The Australian Boer War Memorial
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Major General (Later Lieutenant General) Edward Hutton KCMG, KCB, MID (12)

Major General (later Lieutenant General) Sir Edward Thomas Henry Hutton, KCMG, KCB, MID (12) (1848–1923) Leader of Australians in the Boer War and Maverick First Commandant of the Australian Army

Sir Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848-1923), British regular soldier and first organiser of the Australian Army, was born on 6 December 1848 at Torquay, Devon. Hutton was educated at Eton after which he joined the 60th Rifles as an ensign in 1867. He was promoted captain in 1879 and major in 1883. In 1879-85 he saw much active service in Africa, in the Zulu War (1879), the first South African War (1881), the occupation of Egypt including the battle of Tel-el-Kebir (1882) and the Nile Expedition (1884-85). During this period he became deeply interested in the training and employment of mounted infantry with which he thrice served on operations. At Aldershot, England, he raised and commanded mounted infantry units in 1888-92, becoming recognised as one of the leading proponents of this form of mobility. A good speaker with a flair for publicity, he was identified as one of the 'Wolseley Ring' of army reformers. He also founded the military society at Aldershot as a professional forum. In 1889 Hutton was promoted lieutenant-colonel and colonel in 1892.

'Curly' Hutton became commandant of the New South Wales Military Forces with the local rank of major general in 1893. The advent of an able leader committed to military reform and with recent war experience revived the flagging spirit of the New South Wales forces. Hutton inspected units in every part of the colony, addressed public gatherings and brought the army before the community, beginning with a major review in Sydney in July 1893. On one of his inspections he travelled 680 miles (1094 km) in twenty days including 500 miles (805 km) on horseback. He visited training camps and exercises, delivered lectures to officers, fostered rifle clubs and supported the movement for raising national regiments such as the Irish Rifles. Valuable as the public side of his work was, Hutton's reorganisation of the New South Wales forces was even more important because it gave the colony an army capable of taking the field as part of a Federal force. He restructured the headquarters staff, persuaded the government to transfer the influential department of the military secretary from the chief secretary to his own command and organised administrative services to support the fighting arms. All this was achieved in a period of acute economic depression and in the face of political and military opposition. At the outset of his command he quarrelled bitterly with the premier, Sir George Dibbs, who had insisted on a reduction of £30,000 in the defence estimates, the practical result of which was the cancellation of the Easter training camps. When Hutton's views on this were reported in the press the premier publicly censured his commandant saying, inter alia, 'he is a good soldier but he writes and talks too much. He means well … but he has much to learn in regard to his official duties'. There was substance in this criticism. Hutton from the start aroused suspicion in some quarters by his outspoken remarks on helping 'England in her hour of need'. He also vigorously supported the movement for Federal defence; in a speech at Bathurst in January 1894 he advocated one defence policy for the six colonies, a common organisation of their forces while preserving their identity, a Federal regiment of artillery and a Federal council of defence.

At the intercolonial military conference of October 1894 Hutton recommended the establishment of a council of defence, composed of delegates from all the colonies, to take charge of the forces in time of war or general emergency. This was supported by the conference but its recommendations made little impression on the colonial premiers. However, the startling successes of the Japanese forces in the war with China in 1894-95 provided Hutton with a useful argument for greater preparedness which he placed before his government in March 1895. A second meeting of the commandants, chaired by him, in January 1896 reaffirmed their proposals for the employment of the forces of every colony in the joint defence of Australia under the control of a council of defence, while rejecting a suggestion from London that their field forces should be liable to serve beyond Australia. By this time the political movement for Federation was overtaking the military movement and political leaders were looking for Federation as the necessary preliminary to national defence.

Hutton returned to England in March 1896. By the end of his command he and his wife had won the esteem of the New South Wales forces and Hutton had become an important public figure. A convinced Imperialist, he quickly began to propagate his ideas on Australian defence, addressing members of parliament on the topic and the Aldershot Military Society on 'Our comrades of Greater Britain'. In that address the concept of the Australian soon to be popularised by C. E. Bean was already discernible:

'The Australian is a born horseman. With his long, lean muscular thighs he is more at home on a horse than on his feet, and is never seen to a greater advantage than when mounted and riding across bush or a difficult country … Fine horsemen, hardy, self-reliant, and excellent marksmen, they are the beau ideal of Mounted Riflemen … Accustomed to shift for themselves in the Australian bush, and under the most trying conditions of heat and cold, they would thrive where soldiers unaccustomed to bush life would die'.

This address was widely reported in Australia as well as in Britain. In April 1898 he read a paper on 'A co-operative system for the defence of the Empire' before the Royal Colonial Institute in London, using the Australian Federal defence scheme as the pattern for a scheme of Empire defence.

After a staff appointment in Ireland Hutton went to Canada in 1898 to command the Canadian Militia, a force which presented him with opportunities of reform as far-reaching as those in New South Wales. His aim was to build a national army for Canada which would also be available to serve abroad. Unwisely, he became involved in Canadian politics; his efforts to pursue a military policy of his own became known to the Canadian government and his public speeches at the time of the South African War in 1899, with other devious activities, led to a crisis in which he was forced to resign.

Hutton's civilian master, the minister of militia and defence, Frederick William Borden, supported the general's efforts to promote military service, reorganise the headquarters staff, improve training, encourage bilingualism, establish rigorous criteria for appointments and promotions, and create service units to support the fighting arms. He also backed Hutton's efforts to create a self-supporting force capable of serving as a "little Canadian Army in the field." Borden, however, objected to Hutton's pre-emptive, arrogant methods and his attempts to bring military administration under his exclusive control. Moreover, many of Borden's ministerial colleagues resented Hutton's public advocacy of imperial obligations, especially during the divisive debate that preceded Canada's participation in the South African War. The minister and the general first quarreled over the appointment of a medical officer at the infantry school in Saint-Jean. Hutton immediately sought the assistance of the newly arrived Governor General Lord Minto, whose support fed his pretensions. Scornful of "ignorant civilians," Hutton and Minto tended to attribute every ministerial intervention to partisan politics, and they failed to see that Borden was the "most powerful force for reform in the government."

Many Liberals, for their part, believed that Hutton favoured Conservatives for militia appointments. His battle with Samuel Hughes, a Conservative MP and a lieutenant-colonel in the Ontario militia, demonstrated that Hutton respected no man's politics, especially when they challenged his personal ambitions. Both were competent officers, but they were also vain and intemperate men who craved rank and saw war as a means to advancement. Their most violent altercation occurred over the leadership of whatever troops Canada might decide to send in the event of a war in South Africa. Hutton had set his heart upon commanding a combined force of Canadians and Australians, and he sought this goal by insisting on an official Canadian contingent. Hughes, fearing that Hutton had omitted him from a lead role in any contingent, offered to recruit and command a volunteer unit. Hutton, however, refused to transmit this offer to the British government, and in August 1899 he asked Minto to block any Canadian endorsement. Hughes struck back like a doomed man, denouncing Hutton and Minto and reminding them of the stupidities of British regulars through the ages. After Hughes advertised for volunteers, Hutton charged him with violating the British Army Act, which forbade unauthorised recruitment, and threatened to remove him from his militia command. When Canada decided - on 13 October, two days after the outbreak of the South African War - to send an official contingent, Borden would intervene to permit Hughes to accompany it in civilian dress and seek military employment with some other unit, an unlikely chance owing to the vindictive correspondence from Minto and Hutton to senior British officers.

The government watched this public controversy with incredulity. Those in cabinet who opposed a contingent, were convinced that Hutton and Minto were in league with Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain to force Canada to commit troops. They were wrong, however: there was no accord, and Hutton and Minto disagreed on the necessity of war. During the summer of 1899, Hutton worked "patriotism and military enthusiasm . . . to a white heat" in the militia camps; Minto remained equivocal until the outbreak of war. In the end, the decision to send troops was a reluctant, politically motivated capitulation to the strident demands of Canada's pro-war advocates. It was not helped, however, by rumours that Hutton had boasted he might have to overturn the government as he claimed to have done in New South Wales.

The crisis over the contingent further embittered Hutton's relationships with the government, and set the stage for his dismissal for insubordination. Antagonisms surfaced during the ceremonies marking the contingent's departure. At the Quebec garrison's banquet on 28 October for the officers, Hutton, intoxicated by his own rhetoric, predicted that Canada would send 50,000 to 100,000 men to defend the empire's integrity. This declaration appeared to repudiate the government's public promise that the 1,000-man contingent constituted no precedent for future contributions. The next day Hutton quarrelled with Borden and stomped off the parade square in a huff. Meanwhile Hutton's disagreement with Lord William Frederick Ernest Seymour, the commander of the British troops in Halifax, had come to a head. What began in June 1899 as a petty issue of protocol grew into a personal vendetta. As the senior British officer in Canada, Seymour, in the event of war, was to assume command of the combined Canadian and British forces. Hutton refused to provide him with a secret report and routine information on British regulars in the Canadian militia. Such an exchange, he felt, would be an infringement on Canadian autonomy. When Seymour addressed him through Borden, Hutton appeared even more alarmed. Finally, Seymour appealed to Borden to help curtail Hutton's growing insubordination and sent the minister a secret memorandum condemning Hutton's behaviour while in command of the militia. Minto reported Seymour to the War Office. Its assessment would precipitate Seymour's resignation in 1900; a subsequent military inquiry would uphold him.

As the war continued even Minto quarrelled with him over the composition of a second contingent. Hutton was determined to recruit mounted men from the militia cavalry, confident that their success would reflect favourably on his command. Minto suggested recruits from the northwest who could ride and shoot and had experience with rough terrain like the Australian Bushmen regiments then being recruited. Minto even asked Prime Minister Laurier to intervene.

A minor dispute over the purchasing of horses for the second contingent hastened Hutton's break with the government in January 1900. After he had refused to supply information, Borden secured cabinet's approval to dismiss the general. Minto foolishly considered forcing his government's resignation over the issue. When Laurier remained adamant, Minto informed the Colonial Office of his plans. Its reaction was immediate. Convinced that Hutton was "unfit by temperament and manners" for his position, it recalled him, effective 12 February.

He then served in South Africa where, as a major general commanding the 1st Mounted Infantry brigade from April 1900 with great distinction in the advance to Pretoria. His brigade included Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and British units and he chose his staff largely from the colonial forces. The units making up his brigade consisted of 1st and 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, Queensland Mounted Infantry, NSW Mounted Rifles, Victorian Mounted Rifles, Tasmanian Mounted Infantry, Loch’s Horse, Lumsden’s Horse New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the 1st,3rd , 4th and 8th composite Mounted Infantry battalions (British Regulars). Artillery support was provided by G and J Batteries RHA (12 Pdrs) and C and L sections Pom Poms. Canadian troops detested him, however, and the feeling appeared mutual. Hutton described them as the worst thieves in the British army; on one occasion they had stolen his horse. He was also instrumental in forming, with the help of Lt Colonel T S Parrott from NSW, the Australian Mounted Pioneer Corps, a squadron sized engineer force made up of Australian, Canadian and British Soldiers. This was designed to ensure that his brigade could keep up with the fast moving cavalry brigades of French’s cavalry division. His letters reveal his enthusiasm for the colonial citizen soldier and his awareness of a special responsibility in such a command which seemed to him as much political and Imperial as military. For his services in South Africa he was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1900 as well as receiving a QSA.

In 1901 the first Australian government appointed Hutton to command and organise its land forces. He was recommended by Field Marshal Lord Roberts after several other officers had refused or were rejected by the government. He returned to Australia in January 1902 to tackle the congenial task of transforming the six colonial forces into a national army. He was warned by his friends about speech-making, his intemperate language and the need for tact when dealing with ministers, but such warnings were quickly forgotten. That year in Melbourne he published some of his addresses, The Defence and Defensive Power of Australia.

Hutton came with high hopes and with the intention of organizing an army capable of supporting Australian and British interests beyond the Australian Commonwealth. His command began with personal frustrations owing to the refusal of the War Office to promote him lieutenant-general despite his much wider responsibilities and the refusal of the Australians to allow him to bring his own aide-de-camp. The government was without a defence policy, having withdrawn its first defence bill after it had been roughly handled in parliament. Confident and ambitious, Hutton submitted a minute in April 1902 outlining the strategic situation of Australia and the military organisation he considered appropriate to it. He proposed a garrison force to defend the major coastal centres and ports and a field force which could be sent wherever Australian interests might require it. He hoped that it could be used also in Imperial Defence. His proposals aroused adverse criticism not only in Australia but also in the Colonial Defence Committee in London. A new draft defence bill, prepared by Hutton at the request of the prime minister, was passed and finally proclaimed in March 1904 but it made no provision for sending Australian troops overseas. Nevertheless the general shape of the Australian Army as proposed by Hutton was preserved.

Meanwhile Hutton was merging the colonial militia forces into an Australian citizen army, although not without difficulty. He was furiously attacked in parliament and the press over the disbandment of small volunteer units whose disappearance was necessary to the development of a properly organised force. There was an alarming shortage of trained officers but the posting of a regular officer to a command in place of an elderly and inefficient militia colonel aroused a storm of protest. Similarly the transfer of instructors from one State to another caused a crisis between South Australia and the Commonwealth in 1902. Nor did his insistence that as the command opportunities in the Boer War were coming to an end, command of the battalions of the Australian Commonwealth Horse in general must go to young regulars such as Chauvel to give them experience, win him friends. Hutton fought a losing battle in trying to maintain a headquarters staff adequate for its task but reduction of the numbers of permanent officers and soldiers was a ready and popular way of saving money, especially as there were no pensions for those retrenched. Following the peace the government retrenched many older permanent officers without pension.

Hutton promoted efficiency, discipline and training in every department of the new citizen army. Much that he proposed had to wait for better times and the better atmosphere which the general officer commanding was incapable of creating. Among his proposals were a military college, an Army Service Corps, an Ordnance Corps, and superannuation for the permanent force. He was successful in creating the field force and the garrison force, with complete war and peace establishments. The cavalry and other mounted units he transformed into mounted infantry known as Light Horse. On the other hand he could not obtain funds for the equipment and rearmament of the forces. He instituted staff rides for the tactical training of officers and non-commissioned officers and began the process of producing an educated officer corps. This was also linked to a course in Military Studies at the University of Sydney. These changes involved a degree of control and centralisation which inevitably aroused resentment in the States. That some officers were also members of parliament or influential politically hindered his plans.

Hutton quarrelled frequently with his ministers, some of whose interventions were petty or foolish in the extreme. A more tolerant man would have made allowances for their inexperience and ignorance and for the very novelty of the experiment in which all were engaged. But Hutton the autocrat and fighter was in a hurry. He had insisted on a three-year appointment rather than the five he had been offered and there was still much to be done. Fortunately he had an eye for talent; chief among his protégés were Lieutenant-Colonel (Major General Sir) W. T. Bridges, Lieutenant-Colonel (General Sir) Harry Chauvel and Captain (General Sir) Brudenell White, all of whom were to play important roles in the development of the army, especially in World War I. His constant battles with his ministers were Hutton's undoing. In 1904 a succession of ministers worked at revising the Defence Act along the lines of the recent reorganisation of the War Office where the commander-in-chief had been replaced by an army council. No government wanted another G.O.C., whether British or Australian. Hutton strongly opposed this policy but the bill providing a military board in place of the G.O.C. was passed by the end of the year. By that time he had resigned after another furious quarrel over payment for a cable in cipher, the contents of which he refused to divulge.

The handicaps under which Hutton worked cannot be disregarded. He began his task in years of recession when weak governments were struggling to reduce expenditure. In three years he had to deal with four prime ministers and six ministers of defence. Parliament and the army itself included men of parochial outlook in military affairs and there was widespread popular suspicion of regular officers who were associated with 'militarism' and 'gold lace'. For all his soldierly qualities, professionalism, experience and zeal, Hutton was devoid of the tact which might have eased his relations with the ministers whom, too often, he despised. Perhaps his chief difficulty arose from his desire to serve two masters, the War Office and the Australian government. He saw the Australian Military Forces and the armies of other dominions as branches of one great British Army. He intended to give Australia an efficient citizen force for its own defence but he also wanted it to be ready to defend any part of the Empire. Despite the strength of the Imperial ties, Australian national sentiment and a growing appreciation of the country's proper interests were too strong for Hutton. However much he was disliked and distrusted by politicians, he was held in affection and admiration within the army and he left his mark on those who were to lead the Australian Imperial Force. He is particularly noted for his sponsorship and development of the Australian Army’s badge which was based on a trophy of swords and bayonets which hung in his Victorian office. He proposed that Australia should write an official history of its role in the Boer War but this was knocked on the head by the minister who pointed out that as Britain was writing one there was no reason for Australia to do so as well. He did manage to get support for a compilation of the Official Rolls of the Contingents by Lt Col P L Murray.

On his return to the United Kingdom he was given charge of administration in the Eastern Command and made G.O.C. of the 3rd British Division. At last in November 1907 he was promoted lieutenant-general on the eve of retirement. He was appointed K.C.B. in 1912. When Bridges was raising the Australian Imperial Force he suggested that it be commanded by Hutton. The government rejected the suggestion. He had been too closely tied to the Imperial concept of Australia’s role in Empire Defence, the AIF was to be uniquely Australian responsible to the Australian Government not the Imperial Government one of the significant outcomes of the Boer War.

Hutton was recalled by the War Office to organise and command the 21st British Division. A riding accident in 1915 brought about his final retirement. It seems to have started a significant deterioration in his health During World War I Hutton corresponded with Bridges, Chauvel, White and others, rejoicing in Australian successes. After the victory of Romani in August 1916 he congratulated Chauvel, commanding the Anzac Mounted Division.

'You and your men are establishing Australia as a Nation great by land and sea — which shall stand for British Freedom, Justice and Honour in the Southern Seas for all time.'

Senior officers of the A.I.F. would visit the old soldier whose health was declining. He died on 4 August 1923 and was buried near his home at Chertsey, Surrey.

by A. J. Hill
'Hutton, Sir Edward Thomas Henry (1848–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, With additions and editing by David Deasey

 


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