The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Warrant Officer (Later Major) John Bond

John Bond was born at Portland, Victoria, on 24 October, 1855. After leaving school he was apprenticed as a coachbuilder in his uncle's business in nearby Hamilton. It was in this town that he married Sarah McDonald on 27 August, 1877.'

Unfortunately, Bond had to give up his trade after injuring himself with an adze. His relatives had established a joinery business at Parramatta, NSW, and in 1880 Bond made the move north to work in the firm. He resided at Newtown (1883) and Petersham (1892) before moving to Waverley in 1893 where he lived at "Coleraine", 41 Belgrave Street, until his death in 1927. He began to study medicine and although never graduating as a doctor he was regarded by the local residents as the next best thing.

In 1883 Bond was working with the Railways and on 7 June of that year resigned to join the NSW Volunteer Corps. (He had previously served five years with the Victorian Volunteer Artillery.) Initially posted to the 1st Infantry Regiment, Bond transferred to the Medical Staff Corps on 26 October, 1888, was promoted to Company Sergeant Major on 17 April, 1892 and transferred to the Instructional Staff on 29 May, 1892. Bond served in the Boer War (1899 - 1902) as a Warrant Officer and was part of the NSW Medical Team, First Contingent which left Australia in 1899.

In 1894 the Life Saving Society (later Royal) was established in Australia and opened its first branch at Waverley. The Secretary, Captain Arthur Holmes, compiled the Branch's first Annual Report which read as follows:

"The first public meeting having for its object the formation of the first branch of the Life Saving Society of the Australian Colonies was held at Waverley on January 24, 1894, the necessary formalities having been completed and the branch authorised and duly acknowledged by the parent society.

A large number of members were enrolled and active work was at once begun.

We were fortunate enough to secure the gratuitous services of Sergeant-Major Bond, instructor to the Medical Staff Corps of the New South Wales Military Forces, as our drill instructor and he at once organised a class of about 20 gentlemen, of whom 16 completed the full course of rescue drill, release drill and resuscitation. The drill was first carried out on land and afterwards in the water at the Bronte sea baths.

At the request of the officer commanding the Public School Cadets Corps of the colony, a public display was given for the information and benefit of about 300 officers and cadets at the Bronte baths.

It is worthy to note that this public display was the first of its kind ever held in the Australian colonies.

At the invitation of the swimming club of Parramatta, 'a large town about 24 kilometres west of Sydney', two squads under Sergeant-Major Bond visited Parramatta in April and gave an exhibition of lifesaving for the benefit of the local club and a large number of residents. The display was in every sense a great success.

A third display which took the form of a water carnival was held on April 14, 1894, at the Bronte Baths, where a large concourse of persons representing all classes was present, including members of Parliament, officers from H.M. ships of war on the Australian station, the Mercantile Marine and representatives of the local military forces.

It was seen that many persons, although excellent swimmers themselves, had no idea how lifesaving work was performed and were agreeably surprised at the methods adopted. Many of the members then being drilled were among the foremost swimmers of the colony.

Since the visit of the members of our branch to Parramatta the daughter of the proprietor of the baths there successfully rescued a woman who had got into difficulties.

Another instance also happened, where one of the members of the Waverley branch plunged into the harbour at Circular Quay at night time and rescued a passenger who had fallen off one of the ferry steamers. It would therefore be seen that the work of our branch is already bearing good fruit.

It was decided in 1894 that the swimming and surfing season would commence on October 1, each year."

A 1924 newspaper article entitled "Pioneer of Life Saving - Major John Bond - First Club at Bronte" included the following statement:

"Major Bond's proudest possession, as far as life saving is concerned, is the first report and manuscript of the pioneer life saving club in Australia, which was formed at Bronte in 1894. The late Major-General Holmes - who gave his life in the Great War - was the Hon. Secretary. At the time this brilliant soldier was a captain in the 1st Infantry Regiment. The document shows many little shorthand notes made by Captain Holmes from time to time in connection with the club".

A "Sun" newspaper article in 1936 provided details of early training. The article states that FV Lloyd, the lessee of Bronte Baths, obtained a handbook from AL Hendry the Secretary of the Royal Life Saving Society in England. Lloyd showed the book to Holmes and Bond and shortly after Bond began instructing a group of the local swimmers in 1894. Instruction was given in an old weatherboard pavilion on the hill in Bronte Park (above the existing Surf Club) and also in Bronte Baths.

These men were the first in Australia to receive the Bronze Medallion direct from the parent body in England and were termed the Waverley Branch of the English Life Saving Society.

Assisting in the instruction was Dr Reuter E Roth who was later to serve with Bond in South Africa as a Major in the NSW Medical Team. During World War I, Roth was promoted to Colonel and appointed Deputy Director of Medical Services in the 1st A.I.F. It is interesting to note that Holmes, Bond and Roth all served in South Africa and there is little doubt that their military background had a great influence on the drill associated with Bronze Medallion training.

Arthur Holmes, Hon. Secretary of the Life Saving Society, became a Vice President of the Bronte Surf Bathing Association and later "Chairman of Council" of the Surf Bathing Association of NSW.

John Bond, the Society's Hon. Instructor, became the Instructor for the Bronte Life Saving Brigade and later for both the Bronte and Bondi Surf Clubs.

Reuter Roth became President of the Society and acted as a judge at many of the early surf carnivals conducted by the Association.

On Boxing Day, 1902, one such rescue was attempted. A man was swept out at the south end and drowned despite the efforts of the locals. The rescuers waded out and threw a buoy as close as possible to the man. Their attempts were futile and rescuers and onlookers alike stood by helplessly watching the victim become weaker until he drowned. The body was swept out behind the baths and recovered the following day.

At the time Bond, who had recently returned from South Africa, was stationed at Victoria Barracks in Sydney and was studying to become an officer. The tragedy stirred Bond into action and he immediately set about organising the locals into squads to patrol the beach on a regular, scheduled basis.

There a number of claims as to who invented the lifesaving reel which was first demonstrated at Bondi on 23 December, 1906. One name however regularly appears amongst those who are given credit for the idea - John Bond.

On the 13 June, 1916, G.H. Williams, Secretary of the Royal Life Saving Society, wrote a reference for Bond. Williams wrote: "he (Bond) designed the first Life Saving Reel which has proved so useful and effective on our ocean beaches and which has been adopted in the other States, New Zealand and various coastal parts of England.

A further article published in the "Telegraph" in 1935 also referred to the origins of the surf reel:

Mr A B Parker said that when the surf team goes to England, the surf-reel should bear a plate "The Major Bond Surf Reel" to let the world know the originator of this aid to life preservation."

"Daily News" of 6 December, 1938, published an article on surf life saving. The article stated:

"Surf bathing was practically unknown before 1902. Once people took to the water, someone had to safeguard them. Bronte, Australia's first life-saving club, was formed a year later. John Bond a staff-sergeant at Victoria Barracks, devised the first reel."

In a newspaper article Mr AB Paterson, Secretary of the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club wrote:

In 1910 the origin of the surf life saving movement was investigated by Mr William Henry - then chief secretary of the Royal Life Saving Society - who vas on a visit to Australia. He stated that the first club was formed on Bronte Beach andĽ the surf reel vas the invention of the late Major J Bond who was a foundation member of the club.

The first reel was placed on Bondi Beach and is still in existence. The second reel was made immediately afterwards for Bronte Club.

In 1941 A B Parker wrote to Les Bond (the Major's son) attributing the invention of the reel to the Major. In his letters of 25 March, 1941, and 1 May, 1941, Parker stated that as early as 1904 Bond was discussing the idea of a reel. He further stated that a model was made by Hainings and Son, Coachbuilder of Chippendale in 1906 and "that the first belt vas made by Mr JT Dudley of 35 Sussex Street, Sydney and accompanying New Zealand hemp line by Messrs A Forsyth and Co Ltd, 339 Kent Street, Sydney".

(Parker's statements are credible when one considers that he was a member of Bond's first Bronze Medallion Squad in 1894 and became Coogee Surf Club's Hon. Instructor in 1907).

He joined the new Australian Army in 1903 on the AI&S Staff at Victoria Barracks and was commissioned as a lieutenant in April 1913.

In 1908 Major Bond became the lessee of the Bronte Baths and began a family association which vas to last until 1954. In the early years sons Billy and Les managed the Baths on behalf of their father.

On 29 April, 1909, Bond gave evidence before a Parliamentary Standing Committee enquiring into a proposal to extend the tramway from Waverley to Bronte Beach. Bond, who described himself as a "Drill Instructor", stated that he had lived at Waverley for 16 years (i.e. since 1893). He also said that he had been an instructor to the Bondi Life Saving Club and was currently instructor to the Bronte Club.

He remained the Club's Drill Instructor (now termed Chief Instructor) until the end of the 1911-12 season. In the 1912-13 season he vas elected First Aid Instructor and also Vice President, a position he retained for the rest of his life.

Bond was duly commissioned as an officer and was promoted to Captain. Considered too old for operational service when the First World War broke out, John Bond remained in Australia as an administrator and trainer of soldiers. On retirement he was promoted to Major 1 November 1919. He was also an Instructor with the St John Ambulance Brigade and upon retirement from the Army became prominent in Veterans' Affairs.

Major John Bond died on the 27 February, 1927, aged 72 and his wife Sarah died on 30 August, 1948, aged 89.

Stan Vesper (Bronte SLSC), and Lieutenant Colonel David Deasey RFD (NBWMA) 2010

To seal the link between Surf Life Saving and our nation's military, a surf boat race will be run around the Gallipoli peninsula in 2015 as part of the ANZAC Centenary celebrations. Visit for more information.

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