John Tressilian TOLL


TOLL, John Tressilian

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: 1st South Australian Mounted Contingent
Born: London, England, October 1849
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Adelaide Grammar School and Queen's College, Birmingham
Occupation: Medical practitioner
Died: Died of Illness, At sea (enroute to Australia), 20 June 1900
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Buried at sea (S.S. Australasia)
Memorials: Adelaide Boer War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, North Adelaide St Peter's Cathedral Boer War Honour Roll
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Boer War Service

1 Oct 1899: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Captain, SN Officer, 1st South Australian Mounted Contingent, The Boer Offensive
Date unknown: Involvement

Letters from the Front - Interesting Epistle from Dr. Toll

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA: 1839 - 1900) Tuesday 30 January 1900

Miss Gething, of Port Adelaide, has supplied us with the following extract from a letter received from her uncle, Rr. J. T. Toll, who accompanied the first South Australian contingent as medical officer. It was written at Enslin camp, Modder River, on December 23:— "It is too hot even to go outside the tent, so will take this opportunity of beginning a letter. It seems aw- fully strange— this soldier's life, with all its variety, privations, and horrors. There is a certain charm, about it with all its troubles and risks— no honour can be gained without risk. I wonder what the next two months may bring forth—great success or great disaster— but we must win in the long run. The enormous trains of guns, men, horses, mules, stores, enormous cannons, &c., which pass through here four or five times a day are astonishing. These are for the approaching big battle at Spytfontein, where Cronje is fortifying the surrounding kopjes in such a way as they say to be impregnable. Our general is taking things very expertly, and will not attempt an attack until all the men are at the Modder River and all our big guns fixed. Then he intends to settle down to a continuous bombardment with big guns and lyddite until all the kopjes are almost levelled down. Then we shall get the Boers in the open, and all our English regiments will have their revenge. We have a huge army against us— over 20,000 men— and we must have double that number, because this long railway— 700 miles— has to be well protected at all stations and the line pa- trolled from station to station night and day and there is a sentry posted at every half mile all the way from Cape Town, so you see it takes a large army to look after the railway and bridges. The position is just this— one army is employed in keeping the communications open and securing the transit of men and provisions; the other army is fighting and working its way steadily to the north for Kimberley and Pretoria. I enclose a rough map so that you may follow our movements. Then another large army, under General Gatacre, is making its way towards Bloemfontein; and then Buller's army in the east is also making its way north. When all is ready these three armies will work their separate ways towards Pretoria; but it will take months to get there. You get more news and quicker than we do here on the spot.

No telegrams are allowed. It is nearly three weeks since we have seen a newspaper. Two large ambulance trains run up and down to De Aar or the Cape each day, splendidly appointed, every luxury on board, two or three doctors in charge, and nurses, and boudoir carriages. One train I visited had over 200 badly wounded soldiers— one died on the way between this station and the next. The train was stopped very slowly, and the poor fellow was buried alongside the line. Three fine officers are buried close to where I am writing. The graves are just opposite our tent door; the sailors put up a large cross, and we have now put a railing round them. Our mounted men are riding around day and night, and bring into camp all sorts of things from the farms around— cattle, horses, furniture, and vegetables. Yesterday they commandeered 250 head of cattle, about 50 horses, and a few prisoners, so we shall not be badly off for fresh meat. It is the greatest fun out these marauding expeditions. Three buck carts (sixteen mules with each) and an escort of thirty armed mounted men have just gone out to pick up what they can. Our medical cart has a fine team of mules (six), three-span team; two mules equal a span. Kaffir boy (George) drives, and we go over everything. George never intends to keep to a track, and never by any chance misses going over a rock. He'd rather die than pass any rock. I rode on top of the luggage with a sick officer from Orange River to Belmont, a ride never to be forgotten— twenty-three miles under an African sun. I had ample opportunity of studying George's little peculiarities, and his affection for rocks. The mules go like mad, and the great trouble is to keep them from travelling too fast, as they knock themselves up at the early part of a long trek. We have about 160 mules and 70 drivers, just to transport all our belongings— that is, only for this regiment. Think of what a huge transport it will be for the advancing army of 50,000 men when on, the march across to Pretoria. We, of course, use the train when we can, but shall not be able to do so when in the enemy's country, as they will destroy all lines and bridges, so as to put every obstacle in our way. Train just coming in; must rush down to get what news possible from the engine-driver or guard. Returned. No news of importance; must now wait for the train from Orange River. All our stores and presents from the Cape should arrive very soon —10,000 plum puddings from London, and heaps of other things which the kind Cape people are sending us. We shall have the men all ill again, I expect. Took a walk just now after train had gone to see the Kaffir village which has sprung up on the other side of the line since we camped here. They seem very happy in their funny little huts. They have cows and goats, and come here to be under our protection from the Boers, who treat them very badly. We get fresh milk from them and mealies. The Gordon Highlanders are camped close to us, and the Royal Horse Artillery also, so we form a very big camp. We have plenty of music— bagpipes from early morning, and the Gordons' fine band morning and evening.

The Gordons have been very depressed, having lost their Colonel and four other officers in the last battle. I hope we shall keep with them all through; but I hear we are to be brigaded with the Guards. They also have suffered terribly; in fact hundreds of fine men, the pick of the British Army, have been absolutely murdered in this war. All the men tell me they can never see a Boer; they are always safe on these kopjes, and there they sit and put our men down without the slightest fear of ever being seen. They always pick out the officers; but now all officers are dressed the same as the men, no swords; they all carry rifles and march amongst the men, and any order given is passed from man to man along the line. No stars or ornaments are allowed to be worn; surgeons are not to wear the red cross on the arm, as they always fire at them. So you see our men have a hard and cunning lot to fight against; but they cannot stand a British bayonet charge, or cavalry. If we could only get them once into the open ground there would be very few left to tell the tale, as our men's blood is now fully up, and they will not let anything stop them to get their revenge."


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Adelaide Observer (SA: 1843 - 1904) Saturday 20 January 1900


Dr. W. J. Gething, of Port Adelaide, has received a postcard from Dr. J. T. Toll, who went over to South Africa with the first contingent. It reads:—"Enselin Camp. Modder River, December 12, 1899—  My only chance is to send this P.C. now. Last night was very   eventful—a big battle (18,000 English). Fought from early morning till nightfall. Frightful loss. Boers are now surrounded, and fighting will begin again very soon. I cannot tell you all I have seen and gone through; had I known all I think I should have hesitated in coming; however, must see it through now. We are getting closer every day to Bloemfontein—the place I said I would visit—after that on to Pretoria, but to Kimberley first. Two ambulance trains just gone down full of wounded."