New Zealand men responded in overwhelming numbers to Premier Richard Seddon's offer to send troops to South Africa in September 1899. Despite this, service was confined to those who were already members of the New Zealand permanent forces and the part-time Volunteer Forces. District commanders were then responsible for selecting men who met the physical requirements, such as height, age and the ability to ride and shoot. Because of the large number of volunteers the military physicians did not shy from turning men away if they failed to meet the health requirements. While the standards for marksmanship were not high, many applicants failed due to their poor horsemanship.
Those who were accepted were dispatched to Wellington where a training camp had been established at Campbell’s farm in Karori. Since time was short, they received minimal training. The training routine was also constantly interrupted by the arrival of new recruits.
With only three weeks before departure, the New Zealand military hastily gathered equipment and resources from its already limited sources. Many volunteers offered their own horses but a number of these failed to pass the veterinary examination. To meet the required number the government was forced to purchase horses and to rely on mounts that had been donated by the community. Where equipment was lacking, the military had to improvise or borrow from the Volunteer corps.
By the time of its departure the contingent comprised 204 men, divided between two companies. Those of No. 1 Company were predominantly from the North Island while those of No. 2 Company came from the South Island. Accompanying the men were nine officers, a surgeon and a veterinary surgeon. The contingent was to be overseen by Major Alfred Robin.
Seddon was eager for the New Zealand troops to be the first colonial contingent to reach southern Africa. Despite the rush to secure resources, the contingent was ready to depart on 21 October 1899. In order to transport the troops and their horses, the Union Steam Ship Company had been forced to make modifications to the Waiwera.
Many of the troops attended farewell functions held in their honour and on the day of departure large crowds gathered in Wellington to see the contingent depart. After a stopover at Albany, Western Australia, the Waiwera sailed four days ahead of the Australian contingents. When it reached Cape Town on 23 November, having successfully raced the Australian troopships across the Indian Ocean, Seddon's hopes were realised.
How to cite this page: 'New Zealand's response - NZ in the South African War', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/south-african-boer-war/new-zealands-response, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012