THE BATTLE OF SARAGARHI – AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION

THE BATTLE OF SARAGARHI – AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION

Eleanor May Des Voeux, Nee Seymour.

    Eleanor May Des Voeux, Nee Seymour.

Eleanor May Seymour was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on the 1 May 1869. She was the second daughter of David Thompson Seymour, the Queensland Commissioner of Police and his wife Matilda Brown. On the 15 November 1887 Eleanor married Major Charles Hamilton Des Voeux B.S.C., at Anglican Christ Church, on the corner of Hale and Chippendale Streets, Milton, Brisbane. The ceremony was performed by the Reverend Manley Power.

Charles Hamilton Des Voeux

             Charles Hamilton Des Voeux

Charles Hamilton Des Voeux was the son of Major Thomas Des Voeux.  He was born in Queens County, Ireland and educated at the Staff College, Sandhurst, Camberley, Surrey, England. Charles entered the 37th Foot in 1872. He was captain in the Bengal Staff Corps, Indian Army, in 1884 when he was transferred to serve as an Infantry Staff Officer in the Queensland Defence Force (Q.D.F.), in Australia.  He was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General of the Q.D.F., from 1 February 1884 . Each colony in Australia had its own defence forces.

Eleanor gave birth to their first child, their son, on the 12 January 1889 in Brisbane and they named him Seymour.  In May 1889 Charles was appointment of Extra Aide-de-Camp to his Excellency Sir Henry Norman, Governor of Queensland.  Their second child, a daughter, Alice May was born in Brisbane on the 20 February 1891. During November 1891 Charles term in the Queensland Defence Force expired and he was given a farewell at a Mess Dinner organised by his fellow officers at Victoria Barracks, Petrie Terrace, Brisbane, and at a dinner given by members of the Queensland Club (a club in Brisbane which was a place where affluent graziers and professional men frequented).

On Wednesday 25 November about forty or fifty officers of the Defence Force and Volunteers gathered at the Gresham Hotel, Queen Street to formally say farewell to Charles.  Colonel Drury, C.M.G. presided and said that had been asked by his brother officers to represent them and express how they felt about  Lt. Col. Des Voeux leaving after so many years in Queensland and presented him with albums containing photographs of his brother officers in Queensland.  The front page of the first album was handsomely illuminated, on the top was a watercolour of Government House, Calcutta and at the base of the design was a sunset sketch of Moreton Bay, Queensland. On the left face was an exquisite piece of work in Indian Ink and Chinese White, a group of palms and jungle foliage and a royal Bengal tiger. The inscription read: “To Lieutentant-Colonel Charles Hamilton Des Voeux, Indian Staff Corps, Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General and Infantry Staff Instructor of the Queensland Forces. A token of kindly remembrance from his comrades in Queensland on his departure for India. ‘A three fold cord is not quickly broken.  Eccles. iii. 1.’ On the left of the inscription are Lieutenant-Colonel Des Voeux’s coat of arms and a design of the Maltese cross, crown, and laurel wreath, with the Queensland Defence Force motto under it – “Pro Aris et Focis(For God and Country).  Lt. Col. Des Voeux thanked them for the present and said he had received great help and advice from Colonel French, Colonel Drury, and Majors Lyster, Druitt and Aytoun and the greatest kindness from the officers and volunteers of the Q.D.F., and much assistance from the non-commissioned officers and men.  Lt. Col. Charles Hamilton Des Voeux left Queensland on the “S.S. Tara” at the end of November 1891 bound for India where was appointed the second in command of the 36th Sikhs Regiment.

c-h-des-voeux-centre-front-officers-samana-aihs

Surgeon Capt. Cederic Prall (aged 27) centre back row with two Sikh Officer either side of him. Front Row from left: Lt. Arthur Kennedy Blair (wounded aged 29), Major Charles Hamilton Des Voeux (aged 44) and 2nd Lt. Henry Roger Evelyn Pratt (aged 22). Sept. 1897.

In August 1896 Lt. Col. Charles Des Voeux was reported to be second in command of the 36th Sikhs Regiment stationed at Delhi, India and had been selected for the officiating command of he 26th Punjab Infantry as Vice Lt. Col. Dening was invalided.  Charles was sent to Suakin, N. E. Sudan, for service with the British Egyptian advance on Dongola and subsequent operations on the North West Frontier.  In September 1897 at the time of the Battle of Saragarhi Lt. Col. Charles Hamilton Des Voeux was stationed at Fort Cavignari at Gulistan with his pregnant wife, two children and their nurse from Brisbane, Teresa McGrath who had previously been a State orphan.

Fort Cavignari was under siege at the same time and the conditions were described in a private letter written by Lt. Colonel Charles Des Voeux November 1897. The following is an extract of that letter;

“Fort Cavagnari, north of Kohat, September 18…We have had severe fighting here. We were attacked and closely invested for three days – September 12,13 and 14, when we were relieved. We were cut off from water all that time, though I had enough, luckily, to go on with by putting all on an allowance. We had no water at all for mules and horses, and no food for animals, as the enemy burnt it. The fort next to us, with 21 men of mine and one follower, was taken by storm and fell at 3.40p.m. on the 12th. The whole garrison were killed. I heard they died fighting like demons. My men here fought like tigers, but we lost heavily, 44 out of 165, killed, wounded and missing. Things were very serious, indeed, but my men pulled me through. The enemy were all round, within 20 yards, well under cover, and firing like mad. I ordered a sortie at 8 a.m. on the 13th, as the enemy were getting too close, and it was carried out with the most gallant splendid gallantry, and we captured three standards. Teresa (Mrs. Des Voeux’s nurse) surpassed herself attending to the sick and wounded. Her name has gone forward for reward, and I hope she will get it. She will certainly get the medal, and probably and order. I have recommended 30 of my men for the order of merit (The Indian Victoria Cross)…A good many of my poor wounded are dead or dying; the rest have been sent to Fort Lockhart. A good deal of fighting is expected in Tirah, though, personally, I do not think they will stand against us long. I had 10,000 men all round me for three days, and we held out; they could have taken the fort easily if they had had the pluck. We killed and wounded 200 of the enemy.”

During the attack on Fort Cavagnari Eleanor Des Vouex, after helping care for the  wounded and dying soldiers with Nurse, Teresa McGrath, gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter, on 12 September 1897.  The baby was named Violet Samana, as a memorial of the Samana Ranges and the Battle of Saragarhi.  Teresa helped Surgeon Captain Cedric Prall and tended the wounded under heavy fire, she was later awarded the Royal Red Cross by Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. These two brave Australian women have been forgotten.  As have the 4 young Des Voeux children who experienced the horror of the battle.

Teresa McGrath was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

Teresa McGrath was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her service at Saragarhi by Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

Charles Hamilton Des Voeux - Medals

            Medals of Lt. Gen. Sir Charles Hamilton Des Voeux – Indian Army

Selected Bibliography:
The Queenslander Brisbane Qld. Nov. 1891.
Telegraph, Brisbane, September 1891.
Western Campion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts, Barcaldine Qld. Aug 1896.
Barrier Miner Broken Hill NSW November 1897.
Yate, A. C. Major, The Life of Lieut. Col. John Haughton. Chapter VI. John Murray, London, 1900.

© Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan 2015
Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? Vols. 1-5 – 2008 -2015