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John Macquarie Antill (1866–1937)

by Rex Clark

This article was published:

John Antill, n.d.

John Antill, n.d.

Australian War Memorial

John Macquarie Antill (1866-1937), soldier, was born on 26 January 1866 at Jarvisfield, Picton, New South Wales, second surviving son of John Macquarie Antill, grazier, and his wife Jessie Hassall, née Campbell. His paternal grandfather was Major Henry Colden Antill, aide-de-camp to Governor Macquarie. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, he was working as a surveyor when he joined the New South Wales Mounted Rifles in 1889. Commissioned as a captain on 19 January, he raised and commanded the Picton Squadron. Four years later he was sent to India by Major General (Sir) Edward Hutton and attached to the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, and the 2nd Dragoon guards for training. On his return in 1894 he was commissioned in the colony's Permanent Military Forces and appointed to the instructional staff.

In November 1899 Antill was promoted major and given command of A Squadron, New South Wales Mounted Rifles. The unit saw active service in South Africa and he took part in the relief of Kimberley and operations in the Orange Free State, Transvaal and the Orange River Colony from February to November 1900. A senior officer described him as 'a dashing and capable leader in action, and remarkably cool under fire'. He returned to Australia in January 1901 but in March went back to South Africa with the 2nd Battalion, New South Wales Mounted Rifles. From April to October he saw action in western and eastern Transvaal, taking part in the capture of Potgieter's convoy on the River Vaal in May and of De La Rey's convoy of wagons, cattle, ammunition and other stores. In eastern Transvaal he was involved in many night marches which resulted in the capture of over 1000 prisoners. For his distinguished services he was appointed C.B. in 1900, twice mentioned in dispatches, awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with seven clasps, and made a brevet lieutenant-colonel. After his return home he married Marion Agnes Wills-Allen at St James's Church, Sydney, on 24 October 1901. There were two daughters of the marriage which was dissolved in 1914.

In 1902-04 Antill served on the instructional staff of the Permanent Military Forces in New South Wales and in 1904-06 was aide-de-camp to Governor-General Lord Northcote. Placed on the retired list, he worked at Jarvisfield as a grazier until 1911 when he rejoined the active list as commandant of the Special School of Instructors at Albury. In April 1914 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and next October was appointed brigade major with the 3rd Light Horse, which embarked for Egypt on 25 February 1915. The brigade fought at Gallipoli as infantry and Antill took temporary command on 20 September during operations at Russell's Top and Monash Valley. Among the last troops to be evacuated in December, his brigade returned to Egypt and in January 1916 he was promoted substantive colonel and temporary brigadier general. After operations in the Sinai Desert, they were sent to reinforce the Anzac Mounted Division at Romani in August, arrived too late for the fighting there, but joined in pursuit of the Turks.

From 18 September Antill commanded the 2nd Infantry Brigade in operations at Ypres and the battle of the Somme, but sickness forced his evacuation to England in November. Next March he took command of the 16th Infantry Brigade, then forming on Salisbury Plain, but it was soon disbanded. Antill returned to Australia in September 1917 and his appointment with the Australian Imperial Force ended on 12 December. For his war service he was appointed C.M.G. and mentioned in dispatches. Instructional duties followed and in 1918 he became assistant adjutant general in Victoria; later that year he was appointed commandant in South Australia. In 1921-22 he was chief instructor of the Central Training Depot at Liverpool, New South Wales. He retired on 26 January 1924 with the honorary rank of major general.

In retirement, Antill spent several years at Jarvisfield and later lived at Manly and Dee Why. His pastimes were gardening, woodwork, reading and bowls. As a young man he had excelled at boxing and fencing under Larry Foley's tuition; he retained a keen interest in these sports and in horsemanship. He was also encouraged to write by his 'adopted daughter', Rose Antill de Warren, a journalist, and in 1936 they published The emancipist, a three-act drama about the life of William Redfern. After a three-year illness he died of cancer at Royal Prince Henry Hospital on 1 March 1937, and was cremated.

Tall, spare and wiry, brusque in manner and speech, Antill was recognized throughout his career as a courageous soldier, an able leader, a stern disciplinarian and a shrewd judge of men, with a flair for moulding those under his command to his ideal of what a soldier should be. This ideal was in the traditional British pattern.

Antill's brother Robert Henry (1859-1938), who inherited Jarvisfield, was a prominent pastoralist and a noted breeder of Ayrshire cattle. He was chairman of the Picton Pastures Protection Board in 1901-28 and served as district coroner for forty-two years.

Select Bibliography

  • Aust Defence Dept, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • A. C. N. Olden, Westralian Cavalry in the War (Melb, 1921)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • T. H. Darley, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War (Adel, 1924)
  • H. S. Gullett, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1923)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1894-95 (5), 402
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 June 1937
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Aug 1938
  • Punch (Melbourne), 25 Feb 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Mar 1937.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rex Clark, 'Antill, John Macquarie (1866–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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