Michael Tyquin is a consulting historian who works in Canberra. This is Tyquin’s eighth book in the areas of Australian social, medical and military history in his 20 years of publication.A serving Australian Army Reserve officer,he is Adjunct Professor, Centre for Australian Military and Veterans’ Health in the School of Population Health, University of Queensland.
At the instigation of an opportunist Acting New South Wales Premier, the first colonial troops were offered to Britain following news of General Gordon’s demise at Khartoum in the Sudan on 6 February 1885. The contingent of an artillery battery, four rifle companies, 30 medical and veterinary personnel and fourteen bandsmen left Sydney on the Iberia and Australasianon 3 March, and arrived in Suakin on 29 and 30 March. The major activity the Contingent was the protection of the construction of the railway line from Suakin towards Berber. (Only 32 kilometres were constructed at a huge financial cost. Some of the Contingent became part of the mounted infantry in the Composite Camel Corps. The time spent in the Sudan was very limited – embarkation (without horses) to return to Australiawas on 17 May.The disembarkation in Sydney took place on 23 June after a week spent in quarantine.
A brief preface and introduction, followed by a clear map of the Sudan in the last two decades of the 19th century compared to today, and a time line of major events from mid-1882 to the British evacuation from the Sudan in mid-June 1885, set the scene for the political and military events preceding the early 1880s. The text is interspersed with photographs/paintings, short notes on the key players, diagrams explaining military organisations and strategy and tactics, weapons, uniforms, rations and water source/supply. The emergence of new technology such as the Gatling and Gardner Gun, the heliograph and the vibrating sounder used to transmit telegraph messages along bare wires laying (often just hidden) on the ground.There is even a photograph of Suakin taken from a British hydrogen-filled balloon for reconnaissance purposes. The huge logistics effort required maintaining the force before it even ventured from its baseswas the breaking point for British Government resolve, and then the Russian move in Afghanistan at the end of Marchbecame the ‘final straw’.
Whilst a most comprehensive coverage of the campaign, Tyquin has enabled his readers to comfortably skip through the minutiae of detail should they not be military history buffs. At no point has the over use of acronyms or technical jargon become apparent. Personal Australian accounts in letters home have helped counterbalance the many military aspects mentioned. Although a very short involvement by only one of our colonies, the Sudan Campaign is part of our military history that helped set the precedents for what has followed since when fighting beside Allies.
Some histories of the Sudan (from 1882 to 1898) fill many volumes. It is most refreshing to encounter such a concise, well-researched and informative account presented in this most attractive and readable format.
“The Royal United Services Institute of Victoria Library wishes to thank the publisher for providing a copy for review”