The last Imperial Assistant Adjutant-General in Victoria
On Friday 18 October 1889, tucked away on page seven of the Melbourne Argus, an announcement – the appointment of 35-year-old Captain F.S.L. Penno as assistant adjutant-general in the Victorian Military Forces.
On Friday 18 October 1889, tucked away on page seven of the Melbourne Argus, an announcement – the appointment of 35-year-old Captain F.S.L. Penno as assistant adjutant-general in the Victorian Military Forces. The appointment was also noted in the Sydney Morning Herald which added that Penno was from the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Regiment (formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot and 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot). Penno would take up local rank of Lieutenant-Colonel for the duration of his appointment; he arrived in Melbourne in the Parramatta in January 1890.
As the new AAG in Victoria, on a salary of £950 p.a., would report to the new Victorian Commandant, Major-General Bruce Alexander Tulloch. Tulloch had been the commander of the Welsh Regiment in South Africa and Egypt. Penno had served in South Africa and Egypt and certainly came to Tulloch’s attention as Tulloch had requested Penno for Victoria, especially as Penno was a noted rifle shot and Tulloch himself was an ardent advocate of rifle shooting. In an interview with the Argus newspaper in 1889, Tulloch noted that Penno was ‘one of the best shots at Wimbledon and has fired in the English eight’.
It was the start of a busy five year posting for Penno. He had much to do to improve the rifle shooting standards in the colony’s Militia. At the Easter camp for the Militia in early April 1890, Penno had watched the live battle firing of the various units. One unit managed to expend 3,988 rounds but only hit the targets 193 times; the observing newsmen may have been ‘impressed by the shower of lead poured into the position’, but Penno may have been less so. In May 1890, a typical selection of duties faced Penno in his new role. One day he was in Sandhurst, a gold mining settlement near Bendigo in central Victoria, ‘passing in’ recruits for the local militia battalion. Two days later he was dressed in his dress uniform for the opening of the second session of the Victorian Parliament as one of the headquarters staff greeting the Governor upon his arrival to open the session. When the commandant presented a lecture at the inaugural meeting of the United Service Institute in June, Penno was in attendance, rubbing shoulders with such luminaries as the Victorian minister for defence, Sir Frederick Sargood, and the secretary for defence, Commander Robert Henry Muirhead Collins, along with the leading officers of the various corps.
Penno also found himself right in the middle of local politics in August and September 1890 when an Australia-wide maritime strike by stokers and other workers threatened to turn violent in Melbourne. Seriously alarmed, the Victorian Government called out the Mounted Rifles, the Victorian Rangers and the Victorian artillery. They were gathered in Victoria Barracks close to Melbourne’s dock area, for potential use as an ‘aid to the civil power’ in case rioting broke out and overwhelmed the local Police. Penno as AAG advised Tulloch on the legalities and issued the telegrams calling in country units of cavalry, mounted rifles and others to Melbourne. Penno subsequently found himself as a witness in the court of inquiry called to investigate a report that Victorian Rifles commander Colonel Tom Price had famously ordered his men ‘to aim low and lay them [the strikers] out’.
Penno’s subsequent career did not reach the heights to which his time in Victoria and previous service may have indicated. He commanded the 2nd Welsh Battalion for many years in India and was promoted to full colonel in 1902. While he was still shooting in British Army rifle matches as late as 1908, by then he was already on half pay and on retired pay by 1914. Even when the Great War broke out and he was re-invigorated to be appointed Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, he discovered after a short time at Suvla Bay in 1915, that like many other senior officers he was an old man in a young man’s war and was invalided home, where he was made president of the Kent Quartering Committee. He retired fully in 1916 and died in 1930.
There was little doubt that during his long posting to Victoria, Penno was held in high esteem, not least because he had demonstrated to the colonial soldiers that he could be one of them, at least on the range, and was always seen to be ‘earnest and conscientious’ both in his duties and in his enthusiasm and advocacy for Victoria’s military forces. He worked well as General Tulloch’s AAG and de facto chief-of-staff and was well regarded by the Victorian Government. Penno was the last Imperial AAG in Victoria. He was replaced by a Victorian Militia officer, Colonel John Charles Hoad. But he was perhaps an inspired choice, for he left the post in good standing, about as popular as a British Imperial officer could ever be in any Australian colony at the time.
Full article published in:
‘Fitzroy Somerset Lanyon Penno (1854-1930)’, Soldiers of the Queen: Journal of the Victorian Military Society, Issue 149, June 2012. ISSN 0143-5515. Copyright © Andrew Kilsby.