Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greatuncle Malcolm

Greatuncle Malcolm was, we believe, the first Australian to get direct entry into the British army as an officer, back in 1906. His file is now online at the National Archives (go to, Recordsearch, search on Lieutenant Borthwick JM). There are a number of points of interest.

It all begins in 1905 when the principal of Scotch College writes to the Minister for Defence to ask for the rules. "I have a pupil who wishes to enter the Imperial army as an officer."

The Secretary for Defence sends him a copy of the Imperial Army Orders for 1903. "As this book is the only copy available, I would be obliged if it could be returned after perusal." (and he writes again four days later asking for it back; the days before the photocopier...)

The Principal again: "The bearer, Master Malcolm Borthwick, is the son of Lt.Col William Borthwick of Sale, who is anxious that his son should enter the Imperial Army in India with a view to joining the Staff Corps." Mmmm... his parents were anxious....

So the Governor-General,Lord Northcote, signs a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.... Undersecretary of State at the Colonial Office replies...

"Examination [in the literary paper] of the candidates hereabove named was held at this office on 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th instant...the answers to the questions have been forwarded this day direct to the Director of Staff Duties, War Office, London."

The War Office says he's passed the literary exam and can sit the military exam.

John Forrest, Acting Prime Minister, certifies to the G-G that Malcolm is a bona fide colonist of good character.

A letter headed "Downing Street", from Elgin, the Officer administering the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Malcolm had a choice of Military History papers - the Peninsular War from 1811-1813, or the Peninsular War from 1813-1814.

Exam taken, papers sent, and a letter informing Lord Northcote of this signed by Alfred Deakin.

Paper headed Commonwealth of Australia, can't read the signature. "Re cabling result of Borthwick's exam: Capt Collins is being asked to cable. Presume we have your guarantee that cable will be paid for.

Only two words, too; "The words 'Borthwick passed' or "Borthwick failed' will be understood here." That's the Acting Secretary of the Department of Defense.

"The subjoined cablegram... received this day by the Governor-General from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, is transmitted to the Prime Minister."


He counted, apparently, as Imperial Yeomenary. No, I see they struck that out on the form and inserted COLONIAL CANDIDATES.

"I am commanded by the Army Council to inform you that this candidate has qualified for appointment to a commission in the Imperial Army..."

He went into the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, and left on the RMS Zecodonia in February 1908.

Everything having to be sent from the Department of Defense to the PM to the GG to the Colonial Office to the War Office, and back again; cumbersome.

And there were so few people in the public service at the time that PMs was basically the PM and a secretary.

And poor Malcolm was sent to Aden, not India, and it was hot and tiny and boring and everybody thought he was an appalling colonial oik and nobody would speak to him and it was his parents who'd wanted him to go into the army anyway and he killed himself.


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