Volunteer Defence Forces

Southern Tasmanian volunteeers, 1865 (AOT, PH30/1/469)

Volunteer Defence Forces or citizen soldiers reflected a commitment to community service and symbolised respectability and status. Tasmania's first were the Hobart Town Volunteer Artillery Company (1859) and a similar company in Launceston (1860), but government support was lukewarm. Although British troops were withdrawn in 1870, the volunteer movement was not reorganised until the Russian war scare of 1878. The following year Hobart volunteers were assembled to support the police during the Chiniquy riots, but were not needed. By 1880 there were 600 'effectives': 200 artillery, 350 infantry and about fifty mounted infantry. In 1883 the Tasmanian Engineers were formed, and trained as a torpedo corps for torpedo boat TB1. Colonel WV Legge became Commandant in 1883, reorganised Hobart's defences, and secured for his men part payment for daylight drills. The North West Volunteers were formed in 1886, and two companies were established on the west coast in 1900, but cuts in government funding reduced volunteer numbers. Some Tasmanian Volunteers fought in the South African (Boer) War. Defence became a commonwealth responsibility in 1903, and militia units evolved into the Citizens Military Force and from 1980 the Army Reserve.

Soldiers at Risdon Cove, 1900 (AOT, NS1013/1/283)

Further reading: P Bolger, Hobart Town, Canberra, 1973; The Cyclopedia of Tasmania, Hobart, 1900; B Nicholls, The colonial volunteers, Sydney, 1988; D Wyatt, A lion in the colony, Hobart, 1990.

Stefan Petrow