BISDEE, JOHN HUTTON, Trooper, was born at Hutton Park, Tasmania, 28 September 1869, son of John Bisdee, pastoralist (who died in 1891), and Ellen Jane Bisdee (nee Butler), who died in 1905. Both his parents were born in Tasmania, and his grandfather, John Bisdee, and his grandmother, came from Hutton, Somersetshire, England. He was educated at Hutchin's School, Hobart, Tasmania, and lived on the estate of Hutton Park until 1900, when he enlisted in the ranks of the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen in the South African War; served in that campaign from 1899 to 1902. On 1 September 1900, at Warm Baths, north of Pretoria, Major Eardley Wilmot Brooke was directed to proceed in command of a mounted reconnaissance composed partly of a troop of Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen and partly of men of the mounted branch of the Army Service Corps, then doing duty as mounted fighting troops. The former were under the command of Lieutenant Wylly, Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen. Major Brooke's instructions were to proceed to a place north-west of Warm Baths, to drive off some Boer cattle supposed to be there, and to find out if there were any Boers in the neighbourhood. The only way through the mountains north of Warm Baths lay through a narrow pass, and the party proceeded westward until, at the mouth of the pass, they came upon a Kaffir Kraal. Here they ascertained that there were supposed to be Boers in the direction in which they had to go. The pass was narrow, with high precipitous cliffs on either side, and Major Brooke had so few men that he could not hope to hold it effectively. A deep formation was therefore adopted, and the small force was divided into an advanced party support, main body, and rear-guard, with connecting files. They went up the pass at a gallop, and, on reaching a wide open space between hills beyond, the advanced party opened as a screen. They then proceeded across a plain dotted with trees, till they came to some thickly wooded hills. There Major Brooke decided to turn back, as nothing could be seen of the cattle they were looking for. Except for some goatson the hills there was no sign of life anywhere. The advanced party were watering their horses at a stream before turning back, when a very heavy rifle-fire was opened from the scrub about a hundred yards in front. Major Brooke's horse took fright at the crack of the bullets on the hard ground and reared up, dragging the reins from his hand, and before he could draw his carbine from the bucket, she had galloped away with it, back towards the pass. Major Brooke ran back to some rocks, behind which were some of the men, including Trooper Bisdee. As he ran one bullet passed through his leg and another through his helmet. The Boers were now working round them, so there was nothing for it but to leave the rocks. The others, including a wounded man whom they had bound up, were on horseback, and Major Brooke on foot. When they got into the open his wounded leg was almost out of action, so Trooper Bisdee pulled up and asked him to get on his horse. This Major Brooke could not do, and he told him to go on. This the Tasmanian refused to do, and, though the bullets were knocking up the dust all around them, he dismounted, drew up his horse alongside an ant-bear heap, and helped his commanding officer into the saddle, getting up himself behind him. The fire was at short range, rapid and concentrated. On arriving at the main body Major Brooke borrowed a rifle and retained the horse, for though his own had been caught by the rear-guard he was not able to change on account of his wound. He then went back to look for any who might have been left behind, and met Lieutenant Wylly, who was wounded, and carrying a man on his horse. He had been in the scrub some way to the right of the road, and for some time had returned the fire. At length he came away, with a man who had lost his horse. As Major Brooke found no more men, he sent the Tasmanians down the pass and formed a rear-guard of the ASC men. He tried to drive off some cattle which they found, with the help of three men of the ASC who volunteered to stay and help, but, as the Boers were reaching the top of the cliffs, they had to abandon the attempt. Major Brooke found his way back to Warm Baths with difficulty, owing to considerable loss of blood. The Boers, estimated at about 3,000, soon afterwards attacked Warm Baths with guns.
Lieutenant Colonel Bisdee says of this affair: "On 1 September a party of one officer and about 20 men of the ASC were sent out from Warm Bad to forage for supplies of live-stock. Twenty men from the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen, under Lieutenant Wylly, were sent to escort them. Marching up a narrow valley, the two officers being in front with the screen, evidence was seen that the place had been recently occupied. Shortly afterwards heavy fire at short range opened on us from concealed positions. The screen were all killed or wounded. Lieutenant Wylly was wounded, and Major Brooke, the ASC officer, had his horse shot, and was also wounded. The order to retire at the gallop was given. Seeing the officer without a horse, I put him on mine, and ran alongside until out of range and then mounted behind him, and rejoined the escort. (Note: The official account is slightly different as to details, but the above is correct). Lieutenant Wylly was also awarded the VC at the same time, and several men the DCM. It was decidedly 'hot' while it lasted, but fortunately it was soon over".
For the services described above the two gallant Tasmanians received the Victoria Cross. Trooper Bisdee's was the first Victoria Cross awarded to a Colonial. He also received the Queen's Medal with two clasps, and the King's Medal. Private Bisdee was awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 13 November 1900]: "John Hutton Bisdee, Trooper, Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen. On the 1st September 1900, Trooper Bisdee was one of an advanced scouting party passing through a rocky defile near Warm Bad, Transvaal. The enemy, who were in ambuscade, opened a sudden fire at close range, and six out of the party of eight were hit, including two officers. The horse of one of the wounded officers broke away and bolted. Finding that the officer was too badly wounded to go on, Trooper Bisdee dismounted, placed him on his horse, mounted behind him, and conveyed him out of range. This act was performed under a very hot fire, and in a very exposed place".
He received a commission in the 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen in March, 1901; returned to Australia in 1902, and again took up pastoral pursuits. On 11 April, 1904, at New Town, Tasmania, he married Georgiana Theodosia, daughter of Right Reverend Bishop Hale, of Gloucester, England, and late of Queensland and West Australia. In 1906 he became Lieutenant in the 12th Australian Light Horse; promoted Captain in 1908. Commanded 26th Light Horse Regiment , Tasmania, in 1912. Joined Australian Imperial Force for service overseas on 26 July, 1915, and posted to 12th Australian Light Horse. Promoted Major 16 August 1915. Served with Australian Composite Regiment in November and December 1915, Senoussi Campaign, Egypt. Seconded as APM Anzac Mounted Division, 24 May, 1916. Seconded to command Australian Provost Corps, Egyptian Section, 20 January 1918, and appointed APM Australian Imperial Force in Egypt. Promoted Lieutenant Colonel 2 February 1918. Awarded OBE (Military Division) 3 June, 1919. Lieutenant Colonel Bisdee was fond of sports, especially football. Also hunting with the Hutton Park Beagles, Hutton Park, Tasmania.