This corps, consisting of a battalion—five companies—of mounted rifles, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel N W Kelly, was a portion of the second or 'Imperial' Bushmen force which was contributed to by all the Australian colonies. This Victorian Contingent was often officially referred to as the Victorian Imperial Regiment, and sometimes as the Victorian Imperial Bushmen.
The regiment sailed from Melbourne on the Victorian upon 1st May 1900 and landed at Beira. For a time their work was much akin to that of the 6th New South Wales Imperial Bushmen, to which reference is made.
The 4th Victorians were split up at an early stage of their fighting career. Colonel Kelly, with one portion, long fought with Lord Methuen and other leaders in the Western Transvaal, where they took a prominent part in many actions. In his telegraphic despatch of 24th August 1900 Lord Roberts said that General Carrington had been engaged at Ottoshoop on the 22nd, when Lieutenant A G Gilpin and one man of the 4th Victorians were killed. From this time onwards they were constantly engaged, but for long escaped serious casualties. They served with columns based on Mafeking and Zeerust, and did an immense amount of arduous trekking. In an expedition through Griqualand West, in January and February 1901, there was some fighting, most of which fell to the New South Wales and Victorian Bushmen.
In his telegram of 21st February 1901 Lord Kitchener mentioned that Lord Methuen had marched into Klerksdorp, in the south-west of the Transvaal, and he said that "At Hartebeestfontein he was opposed by a force of 1400 Boers under Generals De Villiers and Lichtenburg. The Boers held a strong position obstinately, but were turned out after severe fighting, in which the 10th Yeomanry, Victorian Bushmen, and the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment distinguished themselves". The Victorians lost 3 killed, and 3 officers of the 4th contingent—Lieutenant Colonel Kelly and Lieutenants Parkin and Mann—and 8 men wounded.
The other portion of the 4th Victorians operated with General Plumer, and under him gained great distinction. Along with the greater part of Plumer's mounted troops they were taken to Cape Colony to assist in the endeavour to expel De Wet (see 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Zealand). During the pursuit of his forces, and also after he and the greater portion of his men had been driven back across the Orange, the contingent saw a great deal of hard service in. Cape Colony, and Major Clarke, DSO, who commanded this portion of the 4th, was selected for very high praise.
In Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th March 1901 he dealt with the invasion of Cape Colony, and said: "On the 12th February a party of about 300 Boers approached Philipstown, but were completely baffled and driven off by the energetic defence made by detachments of Imperial Yeomanry and the Victorian Imperial Regiment, who were reinforced on the 13th by the arrival of Colonel Henniker's column from De Aar and mounted infantry from Hanover Road. Moving as fast as the bad state of the roads and the exhausted condition of their transport animals would allow, the main body of the enemy made for the De Aar-Orange River line. On the 14th De Wet was severely handled by Plumer at Wolvekuilen, being forced to abandon many of his waggons, and at daybreak on the 15th he crossed the railway about four miles north of Houtkraal, where he was engaged by Colonel Crabbe's column and the armoured train under Captain Nanton, RE. The enemy made but little resistance, and pushed on towards the north-west. Large numbers of waggons and much ammunition now fell into our hands, the Boers being unable to urge their weary transport animals along at a sufficiently rapid pace owing to the sodden state of the ground. On the 13th Lieutenants F W Mason and F G Code, both of the 4th, and several men were wounded. On the 14th the Victorians had Lieutenants Frew and Gartside, both of the 3rd contingent, and about 17 men wounded. The West Australian Bushmen and New Zealand Mounted Infantry had also casualties in this action.
After the 15th the pursuit of De Wet continued with very great vigour; and in his telegram of 24th February Lord Kitchener was able to say, "Plumer reports Colonel Owen, with detachments of King's Dragoon Guards, Victorian Imperial Regiment, and Imperial Light Horse, captured De Wet's 15-pounder and pom-pom on the 23rd. The enemy is in full retreat and dispersing: he is being vigorously pursued. De Wet's attempt to invade Cape Colony has evidently completely failed ... Plumer took 50 prisoners and some carts of ammunition with the 15-pounder". The Victorians alluded to in this telegram are evidently the 4th contingent, but, as will be seen from the casualties, the 3rd were with Plumer, as were also some New South Wales, New Zealand, and Queensland men, South and West Australians, and other Colonials. By general consensus of opinion among all correspondents then present in Cape Colony, it was to Plumer and his Colonials that the greatest share of credit must be given for the eventual expulsion of De Wet from the colony. The cleverness and energy of the leader were splendidly backed up by all ranks under him. No better example of this fine spirit could be found than in an incident referred to in the following words of Lord Kitchener's telegram of 4th March 1901: "Captain Dallimore (4th contingent) and 16 Victorian Rifles captured 33 Boers and 50 horses on Seacow River", in the Colesberg district. Captain Dallimore and his 16 men had been detached to reconnoitre. He located a party of Boers, but kept out of sight. After dark he drove off their horses, and at dawn he fired some volleys. The enemy, finding their horses gone, complied with a demand to surrender. Telegraphing on the 4th of March as to the capture of the guns, etc, on 23d February, the Press Association correspondent said: "Perhaps General Plumer distinguished himself more than the rest of the commanders in the recent operations ... During the whole of that fatiguing day the Victorians did splendid work. Captain Tivey (4th contingent) especially distinguished himself by his magnificent persistence and clever handling of his men". The correspondent of 'The Daily Mail', Mr Edgar Wallace, who had nothing to gain by disparaging the work of the regulars, wrote: "So De Wet struck eastward, leaving the Victorians gloating over the two guns they captured, and the colonel of the King's Dragoon Guards wondering how in the world he got the credit for capturing them. I would like to say a word about the Victorians. Victoria is a colony which has produced some splendid soldiers, but no better nor finer troops have ever been put in the field than those men who form part of Colonel Henniker's column".
This body of Victorians did not go back to the north of the Transvaal with Plumer. They remained in Cape Colony, and during March, April, and May were engaged in hunting down scattered bands under Kritzinger, Scheepers, and Malan, and the despatch of 8th July 1901 shows that up to the end of May they were operating with Colonel Henniker in the central district of the colony.
As will be seen from the list of Mentions, the Victorian Imperial Regiment or Imperial Bushmen gained honour on many occasions in Cape Colony. The lack of really distinctive names, and the fact that the different contingents were so much split up and mixed up, makes any endeavour to trace the doings of any of the Australian contingents very difficult: even the official designation of a corps seems to have changed at times in an aimless fashion. The record of the Victorians suffers in this way perhaps more than that of any of the other Colonials.
The bulk of the 4th contingent, with some of the 3rd—together about 460,—sailed for home on the 26th June 1901.