Boer War records – Fact sheet 67

Towards the end of the nineteenth century elements within the South African colonies had become disgruntled with increasing interference in local affairs by the British, who had established a presence in the region from 1806. In 1899 the Boer farmers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State, descendants of Dutch settlers, declared war on the British by invading the colonies of Natal and Cape Colony. The war continued for three years, but by 1902 the British had defeated Boer resistance. The 1902 Peace of Vereeniging installed a pro-British civil administration.

Australian involvement in the Boer War

When war broke out the British government called for support from across the Empire. The Australian colonies – with initial hesitation – offered support. Contingents were raised from all colonies and after Federation in 1901 a joint Commonwealth contingent was raised.

There is no agreed figure for the number of Australians who served. Craig Wilcox in Australia’s Boer War: The War in South Africa, 1899–1902 (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. xiii) suggests figures of ‘around 20,000 men and 80 women’, but adds ‘we will probably never know the precise number as many enlisted more than once and those with irregular regiments have never been counted and may not be countable’.

The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour lists 598 casualties. Six Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their Boer War service.

Record holdings

The National Archives holds many records relating to Australian participation in the Boer War. The majority of these are held by our Canberra and Melbourne offices. Series marked with an ‘*’ are available on microfilm in all National Archives reading rooms, with the exception of the Melbourne reading room.

Defence, Army and returned soldiers records

Records documenting service in the Boer War

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesEnrolment forms of Victorian contingents*1899–1900B5177
SeriesAttestation papers – Commonwealth forces1901–02B4418
SeriesAttestation declarations for the Fifth South Australian contingent1901AP613/7
SeriesNominal rolls of Victorian contingents*1899–1901B5179
SeriesService rolls of Queensland contingents1901A6615
SeriesNominal rolls of the Queensland Defence Force*1901B5172
SeriesReturns of Queensland contingents*1899–1902B5175
SeriesRoll of the Fourth Queensland Imperial Bushmen*1901B5181
SeriesService rolls of contingents of the Queensland Defence Force*1899–1901B5199
SeriesAlphabetical roll of Western Australian contingents*1900–01B5165
SeriesNominal rolls of the Third New South Wales Imperial Bushmen contingent and the Third New South Wales Mounted Rifles contingent*1901–02B5198
SeriesNominal roll of Bethune's Mounted Infantry*1899–1901B5203
SeriesNominal rolls of battalions for service in South Africa*1902B5207
SeriesNominal rolls of Australian Commonwealth Horse1902P2443
SeriesMedical history sheets of members of the Sixth Queensland contingent returning by TSS Devon*1901–02B5155
SeriesMedical records of Queensland Defence Force members returned from South Africa*1899–1902B5166
SeriesRegister of medical examinations for First Queensland (Mounted Infantry) contingent*1899B5174
SeriesUnregistered nominal rolls, pay lists, and associated accounting correspondence, relating to Queensland contingents1899–1902A6588
SeriesCamp and ordinary pay sheets for Queensland contingents1899–1901A6590
SeriesPay lists and pay instruction rolls for Queensland Defence Force members*1901–02B5161
SeriesPay list for H Company Fourth Contingent, Queensland Defence Force*1900–01B5164
SeriesPay sheets of the Fifth and Sixth Queensland (Imperial Bushmen) contingents*1901–02B5180
SeriesContingent pay ledgers for New South Wales Forces*1899–1908B5200
SeriesRegisters of pay for New South Wales Forces*1900–03B5201
SeriesPay ledger for Military Forces, New South Wales*1899–1902B5202
SeriesPay ledgers for New South Wales Military Forces*1899–1902B5205
SeriesIndex to pay ledgers for the New South Wales Military Forces*1899–1902B5206
SeriesMedal roll – Fifth Contingent, Queensland Imperial Bushman1901A6614
SeriesMedal rolls and clasps of the Queensland Defence Force*1899–1903B5167
SeriesIndex to register of issue of Boer War medals and clasps – New South Wales Defence Force*1903–11B5183
SeriesRegister of issue of Boer War medals and clasps – New South Wales Defence Force*1903–11B5184
SeriesLists of Boer War medals and clasps issued to New South Wales and Imperial units*1899–1901B5197
SeriesNominal rolls and lists of medals and clasps for New South Wales Military Forces*1899–1907B5204
SeriesLists of medals and clasps1900–02MP744/50
SeriesRegister of issue of medals and clasps1903–08MP744/51
SeriesReturns of Queensland Defence Force personnel who died in South Africa*1902B5178
SeriesPersonal case files, BW prefix1904–A2799

For more information

See the National Archives' research guide, The Boer War: Australians and the War in South Africa, 1899–1902 by Craig Wilcox.

Additional Boer War records are held by the Australian War Memorial and State government archives.

The Official Record of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, by PL Murray (AJ Mullett, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1911) includes lists of persons who served in the Boer War. You can also search the website of the Australian War Memorial for details of Boer War service.

See also the Australian War Memorial’s information on Researching Australian military service: South African War (Boer War), 1899–1902.
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