Trooper Jone - First Australian to die in the Boer War
Name: Victor Jone
Unit: 2/14 Queensland Mounted Infantry
Location: Sunnydale Farm, near Salt Lake
Trooper Victor Jone of the first Queensland contingent, 2/14 Queensland Mounted Infantry, was the first Australian to die in action in the Boer War when he was killed in an ambush on 1 January 1900.
His death led to an extraordinary exchange of letters which have been kept all these years in the Australian Archives and culminated 100 years later with a wreath laying ceremony on Jones' grave at Sunnydale Farm, near Salt Lake, north of Cape Town.
Victor Jone was an employee of the Mount Morgan Company in Queensland when the Boer War broke out, having worked his way up from office boy "to one of considerable responsibility" according to an article in the The Queenslander Illustrated Supplement.
Jones' brother, Mr GB Jones, who worked for the Railway Department at Rockhampton, described his brother as
"a very fine young man, aged 27, 6ft in height, who at the first announcement of sending a Queensland contingent to South Africa gave up a good position, home & friends to fight for his Queen and country".
According to GB Jone, his brother was in the first scouting party of four men, under Lieutenant AG Adie, sent out on the morning of the Sunnyside engagement, and was shot dead on the veldt when his group were surprised by about 14 Boers.
A second Queenslander, Private David Cumming McLeod of Toowong, was wounded in action later that day and died some hours later. Both men were buried where they were killed, about a mile apart from each other.
Thanks to the compassion and persistence of members of the Guild of Loyal Women of South Africa, the graves of the two men were subsequently located and marked.
A Miss Charlotte C. Slater, a member of the Guild, wrote to the Governor of Queensland in September 1901 in a bid to locate the nearest relatives of the two men so she could ascertain if they wished to have anything done in regard to the graves.
Her letter was forwarded to GB Jone who responded to Miss Slater expressing his family's gratitude for
"taking such an interest in the grave of our loved one (which) is the source of the greatest consolation and thankfulness to us".
Jone then asked for a headstone to be erected on the grave, with stone kerbing, and with the words
"in loving memory of Trooper Victor S Jone Q.M.I of Rockhampton, Queensland, Killed January 1st 1900 aged 27 years. The first Australian to fall in action in S.A."
He offered to help pay for the cost of the headstone.
A year later Miss Lilian Orpen, honorary secretary of the Loyal Women's Guild branch at St Clair, Douglas, wrote to the Queensland Governor stating that she had heard nothing more from Mr Jone since he had written requesting the erection of a head stone. She said she had also written to McLeod's family but had received no reply.
Miss Orpen said she had collected Â£30-5-0 from the Loyalists of Douglas to erect the headstone and railing around the graves but due to the disturbed state of the country had been prevented from having the work at the graves begun.
"But as soon as Peace was declared I ordered a stone and railing for Trooper Jones grave and should the funds prove sufficient I shall order the same for the grave of Trooper McLeod."
This prompted a letter in December 1902 from GB Jone to the Governor's Office expressing regret for not replying as he had been in a serious accident which had incapacitated him for many months. He stated he had written to Miss Orpen by the same mail, enclosing
"a postal order for Â£10 from my sisters and myself towards the cost of the stone and railing and thanking her very sincerely for her great kindness in the matter."
And there the matter might have rested but for the actions of the present owners of Sunnydale Farm, Jean and Herbert Dugmore, who, in late 1999, contacted Trooper Jones' great-niece, Fiona Bekkers of Ascot in Brisbane. They invited her to take part in a wreath laying ceremony at the grave on 1 January 2000, one hundred years to the day Trooper Jone was killed, an invitation she accepted.
Footnote: Mrs Bekkers wrote the following description of the ceremony.
The ceremony at the graveside on 1/1/2000 commenced at 9am when it was already very hot. There were about 40 people there including the Dugmore family, who arranged the whole thing, and other neighbouring (mainly Afrikaans) farmers and nine Queenslanders (six reserve members of 2/14 QMI, my husband, son and myself). The service was conducted by Ken Dugmore, son of Jean and Herbert, our hosts, and opened with a prayer. Pieter Pieterse spoke next on behalf of the Boers, describing events leading to the war and its aftermath, including the benefits. I spoke next, mainly on a personal note about Great Uncle Victor, and laid a wreath at the newly re-erected headstone followed by the QMI soldiers who each laid a poppy. Wreaths were also laid at the communal grave marked by stones where lay the remains of the seven unknown Boers who died that day.
Taped national anthems were provided by the soldiers who carried flags and formed a guard, while the Last Post was played by a local black student. Many blacks on both sides were also victims of the war. Then we all climbed to the Sunnyside Memorial on top of the nearby kopje [small hill] where I helped unveil the plaque. A local historian gave a good description of the action that day one hundred years ago, pointing out the landmarks to us as he spoke. After this we all were ready for brunch under the tarpaulin at the bottom of the hill. Afternoon tea was provided at the nearby Fort Richmond, built by the British troops during the Boer War.
The material for this article was supplied by Mrs Fiona Bekkers of Queensland