With New Zealand troops away in Africa fighting in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) the citizens of Nelson gave a particularly enthusiastic welcome to a contingent from the Indian Army, touring New Zealand on leave in the troop ship, RIMS Dalhousie.
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The two sides in the Boer War had a tacit agreement that only whites should take part in military operations, but by the end of the war, nearly ten thousand Indians had gone to South Africa serving as grooms, water carriers, smiths, carpenters, cooks, butchers, servants of officers, doctors, ambulance workers and stretcher bearers. India also sent nearly 7,000 horses to the war.
In early 1901 the troops on the Dalhousie took part in military parades in several towns throughout New Zealand, arriving in Nelson on February 26 from Wellington (where the troops had felt the effects of the southerly) and sailing the next day for Lyttelton.
The Nelson Evening Mail reported the day was declared a public holiday: 'There was a very large crowd about the wharf, along Haven Road, and later on along the route of the procession in town. A great many visitors from the country have come in and the city is gaily decorated with bunting.'
The procession was led by cavalry on 54 horses that were provided locally - the council was asked to ensure there were ‘five good ones for the officers: Next came the Lancers, with the troops ‘presenting a gorgeous spectacle, a great variety of bright uniforms passing by in quick succession, with brilliant effect - sabres flashing and pennons fluttering.'
The troops marched to Church Hill, where school children were grouped and then to the Queen's Gardens where fruit and refreshments were provided. The Mayor, J C Harley welcomed the visitors and the Premier Richard Seddon also made a speech.
In the evening, officers were entertained at dinner, other ranks went to the theatre and the next day there was an outing to the country. There had been some concern about what to feed the visitors, with the locals clearly aware their own mutton based diet wouldn't be appreciated by ‘hindoos' but unsure what would! A telegram from New Plymouth advised the refreshments served there consisted of fruit, milk, aerated water and cigars. The full list of rations required by the ship, printed in the Mail, included 'lentil, red pepper, tumeric, garlic, and 2lbs each of tamarind and coriander seed'. The Mail doesn't report where the provedores managed to find items that were so unfamiliar to New Zealand at that time.
What's in a name?
This steam powered iron troopship was built for the Indian Government in 1886 and was scrapped in 1945. RIMS means Royal Indian Marine Ship - Her Majesty's Indian Marine was renamed as the Royal Indian Marine in 1892, and the Earl of Dalhousie was Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
This article was first published in Port Nelson Limited report April 2010.
Updated August 7, 2020
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Further sources - RIMS Dalhousie
- Raugh, H.E. (2004) The Victorians at War, 1815-1914: an encyclopedia of British military history. Santa Barbara : ABC-CLIO
- Arrival of the Troopship Dalhousie (1901, February 26) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
- The Arrival and the Reception(1901, February 26) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
- The Dalhousie's Departure (1901, February 28) Nelson Evening Mail, p. 2
- Later information (1901, February 25) Nelson Evening Mail, p. 2