To Queensland belongs the credit of being the first colony to make an offer of assistance to the mother country in connection with the South African War. On 11th July 1899, three months before the Boer ultimatum was sent, the Queensland Government despatched to Mr Chamberlain an offer of 250 mounted men, with machine-guns. The credit for this foresight belongs to Lieutenant Colonel J Sanderson-Lyster, late 71st, Highland Light Infantry, who, as chief staff-officer in Queensland, made the suggestion to the commandant, Major General H Gunter. The latter interviewed the Premier, the Honourable J R Dickson, and he at once acted on the suggestion.
The total contribution from the colony was 143 officers, 2756 men, and 3085 horses. The first contingent was two companies of mounted infantry, 262 strong, all ranks, and was mainly composed of men of the Queensland Militia Regiment of Mounted Infantry. They were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel P R Ricardo. The contingent sailed on the Cornwall on 1st November 1899, and were, on arrival upon 11th December, sent to the De Aar-Modder River line in order to protect the communications of Lord Methuen. They remained in this district until Lord Roberts commenced his advance into the Free State on 11th February 1900.
On 1st January 1900, 200 Queenslanders, under Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo and Captains Chauvel and Pinnock, were part of a force which Colonel Pilcher led out from Belmont towards Douglas,—an expedition which was entirely successful. Colonel Pilcher took extraordinary care to prevent any news of his march leaking out, and owing to this care he was able to surprise the enemy, capturing their laager and 40 prisoners. The work of the Queenslanders was greatly praised. They had a difficult task to perform, and the most highly-trained troops could not have done it more satisfactorily. When it was known that the column was in the vicinity of the laager, Colonel Pilcher's main endeavour was to throw some of his troops round the enemy's flanks. The Queenslanders got round on one flank unseen, and before they were discovered had gained a position which put the Boers at disadvantage. Privates M'Leod and Jones were killed,— the first Australian soldiers to die by Boer bullets. Lieutenant Aidie and Private Rose were dangerously wounded. There were a few other casualties. Rose was said to have been struck while returning to help Lieutenant Aidie.
In the beginning of February preparations were being made for the relief of Kimberley and the advance on Bloemfontein, and the Queensland Mounted Infantry were destined to take part in these stirring operations. In the appendix to his despatch of 16th February, Lord Roberts gives a statement of the troops available. He puts the Queensland Mounted Infantry as two hundred and seventy-five strong.
In the rush to Kimberley and during the fighting on the north side of the town on 16th February 1900, the Queenslanders were under Pilcher, along with the 3rd Mounted Infantry (Regulars) and a squadron of New Zealanders. They succeeded in capturing a part of the Boer position, and were left out on outpost at Macfarlane's Siding during the night of the 16th, but before morning the enemy had decamped, getting away their convoy and guns. When French got the message announcing that Cronje had left Magersfontein he pushed on, first, Broadwood's Cavalry and then his other troops to Koedoesrand and Paardeberg drifts on the Modder to endeavour to head-off Cronje; and in this he was successful.
The 1st Contingent fought for a while with the 2nd Contingent.
In the beginning of November the Press Association correspondent at Pretoria wired: "A portion of the Queensland Mounted Infantry left here this morning en route for Australia. Like the rest of their fellow-Australians, they have done magnificent work during the campaign, and their skill and daring have been generally admired in the army".