Torrens Island Recruitment Camp for the Boer War
By the end of 1899, Australia was collectively at war. All the six colonies had committed troops to the conflict in South Africa. This was the second conflict in which Australia sent troops to Africa,the first being a New South Wales contingent which arrived virtually too late to be of value in the Sudan campaign.
Throughout the Boar War conflict, more than 10,000 Australian soldiers supported the British in South Africa against the Boer Settlers
These wars shaped the military strategic thinking in England. In the future, English military planners looked keenly at the Colonies to supply the future needs of military manpower. Australia would answer this call by proving an eager expeditionary force. This led to a succession of wars in which Australia sent personnel overseas to assist in Britain’s wars, and later the United State’s Wars.
During Australia’s involvement in the Boer War [1899-1902] Torrens Island was used by the Military authorities as a recruitment camp.

Boer War troops in camp A7, outside the police Barracks in Adelaide .Circa 1900. SASL B 40138.

Boer War troops, members of the Bushmen’s Corp. Circa 1900.SLSA B 63858.

Torrens Island Internment Camp 1914-1915
The natural isolation of the island made it an obvious choice for security purposes, and not long after the onset of World War One, an internment camp was established on the Island. It was opened on 9 October 1914 and was closed on 16 August 1915.
Soon after war was declared was declared, the process of internment was motivated by security considerations, under the WPA of 1914. Originally, it placed German men who had been travelling on German ships or who served as military reservists into the Torrens Island Internment Camp. In the first instance, there was an imperial regulation that required the registration of all members of the armed forces of the enemy power. This was quickly followed by the registering of hundreds of crews of German ships still in Australian harbours or who had arrived here, when war was declared and were unaware that war had been declared.
The SS Scharzfels is a case in point. The ship’s crew arrived in Port Adelaide on the day war had been declared, a fact they were unaware that war had been declared. In the first instance they were brought to Keswick Barracks. They were among the first Germans to be interned on the Island once the camp was opened in October.

The Scharzfels was one of the first prizes of the Great War.

In 1915, the Commonwealth government seized the ship and it was renamed the Araluen, and placed under Commonwealth Line of Steamers. In 1924 it was sold to Japanese owners, Naigai Kisen K and renamed as Diakoku Maru. The same owners renamed it to Okuni Maru in 1925. It was a Japanese cargo ship, until it was sunk in the Luzon Straits, south of Formosa on August 31st 1944, by the U.S. submarine, the USS BARB.

The WPA 1914 gave the Minister of Defence enormous powers to carry out security measures for the defence of Australia. In fact, it contained 81 specific sections. In particular, Section 55 and 56 allowed them to detain German civilian residents in Australia, as well as German –born naturalised citizens and natural born Australians of German ancestry.

Under regulation 56A of the War Precautions Regulations, men of German descent were imprisoned on Torrens Island in a makeshift camp of tents surrounded by barbed wire fence. In the first months of the war, the camp was called a concentration camp. The prisoners of war in South Australia were first held in Keswick Barracks, Adelaide, until the 9th October, 1914, when they were transferred to Torrens Island.
Torrens Island is an island located in the Port River near Port Adelaide. Military authorities chose the island, due to its isolation and flatness. Extremely harsh conditions made the island inhospitable. Extremely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter.
Over its brief 11 months existence, Torrens Island Concentration Camp, over 400 internees passed through the Camp. Most of the internees were civilians, of German-Australian background. Very few internees were prisoners of war .Many included civilians, men born in Australia and came from traditional areas of German settlement –Barossa Valley and Loxton.
From 1915 onwards, the historical record shows quite clearly that the term concentration camp was used.
The term originated from the Boer War ,which housed Boer men, women and children during the South African war. There were two camps.

Originally the firs Concentration Camp was located 500m, at the southern end of the Quarantine Station. It was a fenced compound and prisoners were interned there in tents and under armed guards. Map 1 clearly illustrates the set up of the first camp.
The reason why it was located there was that goods, food and water could easily be taken to the camp, due to the jetty and boat access at the entrance of the Quarantine station


Photo of second Camp
Structure and life in the Camp.
The internees were housed in tents, and according to the records, each tent housed seven to eight internees. This was coined “the German lines”
There were seven rows of tents, all housed behind a barbed wire fence., a couple of blankets and hay straw for the making of a mattress, were the standard issue to the internees. Combined with primitive living conditions, harsh ill-treatment of internees and the physical discomfort of life on Torrens Island was extremely harsh, gave Torrens Island of having the worst reputation of all internment camps in Australia.
Highlight of the day occurred around 3pm, where, the internees were issued with their daily rations, comprising of bread, vegetables, jam, coffee, sugar, salt and pepper. Life in the camp was extremely harsh, primitive and basic. For example, fresh water and food supplies were irregular and cooking was done on open fires, with primitive cooking utensils.

During the duration of the camp, the internees produced three issues of their own newspaper, entitled Der Kamerad. The Comrades: Weekly newspaper of the prisoners of war on Torrens Island

Der Kamerad newspaper

The publishing of the paper was illegal and the guards confiscated and destroyed any copies which they found.
There were three editions of the paper printed, with the last edition of Der Kamerad published 26 June, 1915.
This paper was submitted to the Military Courts inquiry into the flogging of internees and other harsh treatment of internees on Torrens Island.
Despite the hardships and brutality the internees managed to organize many events.
Throughout the time the Camp was opened, the internees did not have to work and monotony of daily life was an issue. Internees had an array of activities that occupied their time, including playing two-up, gambling on cards, and there were physical activities like playing soccer and athletics.
The internees performed their own plays.
From the Photo’s were see the internees,
Within the camp there were two bands, including members of the Bavarian Band, and a choir group.

The internees did receive newspapers in the early duration of the war, but this ceased under orders from the 4 Military District.

Map created by Mr Peter Bell.

The guards came from the 3rdLight Horse Regiment and the 78th Infantry Battalion.

The internees were moved in March 1915, due to an outbreak of smallpox, and the authorities did not want to expose the German internees. Hence the camp was relocated further to the south east of the island. This was very close to the original site of the animal quarantine ground, bordering Angus Inlet and Garden Island.

Very early in the setting up of the camp, it claimed its first fatality.
According to a report in the Advertiser on the 24 October 1914:
“One of the Germans detained by the military authorities on Torrens Island was reported to the police on Friday as missing. The opinion was expressed by the officer who telephoned to the police that the man had drowned. He stated that the man having divested himself of his clothing entered the water to bathe, and that he failed to return. Sub-Inspector Barnett sent two of the police down the river. They, however, could find no body.” It was reported some days later that a local fisherman Bert Heynan ,found the body of a young man floating in the water near the North Arm.
Lieutenant Wright, who was in charge at Torrens Island confirmed the corpse was that of the missing German internee-Conrad Barth, a 20 year old seaman.

The Torrens Island Concentration Camp officially closed on 17 August 1915.The Premier [Hon.,C.Vaughan],announced in the House of Assembly on 18 August 1915,that the Germans interned ,at Torrens Island were to be removed by train and transferred to Holsworthy camp, in New South Wales. The announcement was greeted with cheers. It was closed due to a consolidation of all of Australia’s internment camps, due to the Straits Settlement.
There are no obvious remains of either Internment Camps today.

Dubotzki, P. Photographic Collection. Circa December 1914
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Photo of Scharzfels.Kindly denote by Mr
Photo of extended view of Torrens Island Concentration Camp.Photo donated by Mr Norman.
SLSA B 46794. Cooks at the Internment Camp[From Left[ Jarrett, McPherson and Brennan]
SLSA D7738[L]Der Kamerad. Wochenschrift Kriegsgefangenen.
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