Imperial Regiments on Victorian service (1837-1870)

With the declaration of peace with Russia in April. 1856, the tension in military affairs was relaxed, but the erection of the Victoria Barracks and the two batteries for harbour protection at Sandridge and Williamstown had been commenced. In May H.M. sloop Victoria arrived, and was placed under the command of Captain Norman.

In 1858 an agreement was made with the Imperial Government for providing 400 regular troops for permanent service in the colony, the War Office to provide Imperial pay and allowances, the colony to supply necessary accommodation, colonial pay, and allowances on its part. In this year a Royal commission under Major-General Macarthur, as president, was appointed to consider the defences of Victoria. Its ultimate recommendations by July 1859, were the erection of shore batteries of 68 and 32 pounder guns, the provision of 24 Armstrong guns of heavy calibre, and a battery of the Royal Artillery for permanent service In Victoria. The commission also formulated a plan for an infantry force of militia and advised the fortification of the Heads and an increase in volunteers. Thirteen new rifle corps, to raise the strength of this body to 1,000 men, exclusive of the volunteer artillery and mounted corps, were immediately formed.

The outbreak of the Maori War necessitated the transfer in 1860 of the regular forces in Victoria to the scene of action, the volunteers meanwhile undertaking garrison duties. In 1863 the volunteer force was reorganised on the new basis, to comprise 23 corps, with a total strength of 3,628 of all arms.

In June 1863, the Secretary of State, in an important despatch to the Australian colonies, all possessing responsible government, notified that the Imperial Government obligation to maintain the internal tranquillity of the country; would be limited; to the contingency of war and dangers of war; Naval defence was the true Imperial contribution to the security and protection of Australia. The colonies should provide for interest and coastal defence. The Imperial Government proposed the maintenance in Australia of 15 companies of infantry for a contribution of £40 a head per annum, a total of £55,000 for 1,327 men, Victorias share for 445 men being £17,800. For additional infantry or artillery supplied the capitation would be £70 a man. In reply two objections were urged by the Victorian Government: – 1. That no guarantee was given that troops should remain in time of war. 2. That instead of the five companies of infantry, two batteries of artillery would be more desirable.

Recognising the depletion of troops in Victoria caused by their employment in the Maori War, the Imperial authorities sent out No. 1 Battery of the 15th Brigade Royal Artillery, under Major F. Dickson. This remained two years, until relieved by No. 7 Battery, 2nd Brigade Royal Artillery, under Lieut.-Colonel C. R. Smith. This battery remained in Victoria until 1867. The barracks were situated at Spencer street and just over Princes Bridge.

In December, 1865, the Secretary of State issued instructions for withdrawal of troops from New Zealand to their original Australian stations; so that in 1866 Victoria again had its complement of five companies and headquarters of the favourite 40th Regiment. Although the cost of maintenance was paid, the objections previously urged were maintained, the Victorian Government officially intimating that, unless the requests for retention of troops in wartime, and for substitution of artillery for infantry were conceded, the maintenance of Imperial troops by the State would cease.

Charles Daley For RUSIV

Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.

Subscribe to our FREE MHHV newsletter here

We are proud to have the support of the following organisations: