The 1st contingent, consisting of 80 infantry, sailed on the Medic on 28th October 1899, and landed at Cape Town on 26th November. They were commanded by Captain Cameron, who as an officer of the 9th Lancers had taken part in Lord Roberts' great march across Afghanistan: he had therefore most ample experience of war. The contingent were at first on the De Aar-Modder line, where, along with the other units composing the Australian Regiment, they garrisoned Enslin and other posts protecting the railway. Towards the close of January 1900 they were converted into mounted infantry, and were sent to Naauwpoort, Cape Colony, where they received horses and joined the force of General Clements, then holding a long line opposite the Boer position about Colesberg (see Victoria MR).
During the severe encounters, 9th to 13th February, the Tasmanians were on the British right. On the 9th the contingent saw serious fighting for the first time. During the previous day or two it had become evident that the enemy were making efforts to occupy certain positions which would facilitate the outflanking of the British right, and General Clements had decided that the strength of the enemy opposite Jasfontein, where the Tasmanians were posted, should be ascertained. Two small bodies went out, one under Captain Salmon, Victoria MR, and Lieutenant G E Reid of the Tasmanians: this detachment consisted of about 30 men of different Australian contingents. The other body, under Captain Cameron, was composed of Tasmanians only. Both detachments took up positions some miles in front of Jasfontein, but the Boers, who were in great strength, succeeded in wedging in between the detachments, and then proceeded to encircle each. To avoid being totally surrounded it was decided that it was necessary to retire. The men had to gallop singly from the positions under a heavy fire at decisive range, but camp was regained without loss. The only casualty was a non-combatant, Mr Lambie, the Australian correspondent, who had accompanied the troops, was killed in the retirement, and Mr Hales of the 'Daily News', who stayed with his friend, was taken prisoner: he was afterwards released. Some gallant pieces of work took place during the gallop back: Corporal Whitelaw returned for a dismounted comrade; and Private Pears, whose horse was killed, made his way back on foot by a circuitous route, killing three Boers who tried to take him. On the same day a detached post of six Tasmanians was cut off, two men, Gilham and Hutton, being killed.
The Tasmanians were in the hard-fought engagement of 12th February, and along with other troops under General Clements retired on the 14th to Arundel. On the 15th they were ordered to join the 2nd Victorian Contingent on the left rear, which was being seriously threatened; and thereafter they generally operated with that contingent in the movements and fighting down to the time of crossing the Orange River. On the 22nd, when General Clements was making a big effort to clear his left flank and front, the Tasmanians had a foremost place, getting, if anything, too far forward. Unfortunately their gallant leader, Major Cameron, was wounded and taken prisoner. It was reported at the time that, seeing one of his men without a horse, the Major ordered the man to mount his own animal, he intending to retire on foot; but he was cut off, wounded, and captured. Major Reay, author of 'With the Australian Regiment' was told that the Boers said of Cameron that he was the bravest man they had come across. On the 28th the Tasmanians and Victorians were among the first troops to enter Colesberg, an objective which for over three months the British had been struggling hard to obtain. The Tasmanians, now under Lieutenant W Brown, were about the 29th ordered to hold an outpost at Rietfontein. On 15th March they crossed the Orange with the other troops.
A draft of 45 Tasmanians, sometimes called the 2nd contingent, had landed at the Cape about the time Colesberg was occupied, but they proceeded to Bloemfontein by rail, and joined the squadron there.
During General Clements' march from Norvals Pont, on the Orange, to the capital of the Free State, the Tasmanians were generally attached to the centre column. There was no fighting on this march: indeed so peaceful was the turn of affairs at the time, that at Philippolis the squadron gave a concert. Small as the contingent was, it was split up, and did not march into Bloemfontein as one unit.
After their arrival at Bloemfontein about 4th April, the Tasmanians, who had received a reinforcing draft of 40 men, were, along with 1st and 2nd Victoria MR and the South Australians, put under Colonel Henry, whose mounted infantry were holding the outpost line north of Glen Station. They took part in many reconnoitring patrols before the advance to Pretoria began. Major Cameron had been found in Bloemfontein, and rejoined his corps before Lord Roberts' army started for the north. During the march to Pretoria, which commenced on 3rd May, Colonel Henry's men were generally the screen in front of the centre and left centre. They had very hard riding, often covering from 40 to 50 miles a day, and took a prominent part in a number of skirmishes, and in some sharply-fought actions, as near Hout Nek on 30th April, at the crossing of the Vet on 6th May, at the crossing of the Zand River on 10th May, when Major Cameron was again wounded, and at the coal mines on the banks of the Vaal, and in the fighting outside Pretoria. After the occupation of Pretoria Colonel Henry's men were mostly stationed on the eastern front.
Colonel Henry's corps of Mounted Infantry, including the Victorian MR, South Australians, and Tasmanians, were at the battle of Diamond Hill and in the eastern advance from Pretoria, and had fighting on occasions, particularly about Balmoral at end of July, and near Belfast on 7th September. After some very hard marching through the roughest of country, where scouting was difficult, Komati Poort was entered on 24th September. Henry's corps was present at the review there on the 28th.
In October they were taken to Pretoria, where they were inspected by Lord Roberts, and in November the men of the 1st contingent sailed for home.