South African War 1899 - 1902

The Marble alcove at the Auckland War Memorial Museum registers the names of the fallen.
Superimposed on the left is the "Queens South Africa" medal and next to it the highest award for
bravery, the "Victoria Cross" medal. Wellingtonian Rough Rider, William James Hardham became
the only New Zealander to win the V.C. during the Boer War.
Hardham landed on Gallipoli as an officer with the Wellington Mounted Rifles in 1915. The photograph
here shows Captain Hardman third in from left back row in this group of WMR officers before departure to WWI.

"Rough Rider"

"Queen's Service Medal"

declaring war
Click on newspaper column
to read full article of
Parliment's debate to send
troops to the Boer War


On October 21st 1899 the first detachment of 214 men of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles departed from Wellington on the troopship SS Waiwera for the South African or Boer War.

During this conflict the New Zealand Government would put a total of 6,495 troops into action. Men who served with distinction and valour. Fifty-eight men would be killed in action, and eleven others would die later of wounds. Another one hundred and ninety would be wounded in action, while twenty seven other soldiers died from accidents (with sixteen men killed at Machavie on 12th April1902 when their troop train collided with a goods train). A further 136 soldiers died from disease.

78 Victoria Crosses were awarded to British soldiers during this conflict.
The only New Zealander to win the Victoria Cross during the South African War and the first to win it overseas (i.e. other than the Maori Wars in New Zealand) was William James Hardham, (1876-1928) of Wellington. He won his Victoria Cross near Naauwpoort in January 1901 when he rode to the rescue of a fellow mounted rifleman whose horse had been shot from under him, and who had been injured as he fell to the ground. With a group of Boer marksmen trying to cut him down, Hardham lifted the injured trooper onto his saddle and then ran to safety behind a rock outcrop, pulling his horse behind him.

The South African War was concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902.

When the NZMR troops returned home, departing 17th July 1901, the men had built a fighting reputation second to none. When the government formed four military districts covering the country. The Otago Mounted Rifles, the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Auckland Mounted Rifles became the mounted regiments of those districts.

Click on the PDF icon below to download this copy of a beautiful glass plate image probably taken in 1904 - the subjects are the Officers and NCO's of the North Auckland Mounted Rifles just after the Boer War of 1899 - 1902.
Once downloaded you will be able to magnify the image 150 - 200% without noticably diminishing quality

Unknown New Zealand "Rough Rider"
on patrol in South Africa.
(could this be sergeant major Robertson, the likeness between this photo and the one HERE are very close)

South African War uniform on display
Auckland War Memorial Museum

Trooper Len Hook reg. 3243 of the 16th Contingent of the Mounted Rifles "Rough Riders" begins a series of letters back to his family in Waimamaku in the far North of the North Island.
He is on the Troopship "Cornwall" that departed Wellington March 12th 1901. After crossing the Tasman Sea to Australia and traveling across the Great Australian Bight to Western Australia the contingent finally departs Albany on Saturday 16th February 1901 and on the 22nd of February, Len continues below some notes on the voyage to South Africa...

"...There is plenty of food now, as there were complaints made a time back, so the Commanding Officer spoke about it to the cook.
I had to get up just now to watch a Boxing Match between our boys, it is very exciting. Three of the officers are reclining in chairs watching and timing the different pairs, our Captain is one, he is a grand fellow. There was another lecture yesterday evening on Ambulance duties.
There was a little excitement this evening, a fight with fists, between one of the sailors and a cook, the latter must of weighed about 15 stone, the former was very small. They were stripped to the waist but they were half drunk, so that they didn't know what they were doing. It was over a billy of beer. Both lost blood as they fell on some iron and cut themselves, it drew crowds of troopers from all parts of the boat. They ended up by shaking hands.
There was another death among the horses today which makes the 7th, but none of the Auckland ones have kicked out, the reason being I think because they are on the upper deck. Pneumonia is the disease that is taking them off, they are brought up from below with a winch, a rope being put around their necks. Some have the strangles still but none have died from that cause so far. It isn’t from the want of attention because hours are spent every day on them.
Yesterday was washing day and you should have seen the decks with clothes you couldn’t move for them, this day is specified for the purpose, as the fresh water is only turned on at certain hours other times. It is still very calm, hardly a rock in the boat, this is the third day now like this, all hands are good sailors now, it can roll as much as it likes, only that if we are stretched out on the floor at night, we suddenly find ourselves rolled half way across the floor.
There must be about 200 boys watching these great Boxing matches and such a noise, blood is flying in some cases. There was an inspection of kits today and such a scatter, it was for the purpose of finding out what things each had lost, or what they had got of others, I have managed to stick to most of mine so far, but it is a work of itself. It is a shame to see what some have lost, every penny in the way of cash.

Feb.27th. It is about four days since writing the last few lines, owing to the fact of my being on duty of several kinds, which prevented me from getting down into the hold much. On Sunday last we had service as usual and did it in style, as there was a blackboard with the numbers of the hymns on it, and the choir sang one as the rest left the room. That is the only day we dress ourselves up at all, and then not for long, as it is a case of getting in a terrible mess lolling about. We fared well at dinner again, ducks and apples and stew.
I am off orderly now, so am able to boss around the new one, none of them appreciate the job, it nearly sends you crazy, tonight the heat is awful, the chaps nearly all have only pants on.

Feb. 27th. In the evening of Sunday I first had a shower bath, with salt water, the only water we can get for the purpose, after that about a
dozen of us started singing hymns, and had a great sing but we had just made a good start when our Captain came down to invite us to a concert at Wellington, which was a success all through, our Skipper sang for the first time, he hasn’t much of a voice. Some of the Pianists are very good especially the one from Canterbury. I made the acquaintance of a young fellow from Nelson the other day, his name was Chant and knows all the Cooks, he is only eighteen and a half and a fine fellow."

Below: a member of the New Zealand Contingent writes in "LETTERS FROM THE FRONT" published in the Evening Post 3rd January 1900:
" ...The great trouble here is the want of decent drinking water, and I often long for a good deep drink out of one of the cold Taranaki streams. We, being colonials, have plenty of visitors, and they often ask us absurd questions about New Zealand, and think we should be black. They (the other soldiers) say we wash oftener than they do and I am sure we are a cleaner lot.
"We are kharkee colour now —our spurs, bayonets, and all bright parts being painted that colour. The Lancers and cavalry have lance-points and sabres also painted the same. It is really surprising how quickly one loses sight of a man dressed in our colour. We are to parade to-morrow (Sunday) for an inspection by General French, and in all probability we shall be attached to the Royal Horse Artillery."

Conan Doyle was one of the greatest storytellers in the English language and creator of Sherlock Holmes, he arrived in South Africa not as a writer but as a 40 year old medical doctor.
Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902 for his work in a field hospital in Bloemfontein.
In his subsequent book on the Boer War, Doyle's vivid description of the battles were probably thanks to the eyewitness accounts he got from his patients.

New Zealanders in action:
A segment taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book on the Boer War - year 1902, De Wet prepares an attack to breakout from a British encirclement..
...This was delivered shortly after midnight on February 23rd. It struck the British cordon at the point of juncture between Byng's column and that of Rimington. So huge were the distances which had to be covered, and so attenuated was the force which covered them, that the historical thin red line was a massive formation compared to its khaki equivalent. The chain was frail and the links were not all carefully joined, but each particular link was good metal, and the Boer impact came upon one of the best. This was the 7th New Zealand Contingent, who proved themselves to be worthy comrades to their six gallant predecessors. Their patrols were broken by the rush of wild, yelling, firing horsemen, but the troopers made a most gallant resistance. Having pierced the line the Boers, who were led in their fiery rush by Manie Botha, turned to their flank, and, charging down the line of weak patrols, overwhelmed one after another and threatened to roll up the whole line. They had cleared a gap of half a mile, and it seemed as if the whole Boer force would certainly escape through so long a gap in the defences. The desperate defence of the New Zealanders gave time, however, for the further patrols, which consisted of Cox's New South Wales Mounted Infantry, to fall back almost at right angles so as to present a fresh face to the attack. The pivot of the resistance was a maxim gun, most gallantly handled by Captain Begbie and his men.
The fight at this point was almost muzzle to muzzle, fifty or sixty New Zealanders and Australians with the British gunners holding off a force of several hundred of the best fighting men of the Boer forces. In this desperate duel many dropped on both sides. Begbie died beside his gun, which fired eighty rounds before it jammed. It was run back by its crew in order to save it from capture. But reinforcements were coming up, and the Boer attack was beaten back.

To negate the ability of the enemy to live off the land both Boer and British had a "scorched earth" policy of killing all livestock and destroying shelter.
Here a New Zealand Rough Rider watches as a farmhouse is tourched. Dead sheep lie in the foreground.
A number of them had escaped, however, through the opening which they had cleared, and it was conjectured that the wonderful De Wet was among them. How fierce was the storm which had broken on the New Zealanders may be shown by their roll of twenty killed and forty wounded, while thirty dead Boers were picked up in front of their picket line. Of eight New Zealand officers seven are reported to have been hit, an even higher proportion than that which the same gallant race endured at the battle of Rhenoster Kop more than a year before. It was feared at first that the greater part of the Boers might have escaped upon this night of the 23rd, when Manie Botha's storming party burst through the ranks of the New Zealanders. It was soon discovered that this was not so, and the columns as they closed in had evidence from the numerous horsemen who scampered aimlessly over the hills in front of them that the main body of the enemy was still in the toils.
The advance was in tempestuous weather and over rugged country, but the men were filled with eagerness, and no precaution was neglected to keep the line intact.This time their efforts were crowned with considerable success. A second attempt was made by the corralled burghers to break out on the night of February 26th, but it was easily repulsed by Nixon. The task of the troopers as the cordon drew south was more and more difficult, and there were places traversed upon the Natal border where an alpen stock would have been a more useful adjunct than a horse. At six o'clock on the morning of the 27th came the end. Two Boers appeared in front of the advancing line of the Imperial Light Horse and held up a flag. They proved to be Truter and De Jager, ready to make terms for their commando. The only terms offered were absolute surrender within the hour. The Boers had been swept into a very confined space, which was closely hemmed in by troops, so that any resistance must have ended in a tragedy. Fortunately there was no reason for desperate councils in their case, since they did not fight as Lotter had done, with the shadow of judgment hanging over him. The burghers piled arms, and all was over. The total number captured in this important drive was 780 men,including several leaders, one of whom was De Wet's own son. It was found that De Wet himself had been among those who had got away through the picket lines on the night of the 23rd.

New Zealand's highest decorated Mounted Rifleman.

William James Hardham (1876-1928) was serving in the 4th New Zealand Mounted Rifles "Rough Riders" with the rank Farrier-Sergeant when he was awarded the Victoria Cross on 28 January 1901. He rescued a fellow soldier while under heavy fire near Naauwpoort, Transvaal. Later, Hardham was promoted to Lieutenant and served with the 9th Contingent.
Hardham would go on to serve as a Captain with the Wellington Mounted Rifles, New Zealand Expeditionary Force during World War I. He saw action in Egypt, Gallipoli (where he was seriously wounded), the Sinai and Palestine.

This portrait of Hardham was done after his First World War service when he held the rank of major.

The portrait was commissioned by the New Zealand Governmant in 1920.
Artist: Harry Linley Richardson
Oil, 1218 x 860mm
Major Hardham is buried in the Soldiers Section of the Karori Cemetery in Wellington. Servicemen's cemetery, Section 1, Plot 20, Row O.

The three Klee brothers, George seated left with arms folded, Victor standing, and Louis on the right, pose in a typical studio portrait of the day.
All three saw service with the 7th Contingent in South Africa.
The image was taken circa 1900 ( Campaign ribbons are visible on the jackets of two of the men.)
George Klee saw action in the Orange Free State and Transvaal, later becoming a member of the NZ Permanent Force, serving in the military most of his working life - Astoundingly he was again in service at the outbreak of not World War One but WWII in 1939. George would have retired aged 55 in 1934 but his political connections allowed him to continue until aged 60. Then with the outbreak of war his service was again required until his retirement due to medical grounds in December 1940. He was 62 and had served his country for 37 years.
Such photographs as these are the key to holding on to our collective history.

Family photograph Lloyd Klee

Left to right: Sergeant D. McLaren, Corporal J. Cane. Trooper John Isbister and Trooper Hardie.
Above, four of the surviving members of the New Zealand 7th contingent that took part in the night action at "Langverwacht" on February 23rd 1902. The action was also known as "Bothasberg" and was an attempt by the Boer forces under De Wet to breakout of an encircling maneuver by British forces. Using the cloak of darkness the Boers used a screen of cattle to approach the driving line, they made a spearhead attack at a point held by the New Zealanders.

New Zealand Commitment South African War.




Arrived in SA

Left SA

1st Contingent NZ Mounted Rifles and Hotchkiss Gun Detachment



Nov 1899

Nov 1900

2nd Contingent



Feb 1900

Mar 1901

3rd Contingent



Mar 1900

Mar 1901

4th Contingent



Apr 1900

May 1901

5th Contingent (Imperial Bushmen)



Apr 1900
Apr 1900

May 1901
May 1901

6th Contingent



Feb 1901
May 1902


7th Contingent



May 1901

Jul 1902 (part)

8th Contingent



Mar 1902
Mar 1902

Jul 1902

9th Contingent



Apr 1902

Jul 1902

10th Contingent



May 1902
May 1902

Jul 1902
Jul 1902