The Defending Victoria website has been online since 1997. It is updated regularly.
This webpage is just one of 74 on the Defending Victoria website -

Relevant, associated pages include: Save Cerberus, Australia's first warship (1855), Victoria Naval Brigade (1860-1),


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Victorian Naval Brigade to China logo

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SEPTEMBER 1900 -- MARCH 1901

The Boxer rebellion in China--dramatised in the Charlton Heston movie '55 Days at Peking'--attracted an international force to suppress the revolt (against foreigners and Christianity). Foreign Legations at Peking were put under seige by the Boxers, who believed they were immune to bullets and death.

Australia's contribution consisted of Naval Brigades from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The South Australians took their own ship, the Protector. The contingents from New South Wales and Victoria travelled together on the liner Salamis to Hong King and thence to China.

The Victorian Naval Brigade of over 200 officers and seamen comprised part of the Port Melbourne Naval Brigade and the Williamstown Naval Brigades, as well as officers and men from the Victorian Navy.

Photo of uniforms   Photo of reenactment
Uniforms of Officers and men of the Victorian Naval Brigade in 1900. These
photos were taken at Williamstown Town Hall on 25 August 2000 at the Boxer
Uprising function attended by then Premier Steve Bracks.

The Victorian Naval Brigade and its Band were allocated as police to Tientsin, the port for Beijing (Peking). They went via Shanghai. As with the other Australian contingents (and much of the rest of the international force), the Victorians did not see much action--but witnessed barbaric excesses by both sides, including the beheadings of captured Boxers by Japanese Officers.

Tientsin itself had earlier been under seige. The tower of the Public Library had been used to direct defence work. The Victorians were involved in several forays into the hinterland, including an expedition to torch the town of Cheng Ting Fu. Too late for the attack on the Pei-Tang fort, the Victorians watched as German and Austrian troops looted the fort.

The Victorian Naval Brigade was commanded by Captain F. W. Tickell. The Commander of Victorian Naval Forces, Captain W. G. Colquhoun, had earlier left for the South African war, where he saw distinguished service initially with the 1st Australian Regiment.

This splendid bamboo carving and vase were among souvenirs of the Boxer Rebellion.
They belonged to Gunner John White of the Victorian Naval Brigade (see 'Good Sources' - below), and are now in the possession
of his proud grand-daughter Cathie Keayes.

(Above left) Barefoot Gunner John White appeared in the Bulletin Magazine in
this sepia print. (Right) Part of the Victorian naval contingent, with John White
in the centre of the second row. In later RAN service, he served during WW1
and was elevated to the rank of Lt Commander in 1922. Other John White
memorabilia is included among the collections of the RAN museum at Spectacle
Island, Sydney.

Photographs and information supplied by his proud descendants Cathy Keayes and Abby Slinger.

When the Victorian Naval Brigade returned to Melbourne, it brought with it rare Chinese books and artworks. Strangely, little of this has ended up in museums. More likely, they are more highly valued today as family heirlooms.

During 1901, following Federation, State Naval Forces were transferred to the Commonwealth.

Good Sources:

Nicholls, Bob: Bluejackets and Boxers, Australia'a Naval Expedition to the Boxer Uprising. Allen & Unwin Sydney, 1986 ISBN 0 86861 799 7.

Smith, Neil C., Carving up the Melon: Australians in the Boxer Rebellion: China 1900-1901: Melbourne 2000: Mostly Unsung Military History, box 7020 Gardenvale, LPO Brighton, Victoria 3186

Gunner John White Victorian Naval Brigade wrote a diary from the 31 July 1900 until 5 November 1900. It is in the State Library of Victoria. The diary is very helpful with details of equiptment and conditions of service in the Victorian Naval Brigade at the time. (Information provided by his proud grandson, Peter Coleman, Sydney).

Do you have photos, memorabilia, diaries--or Chinese ornaments suitable for display on this Website?

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