Major - the only NZ horse to return from South Africa

Major was the only New Zealand horse to serve in South Africa and return home. He belonged to Lieutenant Robert Collins of the Fourth Contingent. After Collins was wounded, Major served with a number of men before coming into the possession of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Porter. Major served in Rhodesia and all over South Africa and was twice wounded in action. Porter took him to London when he went there as commander of the New Zealand Coronation Contingent in 1902. Man and horse then returned to New Zealand.

Horses in South Africa

The horse played a vital role in the life of a New Zealander soldier in southern Africa. On the back of a horse a soldier was able to cover great distances across the veldt (open plains), and this mobility allowed them to keep up with the hit-and-run tactics of the Boer guerrillas.

Although some soldiers who could afford to do so supplied their own mounts, others were either purchased by the government or donated by civilians. Many of the horses were thoroughbreds from the South Island and were greatly admired during their time in South Africa.

Though they were well looked after, the long voyage from New Zealand to South Africa took its toll on horses: 12 died during the First Contingent’s voyage. After a long wait in the rain before boarding ship at Port Chalmers, many of the horses of the Fourth Contingent died from pneumonia while at sea. Many more died in the weeks after their arrival, as the British authorities did not allow them enough time to acclimatise to the harsh environment of southern Africa.

The campaigns on the veldt were also extremely demanding on the horses. Like their riders, they suffered from exposure to the elements and inadequate supplies. Many succumbed to wounds sustained in combat or dropped dead from exhaustion. Those that went lame on patrol often had to be shot to prevent them suffering if left behind.

Because their lives depended on their mounts, many soldiers formed strong emotional bonds with their horses and found it hard to part with them. At the end of the men‘s period of service their horses were passed on to the replacement contingent.

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Vivien Dostine

Posted: 14 Nov 2011

There is an excellent thesis available on the New Zealand Military horse. "A HISTORY OF NEW ZEALAND’S MILITARY HORSE: The Experience of the Horse in the Anglo-Boer War and World War One." by Marcus J. Wilson, University of Canterbury 2007 It gives a much more indepth (and less favourable) opinion on the treatment of the NZ military horses by soldiers and\or the miltary hierarchy. This page also glosses over the loss of so many horses, and their final reward (being shot) for service by referring to the one survivor of the Boer war (similary only 1 horse was retured from WW1 service)... Let's hope 2014 remembrance of 100 years since WW1 will at last see some recognition of the NZ horse - like http://www.animalsinwar.org.uk/