An Aboriginal military historian believes he has uncovered the Holy Grail in his research field after discovering several pieces of evidence confirming a man of Aboriginal descent, born in Albany, was a soldier in the Second Boer War.
Victorian Peter Bakker was involved in establishing his State’s first federally recognised Aboriginal War Memorial in Warrnambool in 2010.
He has since embarked on a tireless research mission to prove indigenous Australians played a part in the Boer War fought in South Africa from 1899 to1902.
Mr Bakker said Robert Charles Searle, an Aboriginal described as “a half caste”, was born in Albany in 1869 and went to the Boer War in 1900 with the 4th Western Australian Mounted Infantry, otherwise known as Imperial Bushmen.
“His connection to (Albany) is an unusual one as he was the grandson of an Aboriginal woman from Victoria,” Mr Bakker explained to the Albany Advertiser while in town last week.
“One of their daughters, Nancy Anne, married a pardoned convict, William Searle, and it was their son, Robert Charles Searle, who went to the Boer War.”
Mr Bakker claimed to have documented Searle’s family lineage, obtained evidence of his enlistment in the 4th WAMI and proved he actually served in South Africa.
Searle’s participation in the 4th WAMI is recorded in Murray’s List, the Australian War Memorial’s history and nominal roll of the Boer War.
The Albany Advertiser also documented Searle’s enlistment on April 10, 1900, and noted his Boer War service on August 30, 1901.
Searle is listed on the National Boer War Memorial Association website as being “one of the %few Australian Aboriginal soldiers recorded as serving in the Boer War”. “Robert Searle’s documented participation in the Boer War is very significant,” Mr Bakker said.
“Many have claimed that this was purely a white man’s war, however we now have evidence that people of Aboriginal descent were there. We need to alter our history books.”
Perth-based native title specialist, Aboriginal history author and retired academic Neville Green said there was an “element of possibility” to Mr Bakker’s story, although links to aboriginality were often difficult to isolate from the era in question.
“There’s a logic to the story this guy is telling, there are possibilities,” he said.
“Some of the Aboriginals did not express their aboriginality and in (Albany) district especially often passed themselves off as South Sea islanders. Although I can’t confirm what he’s saying, nothing I have read so far about the Searle family suggests it is out of the realm of possibility.”
Mr Bakker said Searle was the best documented example of an Aboriginal serving in the Boer War found to date.
“His participation validates claims that Aborigines have served this country in the military in all major conflicts from pre-Federation to present,” Mr Bakker said.
Anyone with details or photographs on Robert Charles Searle, also known as John Robert Searle, or the 4th WAMI, can contact Mr Bakker on (03) 5571 1643.