The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
|Lieutenant Rupert Hornabrook|
Lieutenant Rupert Walter HORNABROOK
NATAL VOLUNTEER MEDICAL STAFF
Mention in Dispatches. Queen’s South Africa Award with Clasps Elangslaagte and Defence of Ladysmith Tour: 1899-1901.
Son of Charles Atkins Hornabrook and Eliza Maria Soward of Adelaide, South Australia. Husband of Emma Winifred Sargood of Melbourne, Victoria. Maternal first cousin twice removed of Dean Newman.
Dr. Hornabrook was working as a Health Officer in the Johannesburg mines in Transvaal when the Boer War broke out and he immediately joined the Natal Volunteer Medical Staff. Hornabrook was commissioned as a Lieutenant attached to the Natal Mounted Rifles (NMR).
He was with the British Bellair Troop defeated in the Battle of Tinta Inyoni on Tuesday 24 October 1899. There followed the subsequent retreat to Ladysmith. Here the British were surrounded by the Boers and spent 120 under siege. The town was relieved on 1 March 1900.
Rupert Hornabrook was a member of the Bellair Troop’s Ambulance Detachment which was comprised of: Lieutenant-Surgeon R. W. Hornabrook; Trooper S. Harrop; Veterinary-Lieutenant S. T. Amos; Trooper N. Jelseth; Sergeant J. Whittaker; Trooper A. McKenna; Corporal R. J. Kelly; Trooper J. G. Pennell; Trooper G. W. Bradshaw; Trooper G. Pulford; Trooper D. Donalson; Trooper R. M. Ridgway; Trooper J. Donalson; Trooper G. Thomas. On their return to Bellair (Durban) in October 1900 the following address of gratitude was given them:
We the residents of Bellair and its neighbourhood offer a most warm and hearty welcome to the members of the Bellair troop of the N.M.R. on their return from a long and arduous campaign in Northern Natal. We thank almighty God for his great mercy and his over-ruling goodness towards you, seeing that of your number one only has been killed by the enemy’s fire and not one has died of wounds or sickness. Your conduct has given an example that may well be followed by all: first, of readiness to obey the call of duty and take the field, second, of gallant conduct in various actions that preceded this investment of Ladysmith, and then of patient, cheerful endurance of the anxieties and privations of the long siege. After the relief, you returned to the field and took part in ridding Natal of her invaders and guarding her borders, until the forces in the Orange Free State Colony and Transvaal removed all further need of your service and freed Natal from her invaders. We feel thankful that such an opportunity has been given you and that you have nobly embraced it. We hope that the force to which you belong may never be called to resist invasion again. But on whatever service it may be summoned, we trust and hope that the same spirit may be found in its members then as has been found in you, and that the force in the future may never sully the fair fame you have won for it and which you hand on to your successors to preserve.
Dr. E. J. Pemberton of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, wrote of some of Rupert Hornabrook’s experiences during the Boer War in an article in the Journal of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care in 1999:
In October 1899, as the battle of Elands Laagte was coming to an end, Hornabrook was on horseback, treating the wounded on the field. He encountered ti his (and their) surprise, a group of 25 Boer soldiers who had obviously lost their way. With nothing but a pistol and bravado, he convinced the party that all was lost and there was nothing left for them to do but surrender and go quietly. With two carrying the group’s weapons and the rest marching in front, the fearless doctor brought the captured soldiers in single-handed. He served with his garrison in the 120 day siege of Ladysmith and kept a detailed diary of events. “Oct 24th …Never shall I forget that Tuesday at Tinta Inyoni, how I escaped I don’t know…first a man hit on this side, now on the other, it makes one feel serious.”
He was severely wounded whilst attending wounded soldiers under heavy gunfire. The enemy, alerted to his injury, sent a cartel to express regret at the “shooting of Lieutenant Hornabrook which occurred in the heat of the action and without animus”. Along with the missive, a case of whisky was sent to the hospital, where Hornabrook declared that this war was “the last to be fought as between gentlemen”. He was the only medical officer mentioned in a despatch from Lord Roberts; this was dated 2nd April 1901.
Lieutenant Hornabrook was twice cited as being Mentioned in Dispatches, and was wounded at Ladysmith (Caesar’s Hill) on 6 January 1900. He is thought to be the first Australian to see action in the Boer War and the only Australian to wear the clasps Elangslaagte and Defence of Ladysmith on his medal of service – the Queens South Africa Award. During the Boer War those officers and soldiers who received a ‘Mention in Dispatches’ had their names included in the London Gazette. This entry was reprinted in South African Army Orders, and again in local General Orders. The recipient was given no personal outward sign to show the award. Ladysmith is located on the banks of KwaZulu Natal’s Klip River. Proclaimed in 1850, it was named after the Spanish wife of Sir Harry Smith. It became a prosperous staging-post for fortune hunters en-route to the Transvaal gold-fields and diamond discoveries at Kimberley. Along with its attendant battles, the tragic chain of events which led to the siege of British troops in Ladysmith, remains a bleak epic in Britain’s long history of imperialism. The deliberate massing of regiments in an area encircled by hills offered Boer field-commanders the perfect opportunity to isolate and harass their foe with impunity. To prevent a disaster of humiliating proportions, British officers were directed from the highest quarter to relieve the town at all costs. It appears that Winston Churchill, the 25-year-old Sandhurst-trained cavalryman and newspaper reporter, learnt nothing from his presence in the area at the time of the siege. For he, as Lord of the Admiralty, allowed that the almost identical fiasco was repeated in the straits of the Dardanelles some 15 years later. The 3,200 men who died in the defence and rescue of the town of Ladysmith are commemorated in the stained-glass windows and marble tablets of the local All Saints Anglican Church.