888. The training involved some key colonial military leaders in Victoria as well as Imperial oversight.