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Byron, John Joseph (1863–1935)

by R. P. Serle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

John Joseph Byron (1863-1935), soldier, was born on 10 March 1863 at Harristown, County Wexford, Ireland, son of John Byron and his wife Elizabeth, née Audley. Nothing is known of his early life. He migrated to Australia in the early 1880s and in September 1885 joined the Queensland Defence Force as a lieutenant in the Brisbane Garrison Battery; he was appointed to the Queensland Permanent Artillery on 1 January 1886.

In November 1888 Byron was promoted captain and early in 1891 went to England for eighteen months training with the Royal Artillery. He passed the course with honours, resumed duty in Queensland, and in February 1895 was promoted major and made artillery staff officer. On 25 April, at All Saints' Anglican Church, Petersham, New South Wales, he married Scottish-born Mary Anderson who was later to become well known as a writer. Byron was acting commander of the Queensland Permanent Artillery from 1896 to July 1899 when he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and confirmed as commander. That month, at the direction of the Queensland government, he went abroad for military instruction, visiting Canada and the United Kingdom and attending manoeuvres in Switzerland.

When war broke out in South Africa in October 1899 the Queensland government arranged for Byron to serve with the Imperial Army; he was recommended as 'an officer of great ability'. With Imperial and Australian detachments in Cape Colony, Orange River Colony and the Transvaal in 1899-1900, he took part in the advance on Kimberley and at Magersfontein was wounded in the leg. In February 1900 he was appointed aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief Lord Roberts, and was later in action at Paardeberg, Poplar Grove and Driefontein; he was mentioned in dispatches twice and appointed C.M.G. in February 1901. In August Byron returned to resume command of the Queensland Artillery. Next February he was made assistant adjutant general for artillery at headquarters, Australian Military Forces; he resigned this appointment in September 1903 and left for South Africa to manage the Duke of Westminster's estate at Cassigholt, Orange River Colony. He did not return to Australia except for a visit in 1932.

In 1907-10 Byron was in the Orange River Colony Legislative Assembly and from 1910 until his death a member of the Union of South Africa parliament. During World War I he was appointed colonel in the South African forces and held commands in German South West Africa, German East Africa and Central Africa. He was made a temporary brigadier general in 1916. In 1917 he commanded a British artillery group on the Western Front and was then appointed second-in-command of the Dunsterforce Caucasus Military Mission. His war honours included the Distinguished Service Order and the Légion d'honneur, as well as several mentions in dispatches. Survived by his wife and two adopted children, Byron died of coronary thrombosis at Sea Point, Cape Province, on 17 February 1935 and was buried at Plumstead.

As a soldier Byron was recognized as being unusually successful in independent command, both as a tactician and an administrator; as a farmer he was considered an authority, progressive and successful; as a parliamentarian he was noted for his commanding presence and gift of oratory.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • R. L. Wallace, The Australians at the Boer War (Canb, 1976)
  • Dictionary of South African Biography, vol 3 (Cape Town, 1977)
  • Blue Books, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1886-97
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1892-3 (7) 568
  • Brisbane Courier, 15, 28 Feb, 4, 11 Mar 1902, 5 Mar 1905
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9, 16 Feb 1932, 26 Mar 1935
  • Cape Times (Cape Town, South Africa), 18 Feb 1935
  • Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg, South Africa), 18 Feb 1935
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 18 Feb 1935, p 19
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 Feb 1935
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • CO 234/69 part 2.

Citation details

R. P. Serle, 'Byron, John Joseph (1863–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/byron-john-joseph-5459/text9273, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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