The involvement of an Australian colonial military force in Britain’s Egyptian campaigns between 1883 and 1885 was very short, extending for only five months overall, including the pre-deployment phase. Consequently its influence on those campaigns was insignificant. Nevertheless, our involvement in the Sudan in 1885 is part of Australia’s military history. This book provides the context for Australia’s involvement in the Sudan, and follows operations chronologically. The call in the 1880s for jihad or ‘holy war’ by Sudanese leaders shows us that some of our current global challenges are not new.
Sending the contingent has been seen as the first important expression of colonial commitment to the imperial cause in the nineteenth century. In Australia, politicians were alive to their own colonies coming-of-age, and the conflict in the Sudan afforded an opportunity to demonstrate colonial maturity to an imperial audience across the globe. Despite other Australian colonies wanting to make a military contribution, only New South Wales actually deployed any troops. It did so because it had the largest and best organised defence force, and was led by a very opportunist politician.
However one looks at it, Britain’s experience in the Sudan in the 1880s comprised political indecision, expensive deployments and military defeats, followed by the withdrawal of Egyptian and imperial forces. British arms would not secure a victory there until 1898.
The deployment to the Sudan represents Australia’s first real military engagement aboard. It helped set the precedent for the Australian colonies’ role, attitudes and engagement in the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.