Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Sanderson Lyster (1850–1930)

by Darryl McIntyre

This article was published:

John Sanderson Lyster (1850-1930), soldier, was born on 31 August 1850 at Beaumaris, Anglesey, North Wales, son of George Fosbery Lyster, civil engineer, and his wife Martha Eliza, née Sanderson. Educated at Guernsey, Channel Islands, where his father was engaged in building harbour works, and later tutored in England by the Wimbledon army coaches Brachenbury and Wynne, Lyster undertook the regulation course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Commissioned ensign (by purchase) in the 71st Highland Light Infantry in 1869 he was stationed during the next eight years at Gibraltar, Malta and Inverness, Scotland; he was promoted lieutenant in 1871.

In 1877 on his return to London from a tour of military stations in Europe, Lyster met (Sir) Thomas McIlwraith who encouraged him to migrate to Queensland; he sold his commission that year. On arrival in Brisbane he had intended to establish a cheese factory but he soon joined a survey expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. After returning to Brisbane in 1881 he was appointed clerk to the Legislative Assembly. With the development of colonial military forces he decided in 1884 to resume permanent military service and was appointed captain and chief staff officer with the Queensland Defence Force in 1885. He was promoted major in 1886 and lieutenant-colonel in 1894. From December 1899 to January 1902 he was acting commandant of the Queensland Defence Force and oversaw the training of troops and dispatch of contingents to the South African War.

Late in 1901 the 1st Battalion of the Australian Commonwealth Horse was formed with units from New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania and Lyster was appointed commanding officer. It was quickly deployed to Durban, South Africa, where it arrived in March 1902; the unit proceeded by rail to Klerksdorp in western Transvaal. As part of Colonel de Lisle's column its tasks were to clear the districts north of Klerksdorp and then take part in the drive to the Kimberley-Mafeking railway blockhouse line. After successful operations the unit returned to Klerksdorp where it remained until the end of the war.

The good standard of discipline maintained by Lyster's troops in South Africa was not displayed on the transport Drayton Grange during its voyage to Australia. Influenza and measles broke out among the 2043 troops on board and 17 men died. A royal commission later found that the epidemic was aggravated by overcrowding, deficient hospital accommodation and neglect of some routine discipline. Despite this setback Lyster was appointed commandant of Commonwealth land forces in South Australia in 1902-03 and in Queensland from 1906 to December 1911 when he was placed on the retired list; he was promoted colonel in 1905. During World War I he was inspector of equipment.

Lyster played an important part in the development of the Commonwealth Military Forces. He had demonstrated an outstanding capacity to train officers, and among those senior officers of the Australian Imperial Force who received their early training from him were Generals Sir Brudenell White, C. H. Brand, T. H. Dodds and C. H. Foott. Survived by his wife and daughter, Lyster died on 5 January 1930 at St Peter Port, Guernsey.

Select Bibliography

  • G. B. Barton, The Story of South Africa, vol 2 (Syd, 1901)
  • J. J. Knight and R. S. Browne, Queensland (Brisb, 1900)
  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • R. L. Wallace, The Australians at the Boer War (Canb, 1976)
  • L. M. Field, The Forgotten War (Melb, 1979)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Feb 1930
  • Bulletin, 26 Feb 1930
  • MP 78, 207/1/20 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Darryl McIntyre, 'Lyster, John Sanderson (1850–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 August, 1850
Beaumaris, Anglesey, Wales


5 January, 1930 (aged 79)
St Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands

Cultural Heritage

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