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Volunteer Rifle Corps and Artillery,
Cavalry, Naval Brigade and Cadets
*** NED KELLY ***

A series of attacks by a party of Bushrangers on homesteads in the Plenty River area north of Melbourne in 1842 led to the first calls for a volunteer force. One of the petitions read:

We the resident Ladies of the Plenty River and the surrounding neighbourhood having received such a shock by the late brutal attack of the Bushrangers on our lives and property, feel ourselves no longer sufficiently secure to remain so far from Town -- unless some urgent means are adopted to prevent, and put down, these violent outrages.

The yeomanry corps was to be called the `Port Phillip Volunteers'. Twelve military districts were envisaged, each to be commanded by a former army captain. The volunteers would be heavily armed with a rifle, two pistols and a sword. A dark green uniform was planned.

At first there had been favourable consideration by local authorities, although there was some consternation that the proposed Volunteer force would elect its own officers. It was, of course, illegal to raise any armed force in any part of the British Empire except with express approval of the Crown. A special Act would be required to overcome this obstacle, and interest in the idea quickly evaporated. Twelve years later, the Eureka rebellion at Ballarat demonstrated why such a law against the formation of an armed force without authority was necessary!

That same year, 1854, Governor Sir Charles Hotham approved an Act to establish a Volunterr Corps not exceeding 2000, with officers appointed by the Governor. The first unit formed was the Melbourne Volunteer Rifle Regiment. Soon there were the Richmond Rifles, The Emerald Hill Rifles, the East Collingwood Rifles and the Fitzroy Rifles, commanded by Judge Redmond Barry. Cavalry and artillery units quickly followed. By 1860, the Act had been amended to allow a Volunteer force of 10,000.

The volunteers expanded into a variety of new areas--into cavalry and accompanying horse artillery units, an increasing multiplicity of field and garrison artillery batteries, and a Corps of Engineers out of which grew a fine Torpedo Corps.

Volunteer Artillery Units


Geelong Artillery c. 1870
Photo provided by Lee Power.
Belfast Artillery Corps 1866-1883
Brighton Battery 1866-1876
Collingwood Battery RVVAR 1860-1863
Drysdale Det. Artillery 1867-1873
(then combined with Queenscliff Det.)
East Melbourne Battery 1863-1883
Emerald Hill Battery RVVAR 1860-1883
Footscray Battery RVVAR 1862-1863
1 Geelong Arty. Corps 1863-1872
2 Geelong Arty. Corps 1863-1872
Geelong Corps RVVAR 1873-1883
Hotham Battery RVVAR 1862-1863
Melbourne Artillery Corps 1860
Metropolitan Arty. Corps 1863-1883
1 Metropolitan Arty. Corps 1863
2 Metropolitan Arty. Corps 1863
Portland Artillery Corps 1866-1883
Prahran & S. Yarra Battery RVVAR 1860-1863
Richmond Battery RVVAR 1861-1863
South Grant Arty. Corps 1873-1884
St Kilda Artillery Corps 1860-1883
Victorian Garrison Artillery, formed 1882
Victorian Marine Arty. Corps 1856-1860
Victorian Permanent Artillery 1870-1880
R. Victoria Volunteer Artillery Regt. 1855-1875 (?)
RVVAR Mounted Section 1860-1861
Warrnambool Artillery Corps 1866-1883
W. Melbourne Battery RVVAR 1861-1863
Williamstown Arty. Corps 1860-1883
Prince of Wales Light Horse


Note: Some of these units were
also known as Dragoons, Mounted
Rifles, Cavalry, etc.
Bacchus Marsh Troop 1860-1876
Ballarat Troop 1863-1883
Castlemaine Troop 1861-1883
Dandenong Troop see Southern Troop
Geelong Troop 1860-1869
Kyneton Troop 1860-1883
Maryborough Troop 1872-1877
Metropolitan Troop 1863-1883
Sandhurst Troop 1862-1883
Southern Troop 1877-1883
1st Royal Victorian Volunteer Cavalry
South Melbourne Mounted Rifles
Victorian Volunteer Light Dragoons
Rifle Corps & Companies


Ballarat (3 Companies)
Castlemaine (2 Companies)
Mt Alexander Battalion

Rifle Companies:

Belfast (Port Fairy), Bendigo, Brighton,
Brunswick, Carlton, Clunes det., Collingwood,
Coburg, Creswick det., E. Collingwood, Emerald
Hill, Geelong, Hawthorn & Kew, Hotham,
Kyneton Rifles, Maldon det., Malmsbury det.,
Mariner's Reef, Maryborough, Melbourne,
N. Melbourne, W. Melbourne, Metropolitan,
Portland, Queenscliff, Richmond, Pentridge
Southern, St Kilda, Williamstown.
Support Units

to 1883

Chaplains' Department 1879 +
VV Engineers 1861-1883
Vol. Force HQ 1863 +
Vol. Forces Medical Department 1870s +
Military Torpedo Corps 1882-1883
Torpedo Signal Corps, Engineers 1870-1882
Vol. Forces Veterinary Department 1870s +
Further details in: Ward, G. E.: Victorian Land Forces: 1853-1883:
The author: Croydon, Victoria: 1989
Lieutenant Colonel J. Stanley Low VD, RD,
Vicar of Christ Church St Kilda, Senior Chap-
lain, Victorian Military Forces, Rural Dean of
South Melbourne. Photo provided by his proud
great grandson in law, Bruce Fordham.

Victorian Horse Artillery 1889-1893
Nordenfeldt Battery (1884-1889)
Victorian Nordenfeldt Battery (raised 30 December 1884),
based at Sunbury and known as the Sunbury Regiment. The battery
comprised horse-drawn Nodenfeldt machineguns. Part-sponsored by
the Clarke family of Sunbury, the battery consisted of three
Werribee Park Half-Battery (1889-1893)
Werribee Park, home of the Chirnside family, had provided its
grounds for the large Volunteer encampments of the 1860s, and
the family sponsored prizes and volunteer awards. Andrew Chirn-
side in 1889 offered to contribute to a half-battery of artillery
to be based at Werribee.
Rupertswood Half-Battery (1889-1893)
Part-sponsored by the Clarke family of Sunbury, the half-battery
combined with the Werribee Park half-battery on military occasions
and during camps and most parades where possible.
Victorian Horse Artillery tunic
Tunic and braid of the
uniform of the Victorian
Horse Artillery (George
Evans Museum, Sunbury)
Rupertswood Battery of Horse Artillery (1893-1897)
In 1893, a team of 14 VHA Officers and men were sent to take part in
the annual British military tournaments at Islington and Bisley. They
ended up acting as an escort to Queen Victoria and were photographed
at Her Majesty's insistence in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Among other events, the VHA won the Driving Contest over the
Royal Artillery at Islington. The skills, dash and horsemanship of
the Victorians thrilled the spectators and amazed professionals.
Three inch gun photo
Preserved in Sunbury today is this gun once
used by the Rupertswood Battery of the
Victorian Horse Artillery.
By 1896, though, the Age newspaper reported that the artillery was
in 'pitiable condition through old age . . . the guns themselves are
obsolete". The Victorian Government, despite initial assurances, did
not replace the defective guns. But the Rupertswood Battery lasted
long enough to lead the funeral procession of its originator, Sir
William J. Clarke, in 1897.
1891 Order of Precedence and Distinction
Victorian Military Forces
  • Victorian Cavalry
  • Victorian Horse Artillery
  • Victorian Field Artillery
  • Victorian Artillery (permanent)
  • Victorian Garrison Artillery
  • Victorian Engineers (permanent)
  • Victorian Engineers, Submarine Mining Company
  • Victorian Engineers, Field Company
  • Victorian Regiments (in order of Regt. No.)
  • Victorian Commissariat & Transport Corps
  • Victorian Ambulance Corps
  • Victorian Mounted Rifles
  • Victorian Rangers

    General Order 350, 10 October 1891

  • One factor about the volunteers irked paid staff officers, HQ staffs and visiting British officers. This was the volunteers' right to elect NCOs and, in some units, junior officers. The demise of the volunteers soon after a Royal Commission in 1875 saw an end to this democratic anomaly.

    At the 1875 Royal Commission opinion against the Volunteers' preparedness for battle predominated. Giving evidence about the lack of firing ranges, Major F. T. Sargood, CO of the St Kilda Battery, stated drily: 'At present the Field Artillery are utterly ignorant--except in theory--as to the elevation and range of their guns'. Despite reforms, the inadequacies of Australian artillery continued well into World War 1, where artillery support for frontline battalions was at first almost non-existent.

    Colonial Victoria related books
    (take a peek without leaving this site)


    Australia's icon bushranger Edward 'Ned' Kelly and his gang's robberies in NE Victoria and southern NSW stretched the Victoria Police force to the limit. Police sent to the area were usually urban members with no bush skills and little understanding of the struggles of bushfolk. The government responded by drafting members of the Garrison Artillery to help guard banks. After the raid on a bank at Euroa in December 1878, artillerymen were sent to towns like Seymour (15 December) and Shepparton (November 1879-January 1880) to stem local panic about the Kellys, who seemed to appear and vanish at will in remote and rugged 'Kelly country'.
    View from Power's Lookout.  
    View of Glenmore, King Valley,
    and Victoria's alpine country,
    from Power's Lookout near
    Whitfield. As a youth, Ned
    Kelly apprenticed himself to
    veteran bushranger Henry
    Power. This became part of
    'Kelly Country'--an impossible
    puzzle of bush, scrub, forest
    and mountain fastnesses.

    On 28 June 1880, a further artillery detachment complete with a 12 pounder field gun, was dispatched from Melbourne by train to take part in the seige at the Glenrowan Inn. Such a gun would have reduced the hotel to splinters in minutes. But the seige ended early when Ned Kelly, clad in armour, exchanged shots with police and the hotel was set on fire--while the artillerymen champed impatiently at Seymour.

    Police Superintendent Hare, wounded at Glenrowan, was hidden away at Rupertswood near Sunbury by his brother-in-law Sir William Clarke. 'Big' Clarke armed his servants, telling them to 'keep a good lookout for fear of some of the Kelly sympathisers coming to shoot Mr Hare'. For his part, Hare presented Sir William with parts of Ned Kelly's armour and his rifle souvenired at Glenrowan.

    Ned Kelly's childhood home.  Now dilapidated, Ned Kelly grew up in this home
    built by his father in the 1850s near Melbourne. The Kelly family gradually moved away from
    the growing city to places like Avenel, and Lurg (near Greta) to escape increasing police
    attention. The later Kelly homes at Avenel and Lurg have vanished completely. At
    Avenel, schoolboy Ned Kelly saved a schoolmate from drowning and was awarded
    a sash. Touchingly, he wore this treasured sash at the wild shootout at Glenrowan.
    House Ned Kelly built.  Ned and Dan Kelly helped build this fine
    homestead in 1875-6, still in excellent condition today. Ned Kelly was often described as a labourer,
    but he here demonstrated his skills as a stone mason. The building is of pink granite from the local
    area. Already convicted of relatively minor crimes, Ned Kelly hoped that by 'going straight' he could
    escape a life of criminality. The homestead strongly demonstrates his hopeful spirit then. An impend-
    ing court case against his mother, and the need to engage legal help led the Kellys to a life of further
    minor crimes. Despite these efforts, Ellen Kelly went to gaol.
    Stringybark Creek today.  Stringybark Creek today.
    It was close to this spot that three Victoria Policemen
    were shot by the Kelly Gang in 1878. The creek provided
    water sufficient for a small bush campsite. Noise from the
    police camp drew the Kelly Gang which had a secret, solid
    timber hideout in the dense forest nearby.
    Ned Kelly's plan to hostage the police went awry when the
    policemen went for their guns. A survivor belatedly brought
    news of the murders to Mansfield some twenty kilometres
    From that moment on, the fate of the Kelly Gang was sealed.

    Lt-Col Robert Rede.
    Geelong Volunteer Rifle Corps
    (Photo in the Geelong Historical Records Centre).

    Colonel Robert Rede in the 1860s commanded the Geelong Rifles (strictly, the Geelong Volunteer Rifle Corps), one of the colony's many volunteer units. Earlier, in 1854, he had (as Ballarat Goldfield Commissioner) authorised the attack on the Eureka Stockade. Later, he presided as Sheriff of Melbourne during the execution of Australia's best known bushranger, Ned Kelly, in 1880. Rede was quite typical of the leadership of the Victorian Volunteer units, a larger than life figure who commanded and demanded respect and devotion from his men.

    Later, Colonel Tom Price, in 1885 created the Victorian Mounted Rifles. A Royal Commission in 1875 had resulted in most of the volunteers transferring to the Militia. During the Boer War, Price had led the 2nd Contingent, becoming the only Australian Officer given command of a combined British and Australian force during the Boer War. He earlier made a name for himself as the 'scourge of the Unions'. Controversially, the Colonel was accused of having told his men to shoot to kill during the Maritime Strike in Melbourne in 1890. His exact words were found to have been 'fire low and lay the disturbers of law and order out'. Thankfully, no shots were actually fired. The colourful Colonel survived Parliamentary anger and scrutiny of his actions. The devotion of his men was considerable and notable throughout his rich military career.

     Photo of Victorian Navy gunners      
    Williamstown Naval Brigade
    Field Gun Crew, 1889. In a
    private collection.

    In late 1861, the strength of Victoria's defences consisted of two Corps of Naval Brigade, seven Corps of volunteer Artillery, 13 Corps of volunteer rifles and one Corps of Engineers.

    By 1900, due in part to the Boer War in South Africa, the strength of the Local Forces was measured thus: Naval (332), Military (5947), Rifle Clubs (13,378) and Cadets (3788) -- a total of more than 22,000.
     Gunner [Dr] Douglas Shields, Rupertswood Battery,
    Victorian Horse Artillery. Later in 6th Aust. Commonwealth Horse.

    1881 - 1901
    Victoria was the only Colony and State in Australia to provide a Long Service Medal of `strictly local content'. All other states had medals mostly identical to the British issue, but with State names on the reverse. These medals were stuck by the Royal Mint in London. The Victorian medal, with its other differences, was struck in Melbourne by Thomas Stokes. [Williams, R. D.: The Victoria Volunteer Long And Efficient Service Medal: 1881-1901: Hawthorn Press, Melbourne: 1976]

    The medal had an unusual distinction in that Officers for several years in the 1890s were forbidden to wear one. They were still allowed to receive the medal, but not to wear it! Robert Rede (above) was one of the first recipients in 1881.
    The medal was granted to those in the Victorian Local Forces who had achieved 15 years efficient service.
    RIFLE CLUBS (1884)
    An important innovation for the future began in 1883 with the establishment of rifle clubs throughout Victoria. Rifles and ammunition could be purchased from the Ordnance Stores at reduced rates. Members could travel by rail free when taking part in rifle matches. By 1890, there were sufficient clubs for the organisation to be split into six districts. There was at least one club that was mounted.
    Photo of Richmond Rifle Club, n.d.
    Richmond Rifle Club at its Church Street Headquarters, n.d.,
    early 1900s. Photo provided by Gordon R. Burrowes, proud
    grandson of Captain Bill Smith, lying on ground (left).
    Former cadets later helped provide a nucleus for the formation of the Victorian contingents that volunteered for service in the Boer War. The cadets were used to discipline, and had learned drill, weapons training and how to care for their equipment. Volunteers who enrolled often were already in volunteer units or had experienced cadet training. It was relatively easy to retrain these individuals . . .

    Cadet companies could be formed after 1884 in any Victorian school in detachments of not less than 20. Armed with the Francotte breech loading rifle, the cadets were supplied with ammunition at half-price by the government, the same as to Victoria's many Rifle Clubs. A handsome trophy shield for shooting was keenly contested. It had to be won three times before becoming the property of the winners. It was finally won in 1891 by the Kensington State School Corps.

    Junior Cadets wore khaki and a soft felt hat. Seniors wore Lincoln green uniforms. A battalion of senior cadets formed the recruitment link between the cadet movement and the militia.

    DVDs including memorable Australians at war movies
    (take a peek without leaving this site)


    Do you have photos or diaries, etc., of people who served in the various Victorian Volunteer Rifle Corps, Naval Brigade, Artillery, Cavalry, or was a Cadet or a member of the Rifle Clubs of last century?

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