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Image Boer War ambulance, 1899-1902

TLF ID R2923

This is a sepia-toned photograph of a horse-drawn ambulance wagon used in the Boer War. The ambulance, belonging to the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, has one red cross on the side and another on the canopy, and two horses in the traces. An Australian soldier sits on one of the horses and another one stands at the back of the ambulance. A British soldier wearing a Red Cross armband stands to the front of the ambulance. In the background are three corrugated iron huts and a tent. On one of the huts are the words 'P.M.O.'s Office'. The photograph measures 14.9 cm x 20.2 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset was taken during the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa when the British Government supported the claims of the mostly British miners on the Witwatersrand gold fields against the Afrikaner (Boer) Government of the Transvaal - contingents of Australian volunteers joined the British along with New Zealand and Canadian troops, sailing into Cape Town and Durban from late 1899; eventually 16,000 men from Australia volunteered to serve in the War, of whom 606 died before the fighting ended.
  • It demonstrates that the red cross symbol was in use in 1900 - in 1863 an international meeting in Switzerland adopted a red cross on a white background as the symbol for humanitarian protection; originally intended for use on the battlefield so that wounded soldiers could be tended safely by medical volunteers, it has been extended to include other areas of need, such as prisoners of war and civilian casualties.
  • It shows a typical hospital with tents and huts, probably the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital, a huge military hospital at Deelfontein, a tiny settlement described by the Medical Officer in 1900 as 'a large water tank and pumping plant, pumpman's cottage and garden and a small store', in the Karoo, the large semi-desert area stretching from the Orange Free State into the Western Cape - during this War casualties were well cared for and doctors treated injured men on both sides; it was said that no other medical unit in the British Army made a greater impression than the New South Wales Army Medical Corps (AMC).
  • It is an example of horses in war - horses were needed to provide transport in inaccessible rugged terrain; for example, this horse-drawn ambulance could reach the battlefields relatively easily.
  • It shows a rider who may be about to drive the ambulance by riding one of the horses - riding the left-hand horses in a team, postilion-style, provides greater speed and more immediate control over the horses' movements - both useful attributes for driving an ambulance.
  • It represents the face of a war that cost around 75,000 lives - there were nearly 8,000 casualties among the British and colonial troops; 14,000 died of disease; 6,000 -7,000 Boer soldiers were killed; around 28,000 Boer women and children died, mostly in British concentration camps, and possibly 18,000 black Africans died of disease and malnutrition.
  • It shows soldiers wearing slouch hats - the felt hat was first worn by the Victorian Mounted Rifles, a volunteer unit formed in 1885, at the insistence of the commanding officer, Colonel Tom Price; the Tom Price hat was looped up on the right side because, as the Colonel said, this enabled the troops to look the inspecting officer straight in the eye when marching past.
  • It shows an Australian ambulance driver, perhaps one the drivers who served as a model for Banjo Paterson's 1899 poem 'Driver Smith' - in the poem Smith says 'And I think if I go with the ambulance I'm certain to find a show, / For they have to send the Medical men wherever the troops can go/ … and a driver smart like me / Will find some scope for his extra skill in the ranks of the A.M.C.'.
  • It shows a print made on albumen paper - until the end of the 19th century, paper was coated with egg white to hold the image, giving very sharp photographs.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements