The Burden Riflemen

It has been interesting to discover that some of the Burden ancestors of Chris were involved in volunteer military groups. The first part of this blog post is an imagined scene – but based on facts.

Philip Burden woke early on the Saturday in March 1863 that had been chosen for an intercolonial rifle match between New South Wales and South Australia in their respective capitals. He was eager to see what weather the new day had brought. The day before, when he had been participating in a competition between his club and the Adelaide Rifles, the wind had picked up in the afternoon, so that it was impossible to keep his rifle steady when he fired his 10 shots at 800 yards. He winced when he remembered how his score had fallen off badly as the distances and the wind increased in parallel.

Philip and Mary’s two boys raced into the bedroom.
“Mum, John’s awake.”
Mary got out of bed to see to the baby. He was not quite 12 months. She also thought she had better check what the girls were doing. Annie, at 8 years was probably preparing some breakfast for her 4 year old sister, Florence.

“What rifle are you going to use, Father?” asked Harry. At 12, he was the eldest by just under 2 years.
Fred echoed his brother, “Yes, Father, which one?”
The boys had already been looking at the rifles – Philip’s old Terry, and the almost brand new Whitworth that Philip had won in a rifle competition the year before. His sons knew all the details of the win. Philip was one of 26 competitors – ‘the leading shots in town.’ The contestants had paid £1 to enter, and after shooting 10 rounds each at 400 and 600 yards, Philip’s totalled score was the best to bring home the Whitworth.

“My Terry of course.” Philip said to the boys, who groaned at the answer, having hoped that he’d choose the new Whitworth.
Philip silently wondered about his choice, but decided he was more comfortable with his trusty, old breech-loading Terry.  But, if the weather was going to be anything like yesterday, his reputation as one of the colony’s best shots would be in doubt. His decision to use his larger-bore Terry rifle, while the 11 others in the team were going to use either Whitworths or Henrys, could be his downfall.
“Come on, boys.” Philip said suddenly, “we’d better get moving if we want to get to the butts by eight o’clock.”

Rifle matches on the South Parklands, part of Colonel Light’s inspired plan of Adelaide which had the urban centre surrounded by parks, were a frequent feature that attracted much attention.  The targets were on ‘butts’ – large, earth mounds at either end of thin, narrow clearings, 1000 yards long.

This intercolonial match was like a 19th century version of an online computer game, with telegrams announcing the latest scores throughout the day. The South Australian team was at a distinct disadvantage when the day presented winds that swept across the Adelaide Park Lands with cold, unpredictable gusts that dissipated onlookers. This was confirmed during the morning when the interim Sydney score was received on the telegraph, the closing words – “weather fine.” The officials in Adelaide had decided to leave the short ranges, which were undertaken in a standing position, until the afternoon, in the hope that the wind would die off. The ramification for Philip was that he had to shoot the long ranges in a wind that was not only strong but erratic, his Terry being outperformed by the smaller bore weapons in these conditions.[1] As the gusts abated with the long shadows of the afternoon, the competitors wiped the dust from their eyes and the spectators returned to learn the scores. Despite the atrocious weather, the South Australians did not disgrace themselves; they had a cumulative score that was not too far behind that of the New South Welshmen.

The men involved in rifle shooting in Britain and its colonies increased dramatically when it was decided in 1859 that volunteer forces were needed. For Britain, there were tensions in Europe. An assassination attempt was made on Napoleon III using bombs that were manufactured in England. Although this furore soon died down, French operations in Italy caused Britain to think about their susceptibility to invasion if their Navy became involved elsewhere, or their need to quickly despatch an expeditionary force to an area of conflict.

John Burden - Ledbury Rifles 1859John Burden, Philip’s brother, along with another local man, initiated the formation of the Ledbury Rifle Corps in 1859 by canvassing others for their interest and presenting, to a meeting held in December, the names of 30 men who were willing to join. The meeting at the Feathers Hotel in Ledbury, Herefordshire would have been typical of many held across most counties of England, Wales and Scotland to encourage the formation of rifle units. It was attended by influential men of the area, many with Esq. after their names or Rev. before.[2]



Ledbury Rifles - Burden - Uniforms - 28 July 1860 - Hereford TimesNot only was John an influential member of the Ledbury rifles, but he used his skills as a tailor to make all the men’s uniforms.[3]


Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining forces in Australia was realised by British politicians, and they decided that the Australian colonies would have to organise their own defences. “By early 1860 most suburbs and towns in Australia supported a volunteer unit, usually a rifle corps.” [4] The South Australian Free Rifles company was raised in 1861 with the members providing their own weapons (therefore the term). In 1862 Philip Burden was listed as one of the 12 Free Rifles’ marksmen. [5]

Philip and John may have had a common influence in their decisions to join volunteer rifle groups. Their father, John, was one of the many who volunteered in Britain during the long French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1815. He was discharged prior to his marriage to Mary Bigg in 1807, but probably told stories to his sons about his military life. And they would certainly have been aware of the medal he received and gratefully acknowledged in 1850, when it was decided that Queen Victoria should honour those involved in the Egypt campaign of the wars at the turn of the century. John was a member of the 86th Regiment of Foot, originally raised as the Shropshire Volunteers in 1793. In 1801 the regiment was engaged in a long march of 70 miles from Suez to Cairo, including a detour of 12 miles to avoid an expected French intercept. The hot blast from a south wind and scant water allocation necessary after the water skins leaked made the march intolerable. Some of the men died in the attempt.

The Free Rifles in Adelaide were well known for their shooting abilities, and in October 1862, five of their men, including Philip Burden, were chosen as representatives in a Companies’ Match, which they won by outscoring their opponents of 25 other companies. Earlier that year, Philip won a rifle match and was presented with the prize of a new Whitworth rifle. [6]

PH Burden Rifle Competition - SA Weekly Chronicle 15 Mar 1862
The prize money from the Companies’ Match was spent on a photograph of the five men, in uniform and with their rifles. Philip Burden is sitting front right. [7]

Philip Burden - Volunteer RiflesWarriors of Other Days. (1916, April 8). Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931)


1. Intercolonial Rifle Match. (1863, March 16). The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), , p. 2. Retrieved from   [back]
2. Hereford Times, July 28, 1860 Retrieved from [back]
3. The Hereford Journal, Wednesday, December 7, 1859. Retrieved from [back]
4. Colonial period, 1788–1901. Australian War Memorial [back]
5. South Australian Government Gazette, December 4, 1862, p1006 [back]
6. Topics of the Week. (1862, March 15). South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1867), , p. 3. Retrieved from [back]
7. Topics of the Day. (1863, February 6). The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), , p. 2. Retrieved from [back]


Ancestors of John Burden (, as part of the Gigney Family Tree website by Simon Gigney (
Australian War Memorial – Colonial period, 1788–1901 (
Intercolonial Rifle Match. (1863, March 16). The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), , p. 2. Retrieved from
James Hunter and Margaret Anderson, History SA, ‘South Parklands’, SA History Hub, History SA,
Royal South Australia Regiment Association –
Warriors of Other Days. (1916, April 8). Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), , p. 23. Retrieved from

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Philip Henry Burden (1824-1864)
Parents: John Burden (1777-1872) and Mary Bigg (1780-1876)
Spouse: Mary Jones (1828-1907)
Spouse’s Parents: Edward Jones (abt 1794-1880) and Elizabeth Britten (abt 1804-1882)
Surnames: Bigg, Britten, Burden, Jones
Relationship to Chris: great, great grandfather (2x great grandfather)

  1. Philip Henry Burden (1824-1864) (2x great grandfather)
  2. Philip Henry Burden (1851-1902) (great grandfather)
  3. Thomas English Burden (1884-1978) (grandfather)
  4. Mother
  5. Chris
This entry was posted in Burden Ancestors, Chris's Ancestors and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Burden Riflemen

  1. Pingback: The Little Grocer’s Shop on Brompton Road (#2) | Shelley's Family Histories and Mysteries

  2. Sylvia ( says:

    A good story and enjoyable to read, Shenley. A lovely way to introduce the children and especially the boys excitement.


  3. Pingback: Philip Henry Burden (1824-1864) | Shell's Family 52 Ancestors

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