ROUGHING IT: NSW Imperial Bushmen’s primitive camp during the Boer War.
ROUGHING IT: NSW Imperial Bushmen’s primitive camp during the Boer War.

History: Bushman signs up to fight in Boer conflict

IF YOU walk through Spinks Park in Lismore and view the various war memorials, you will see the massive statue relating to the Boer War.

The statue used to stand in the middle of the road at the intersection of Woodlark and Keen Sts.

It caused quite a sensation when first erected as the soldier appeared to have his back turned to the church while he faced the hotel. Because of traffic congestion, it was moved to the park some years ago.

The Boer War could be said to be a direct result of the Napoleonic Wars when Britain acquired territory in South Africa.

Most of the Dutch settlers (later known as Boers) moved further north to the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Conflict arose over the years but it was the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 1880s which really inflamed the situation. The British arrived in great numbers seeking riches. Conflict was inevitable even though treaties existed between the two sides.

When war broke out, quite a number of Australians volunteered. Most were already attached to local militia regiments, were good horsemen, and knew how to ride and fire a rifle at the same time. One of these was James Mitchell, of Tenterfield. He was a member of the NSW Citizens' Bushmen and held the rank of warrant officer. Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1841 where his ancestors were farmers, he was working as a farm labourer when his parents, Hugh and Agnes Mitchell, decided to take their family to Australia. They arrived in 1856.

Initially James was employed by Moredun Station, Ben Lomond, to cart wool to Grafton but in 1862 he became a stockman at Barney Downs Station, Tenterfield, where his father was already employed.

He married Emily Elizabeth Baker in 1872 and later moved to his own selection which had been part of the Barney Downs Station. In 1885 he joined the Tenterfield Mounted Rifles Corps and soon rose to the rank of sergeant-major.

In 1900 he was selected as a volunteer with the 3rd NSW Boer War Contingent, the NSW Bushmen.

He was chosen because he was a hard worker, a skilled horseman, and very resourceful.

He must have been a very enthusiastic soldier and eager to get to South Africa and start fighting.

At a send-off for troops from the Tenterfield area, he is reported to have stated that he hoped to find the Boer leader, President Kruger, and bring back two of his teeth! He was cheered by those present.

Although rather an extravagant statement, it shows the strength of feeling in the community generally at the time.

Soon after arriving in Cape Town, Mitchell was raised to the rank of warrant officer. He fought at Mafeking and Rustenburg. Conditions were harsh and the horses suffered as much as the soldiers, having little to eat and nowhere to shelter. Many looked half-starved (as can be seen in the photograph).

In late July 1900 at Eland's River, Mitchell found himself in charge of 50 men defending their position against a Boer force of about 1000 men. They held the position for 13 days and refused to surrender.

Relief came on August 15 but James Mitchell had received a bad wound to the knee on August 8.

He had to have his leg amputated and died soon afterwards.

He was buried with full military honours on August 17, 1900.

Mitchell's original headstone is on display at the War Memorial in Canberra.

Besides his wife, Emily, he left a family of five sons and one daughter.

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