Singleton – Boer War and Herbert Waddell

Herbert W. Waddell


‘Soldiers of the Queen’

waddell1The memorial to Trooper Herbert Waddell a member of the Bushmens’ Contingent in the South African War stands on its own in Burdekin Park, Singleton somewhat overshadowed by the monument to those who died in a Great(er) War.[1] Somehow or other it is felt that the sentiments of the local member, Mr. Dight at the unveiling on 27 September 1903 that ‘the monument now erected …would perpetrate the memory of Herbert Waddell, long after those present had passed away’ have not entirely come to pass.[2]

The builder was C.J.Shakespeare of Wellington & Singleton. Whether Shakespeare, the monumental mason and the sculptor were one and the same is not known. The newspaper reports that money was paid ‘…to the sculptor’ which could be interpreted as that the sculptor and Shakespeare were different people. To some extent this may have been the case as Christopher Shakespeare would have only been 26 years of age in 1903.[3]  The material was not local as the Argus reported that ‘the Railways Commissioners deducted nothing for freight.’[4]

Herbert was born in Singleton in December 1872 His mother was drowned when he was less than one year old and he was reared by his grandfather and paternal aunt. His family was prominent citizens of the town. [5]

His cousin Harold, along with other volunteers from Singleton embarked from Sydney for England on the SS Ninevah on the 3rd. March 1899. They were members of the New South Wales Lancers. Lieut.-Colonel P.L. Murray later described these volunteers as ‘a superior class of individuals, from whom considerable was to be expected’[6].

However the issue of ‘volunteers’ is somewhat complex as whilst there had been  reports in the press of war being imminent, England in March 1899 was not at war.[7] In any case the first draft of Lancers went to England some six months prior to the outbreak ostensibly take part in the annual military tournament at Islington and for training at Aldershot.[8]. So whether there was an implicit understanding by the ‘volunteers’ that this training was preparatory for active service in South Africa is not known. Officially it would appear that this was not the case as the ‘volunteers’ actually had to pay twenty pounds for passage and incidentals to attend the tournament.[9]

Whether Harold personally considered that he had volunteered for combat not for competition is not known. What is known that at the outbreak of hostilities the squadron had to obtain official permission from home to volunteer. This permission was given but of the original squad of 105 men and officers only 68 men and two officers were to land at Capetown. Many men whilst training had become sick with measles, one had tuberculosis, some had found on their arrival at the Cape telegrams from their parents directing their return home as they were under age, whilst leave of absence from their employees for others had expired. Others choose to return of their own volition.[10]

The matter of their return was the subject of much controversy and correspondence in the press and resulted in a military Court of inquiry with the names of those returning tabled in Parliament.[11] Singleton had four men return, two of whom were excused by the Argus because they were ill ‘but as far as Troopers Beh and Richards are concerned there does not appear any excuse available for their attitude’[12]

Herbert was to follow his cousin and left for South Africa about twelve months  later.Trooper Herbert Waddell was killed in action defending the rail head at Pienaars waddell2River some six weeks before his squadron was to commence embarkation for home. He was twenty eight . The official history of the war makes no mention of the engagement at Pienaars River, the death of Trooper Waddell and could not even get his name correct in the role.[13]

The Presbyterian chaplain, the  Rev. J.H.G.Auld on the September 28, wrote:

‘ I was told that a dead(man) had been brought in…Trooper H.W.Waddell

..Poor chap. He was sick and not allowed to go out with the patrol but

 when he knew there was a fight on he went out…He was shot through the heart

…In the evening…buried Waddell and a Boer, reading the one service for the both.

It was strange thing that we should stand around the grave of our comrade and our enemy and commit their bodies to the ground together-

had a cross put on Waddell’s grave.’[14]

Hebbie was the only local casualty of a war where 518 Australian died and some 16,000 served.

As Herbert  was the son of a well known Singleton family, a subscription list for the erection of a memorial was opened some six months after his death. The long delay of two and a half years between the opening of subscriptions and the actual unveiling of the memorial became a matter of some controversy in the town.

Apparently funds raised from functions for returned soldiers had also been intended to be added to the public subscriptions but ‘some hitch’ between the military and the organiser(s) of the ‘shilling subscription’ fund had occurred and the funds of the military were put to the erection of a tablet in the Presbyterian church.[15]  The church ceremonies were to ‘have a distinct military bearing’ but there are conflicting reports as to the military involvement with the ceremonies at Burdekin Park in September.[16]

The Argus in their editorial of the following day commented on the ‘distinct lack of military presence’ at the unveiling of the monument in Burdekin Park and considered that the ceremonies ‘(had been) robbed… of their greatest charm.’[17] The editorial clearly expressed an animosity, describing the ‘proceedings (as)…tame and spiritless …savored strongly of self aggrandisement’.

Some eighty years on, editorial policy had changed even if the owners had not and an Argus article about the memorial quoted a Budget report  that “the proceedings (had been)…of an enthusiastic character throughout’ and ‘the band was there with a half squadron of lancers and the members of …Singleton Volunteer Infantry in review order.’[18] So whether the military were or were not present is open to question. It is not impossible that the inconsistency between the reports of events at the time and the 1981 report was influenced by the fact that in 1903 the Singleton Budget  was the Argus’s  competitor .

I have not been able to determine what was the ‘hitch’ between the military and the Budget.[19] The hitch may have had a wider significance given that not all Australians had been in favor in participation in the war; not all had agreed with Alfred Deakin that the war was a case of ‘ the Empire, right or wrong’. [20] It is known that in a broader sense the community had been and possibly still was divided. Some of the trade union movement had perceived the war as another example of the evils of capitalism whilst some of the Irish community had identified with the Boers in their own struggle for home rule. The comments by the British after the 1901 defeat at Wilmansruist of the ‘white livered (Australian) curs’ and the court martial of Handcock and Morant must have stirred feelings in the local community.[21]

How much these feelings were present in 1903 in the rural community of Singleton is open to conjecture. It would be logical to assume that Singleton would have been little difference to the nation as a whole and these issues would have been reawakened, even more so when the death of a native Singletonian was being remembered. Later day historian would argue that Herbert’s memorials stand along with others of its kind as a ‘memorial to the early death of republicanism and separatism’[22]


[1] The term ‘contingent’ was used to identify a unit or group of units dispatched at a particular time. There were over fifty Australian contingents- Mounted Rifles, Imperial Bushmen etc. In the case of the Singleton contingent, they were members of the N.S.W Lancers .

[2] Singleton Argus , Tuesday, 29 September, 1903.

Trooper Waddell is not completely forgotten. Perry Shaddock of the Singleton Historical Society tells me that each Anzac Day for as long as he can remember an anonymous wreath has been left at the memorial. He believes it comes from a woman in Sydney.

[3] Kerr, J. and Jack, S. ‘Tombstones, Masons and Inscriptions’ in Resource Material. Local History 223, History Through Monuments,  op. cit. p.144.

[4] Singleton Argus, Tuesday, 29 September, 1903.

[5] Family History Society Singleton Inc., Singleton District Pioneer Register, 1989, p. 89.

[6] Murray, P.L., (ed.), Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, A.J. Mullett, Government printer, Melbourne, 1911. p. 3.

[7] ibid., p.4

[8] loc cit

[9]  Singleton Argus,3 March 1899.

[10] ibid., 28 November, 1900.

[11] ibid., 14 December, 1899 and 18 November, 1899.

[12] ibid.,  1 December, 1899.

[13] Murray, P.L., (ed.), Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, A.J. Mullett, Government printer, Melbourne, 1911, pp 3 ff

[14] Singleton Argus, 24 November, 1900.

[15] ibid., 23 May,  1903.

[16] ibid., 7 April, 1903.

[17] ibid., 29 September, 1903.

[18] ibid.,6 May, 1981

[19] The Budget was established by a Alexander Morrison in 1894. See Family History Society Singleton Inc., Singleton District Pioneer Register, p.37.

To my knowledge there are no issues of the  Singleton Budget for that time existing so that the other viewpoint might be obtained. A letter to a distant relative seeking information remains unanswered at this date.

[20] Deakin quoted in Souter, G., Lion and Kangaroo. The Initiation of Australia 1901- 1919,  Collins, Sydney, 1976, p. 64

B.Penny, ‘The Australian Debate on the Boer War’, Historical Studies, Vol., 14, No., 55, April 1971, p.526 ff.

C.N.Connolly, ‘Class, Birthplace, Loyalty: Australian attitudes to the Boer War’, Historical Studies., Vol., 18 , No. 71, October 1978.

[21] J.Rickard, ‘Loyalties’, in J.Arnold, P. Spearritt and d. Walker,(eds.) Out of Empire, The British Dominion of Australia, Mandarin Australia, Port Melbourne, 1993, p.36.

[22] Crowley, op. cit., pp.272-273.


 Family History Society Singleton Inc., Singleton District Pioneer Register, 1989.    p.89.    For details of the Waddell family.

Murray, P.L., (ed.), Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, A.J. Mullett, Government printer, Melbourne, 1911.

For some background to the Australian reaction to the war and to the performance of our soldiers see

Souter, G., Lion and Kangaroo. The Initiation of Australia 1901- 1919,  Collins,     Sydney, 1976. 

Singleton Argus , Issues as footnoted.. 

Inglis, K.S. and Phillips, J., ‘War Memorials in Australia and New Zealand: A        Comparative Survey. Australian historical Studies, Vol. 24, No. 96, 1991.



Griffen, G.M. and Tobin, D. ‘In the Midst of Life…The Australian Response to Death,’    Carlton, Melbourne University Press 1982,.

Inglis, K.S. and Phillips, J., ‘War Memorials in Australia and New Zealand: A        Comparative Survey. Australian historical Studies, Vol. 24, No. 96, 1991.

Penny, B.,  ‘The Australian Debate on the Boer War’, Historical Studies, Vol., 14, No.,     55, April 1971.

Arnold, J., Spearritt, P., and Walker, D., (eds.) Out of Empire, The British Dominion of     Australia, Mandarin Australia, Port Melbourne, 1993,

Crowley,F. [ed.]  A New History of Australia, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1980. 

Family History Society Singleton Inc., Singleton District Pioneer Register, 1989.

Henderson, B., (ed.). Monuments and Memorials,  The Royal Australian Historical            Society,  Sydney , 1988.

Murray, P.L., (ed.), Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, A.J. Mullett, Government printer, Melbourne, 1911. 

Souter, G., Lion and Kangaroo. The Initiation of Australia 1901- 1919,  Collins,     Sydney, 1976. 


Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder 

Maitland Daily Mercury. 

 Singleton Argus.


‘An Index to birth, death and marriage records on CD-ROM’, The New South Wales        Pioneers Index 1788-1918, published by Royal Melbourne Institute of    Technology in association with the Registry of Birth, Death and Marriages,

NSW, n.d. 

Family History Society Singleton Inc., Boer War , n.d. (consists of a compilation of           articles and newspaper clippings) 

Registers of Coroners’ inquests and Magisterial inquiries, 1834 – June 1942, AONSW       ref. 2764 , 1930/ 357 C/I No.

Personal correspondence with the South African High Commission, 30 January 1997.



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