Treachery at Jacobsdal


This is an unexpected update to my story about my great great uncle James Albert Porter.

Recent events and observations have caused me to review my small understanding of the life of James Albert Porter who was born in Ballarat in 1873 and died at his Orford home in 1953.

James Albert Porter was educated at the Ballarat School of Mines. Part of that education would have included qualifying to become a gold assayer.

James Albert Porter

The family has a photo of James Albert Porter in uniform in front of a mounted canon. We have never been able to identify either the uniform or the canon. Not surprising I suppose if it relates to a South African colonial corps and not to an Australian colonial volunteer corps nor a British Army regiment.

A New Year’s Resolution of 2022 is to amalgamate some of my back up hard drives. Amongst these I found an email from a Porter relative to my sister Kathy mentioning that a relative had been a Lance Corporal in the Boer War. This was a lovely find as it narrowed my search considerably.

I have found a J Porter sailing to Cape Town on the Australasian in 1894. I am not yet convinced that this is my uncle or may be why he is sailing to South Africa. Why was he bypassing the gold rush in Kalgoorlie? But at least it explains why I cannot find him in Australian records relating to the Boer war.

So I have a medal for a Lance Corporal in the family of a Porter who could have been in South Africa at the right time.

The next bit piece of luck I had is that I had taken out a worldwide subscription to Ancestry during our Victorian lockdowns. And Ancestry had an interesting collection – UK, Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1949. Is this collection I found:

  • on page 32 for the Cape Town Highlanders Regimental Number 1043 J A Porter entitled to the South Africa 1901 date clasp and
  • on Page 40 for the Cape Town Highlanders Regimental Number 1043 J A Porter entitled to the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State clasps
    (one of the 4 of the 22 entries on the page 40 entitled to the Orange Free State clasp – unfortunately another of those 4 was killed at Jacobsdal)

I have yet to confirm that those who saw action at Jacobsdal were stood down. I have yet to find James Albert Porter sailing back to Melbourne but it was in time for his marriage to Ada Susan Porter in Warrnambool on 17 Jul 1901.

James and Ada Porter returned to South Africa where James worked as a gold assayer at the Van Ryn Goldmine in Benoni, Cape Colony not far from Johannesburg. Their first three children were born there with the youngest child being born in Perth in January in 1914.

They may have been just passing through Western Australia for by 1914 the Commonwealth electoral rolls show that they had returned home to Orford to farm on the southern most part of Dunmore.

Some Sources:

https://www.angloboerwar.com/unit-information/south-african-units/311-cape-town-highlanders
Lists J A Porter on QSA rolls

UK, Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1949 (also free at TNA WO 100 241
pages 32 and 40 for Lance Corporal J A Porter

Gwen Bennett’s  Portland’s Historic Battery Portland (Vic G Bennett, BA & JM Wallace 1994 GSV 355.394 BEN)
has some drawings of unforms that look a little like James’s uniform. I must have another look

Passenger lists, at the time of Federation for those travelling Melbourne to Durban or Cape Town and home again on ships travelling Sydney around the Cape to the UK. Or just coastal ships? Troopships? The less said the better.

Newspapers, newspapers & newspapers
best so far are The Times Archives available free to members from the State Library
British Newspaper Archives searching for Cape Town Highlanders and Jacobsdal
and, of course, don’t forget Trove Newspapers – for example:
From South Australian Register Monday 29 October 1900 page 5
London October 27
“A highly mobile force of 300 Boers have made a bold and unexpected attempt to capture or destroy the little garrison at Jacobsdal, situated nine miles from Modder River Station. The garrison, consisting of Cape Town Highlanders, a volunteer corps commanded by Col B M Duff, offered an obstinate resistance, and repelled the enemy. In doing so, however, the Cape men suffered severely, 14 being killed and 20 wounded. News of the fight has caused great indignation at Cape Town from the fact that the assailants, almost without expectation, are known to have taken the oath of neutrality”.

Volunteers were meant to be confined to garrison duty – not to conflict duty.

Where to next:

  • Confirmation of the Regimental Number on James Albert Porter’s medal
  • What skill did James Albert Porter have that led to his promotion to a Lance Corporal?
  • When did he initially go to South Africa? Did he go with friends? Did he go tin mining in Borneo beforehand?
  • And if he was at Jacobsdal what impact did that have on him post wat?

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