Thursday, May 03, 2012

The New South Wales Contingent to the Sudan

You may remember that I visited the Newline Designs stand  at Salute to pick up a pack of the new Sudan British figures (SUD05 - British Foot Advancing as it happens )... 

Just for fun I decided to paint each of the four figures in the pack as being from a different unit, and this guy is the first; he represents a soldier of the New South Wales Contingent that served in the Sudan between March & June 1885... 

A bit of background....  you may remember from your history that the British government had sent Gordon in 1884 to help the Egyptians extricate their troops from their failed attempt/expedition to finish the Dervish "menace". 

Moon struck, mystic or genius (choose your own descriptive) Gordon almost immediately started disregarding and exceeding his orders and found himself besieged in Khartoum. A massive wave of popular opinion both at home and abroad resulted in the British government authorising a relief expedition which sadly did not arrive in time and Gordon was killed in late January the following year.

From: "Sydney, NSW, 1885: infantrymen of the NSW Contingent to the Sudan, after their return to Australia. They are wearing khaki uniform issued for active service, and are equipped with Martini-Henry rifles."
Gordon's exploits were very well known throughout the whole Empire, and when the news of his death arrived in New South Wales (in Australia), the response was pretty much the same as everywhere else, and the British government of the day was roundly condemned for not having acted in time. The government of Canada offered troops for the Sudan, and shortly after the New South Wales government cabled London with its own offer (the other Australian states also offered but were turned down - it would be interesting to do some research to understand why at some time). The New South Wales government also offered to pay all costs. Not surprisingly Britain accepted but stipulated that the contingent would be under British command.

The contingent comprised a full infantry battalion of 522 men and 24 officers, with an attached artillery battery of 212 men.

It sailed on 3rd March 1885 and anchored at Suakin (the Sudan's Red Sea port) on the 29th. When the New South Wales contingent disembarked at Suakin they wore red coats and were apparently met with great cheers, but although their red coats were admired and commented on by soldiers and press alike (it was believed the Dervish were more frightened when they faced red coated British troops, as the khaki uniform looked very similar to the Egyptian troops) they were issued with khaki on the same day they arrived.

Once ashore they were attached to the brigade comprising the Scots, Grenadiers and Coldstream Guards (an indication of their fighting ability or just politics?? )

Shortly after their arrival they marched as part of a large "square" formation – made up of 10,000 men – for Tamai, the scene of the battle of the same name just 11 days before. The march was marked only by minor skirmishing, and the Australians sustained just three casualties, none fatal. The infantry reached Tamai, burned whatever huts were standing and returned to Suakin. After Tamai, the greater part of the contingent worked on the Berber railway; when a camel corps was raised, fifty men volunteered immediately but they saw little action.The artillery saw even less action than the infantry.

By May 1885 the British government had decided to abandon the campaign and leave only a garrison in Suakin. The Australian contingent sailed for home on the 17th May 1885.

A shame really, but irrespective of the military contribution - which was out of their hands - this did mark a significant step, and was the first time Australian troops had served abroad.

Figure is 20mm - and Newline Designs...  when (if??) I decide to go 20mm with the Sudan project, I'll be painting up the rest of his compatriots in order to represent the infantry of the Contingent in total...

Stay tuned - Yorkshire Regiment next... 


  1. Shiny, shiny new toys! Sean had run out by the time I got to the stand, not that I can actually paint anything at the moment!

  2. Well done indeed Sir!

    If I recall correctly, this was the first deployment of troops overseas from Australia. I saw some of the original uniforms in the War memorial earlier this year.

  3. Paul, you are indeed correct about them being the first to see overseas service. I've also seen the uniform at the memorial you're referring to.

    Speaking as a fellow colonial gamer AND a born and bred New South Welshman it makes me proud to see this chap in all his glory. If only they had let them keep their red coats!

    As Paul said, well done sir...

  4. Cheers guys.. appreciated.. a nice figure, and so well sculpted that it almost painted itself...

    For my Australian colleagues - any idea why the contingents from the other states weren't accepted??

  5. Steve, according to Kit Denton in Australians at War: For Queen & Commonwealth...

    News of Gordon's death reached Australia two weeks after it occurred and "Within hours, the acting Premier of New South Wales, William Bede Dalley, cabled London and offered the government and the War Office an expeditionary force to join whatever punitive strike might be made against the Mahdi. This immediate and practical offer was followed within days by similar ones from Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and New Zealand, but only the original offer was accepted. There was some doubt that the others could get to the scene of action in time."

    Hope that helps!

  6. Ah! That would explain it - thanks...

    The timeline is *very* impressive - Gordon died in late January, the NSW Contingent were ready and shipped by beginning of March - four weeks - and was in the Sudan within 8 weeks of his death! Somebody was a good planner....

  7. Great figure and an interesting read Steve.


  8. Steve

    Thanks for the post _ I hadn't realized there were Aussies in the Sudan.



  9. And very nice he is too, some great info in both the post and in your comments!!!

  10. A pleasure to view and to read.

  11. What a superb figure (and paint job). It's a shame Newline don't produce any Boers or I could be tempted into Colonials.

  12. ..actually I just checked out their site again and realise that they do produce Boers, so no excuse.

  13. Excellent post and a nice purposeful looking figure