Captain Darling's extraordinary exploits and fearless feats of daring do during the Victorian Era of colonial expansion are legendary!
This blog interweaves his fantastic tales of adventure in an alternate late Victorian history with 28mm table top gaming.
While the lazy summer of 1878/79 slowly drew to a close
for the residents of the city of Adelaide in the Colony of South Australia
sinister plans that had been made in the cold metropolis of St Petersburg were
coming to fruition:
March 15th 1879 in the ‘Grand
Audience’ room of the General Staff Building St Petersburg a large group of
senior military staff officers and Foreign Ministry officials made themselves
comfortable in the palatial surroundings for a presentation.
Russian Foreign Minister, Prince Gorchakov entered the room and brought the
meeting to order, he introduced two junior officers who stood beside him and
bore the attendees to offer them their full attention for the duration of the
It was Colonel Ovsiannikov who
spoke, he had a noticeable tremble in his voice as he was not used to speaking
before such a prestigious audience, “Good afternoon Gentlemen.” he then
gestured to the large map of the world behind him and continued, “Yesterday an
invasion fleet departed St Petersburg and is en route to Vladivostok from there
after a maintenance and loading layup it will continue to its final
destination, the continent of Australia where it will commence the invasion of
the British Colony of South Australia…” he was interrupted by gasps and many
excitedly whispered asides from the audience.
Prince Gorchakov stood and
interjected, “Gentlemen please retain your composure and listen. Turning to the
speaker he said, “Colonel Ovsiannikov please continue.”
Ovsiannikov resumed his oration
he continued for almost four hours!
His initial topic was the
personalities who commanded this mission and the diplomats who accompanied it.
The military men were all selected heroes of the recent great victorious war
against the Ottoman Turks brave and experienced men who were trusted. No lesser
person than the former Deputy Foreign Minister headed the diplomatic corps,
they did not believe that the local government would be open to arbitration but
as a matter of course an attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the
Colony would be carried out while the army landed and organised itself for action.
Colonel now gaining in confidence outlined in minuscule detail the makeup of
the fleet already at sea and the army units attached to it. It was of note that
no artillery was included in the force to allow room for extra men and
munitions to be included; the fleet would have the responsibility of supplying
heavy gun support to the army if it was required. Also and of grave concern to
some of those listening the extra munitions cut into the victuals stowed with
the fleet, there was enough food for the army for the journey to the Colony but
it was to rely on foraging to feed itself the moment it landed!
Ovsiannikov noted here the invasion was timed to be close to the local harvest
ensuring the captured crops would be able to supply the conquerors! The ships
carried no horses or vehicles either once again it was expected these could be
obtained locally. It was stressed bullets for the soldiers Berdan rifles could
not be found locally so it had priority in the ships holds. Next there was the
listing of the Siberian army forces converging on Vladivostok that would
supplement the European units when the fleet stopped there for maintenance and
The discussion moved onto the
follow up fleet, it was assumed that even though British Empire’s main focus at
the moment was the Dark Continent with the size of the fleet they fielded the
setting up and running a reliable sea supply route from the Russian mainland to
Australia could not be guaranteed. Again there was disquiet in the crowded room
but Ovsiannikov impressed on all the planning of this whole enterprise had been
developed with this in mind. This second fleet which was already in the process
of being organised would be a settlement fleet! It would not only ferry a much
larger military force to the Colony but include many civil servants and
volunteer farmers! South Australia was selected not only for its lack of
seaward defences and small military establishment but because it could become a
self-sufficient and easily defended bastion for Russia on mainland Australia
which could survive in isolation and expand to the east and conquer the lands
there using the professional Russian army’s training and experience and
bypassing those other Colonies seaward fortresses. The second fleet would not
sail before confirmation that the initial forces had been completely successful
in their mission.
The expedition’s commanders had been
instructed to act conservatively with the lives of each of their soldiers they
would be of great value and limited in numbers, the army
would be far for from their homeland and reinforcements and replacements could
not be expected at regular intervals.
Gorchakov stood and hushed the
frenzied conversations that had started at the end of the presentation and
announced, “Gentlemen the wheels are now in motion for what is the greatest
feat of arms Mother Russia’s armed forces have ever embarked on, the Tsar’s
eyes are on us and we must not fail before his glorious gaze!”
figure in the centre of the below is believed by one researcher to be the only
known image of the Russian Colonel Ovsiannikov:
Captain Darling’s return to the Colony
of South Australia due to the spreading fears of a Russian attack proved to
be a serendipitous as unbeknownst to all the Colonies good citizens the wheels
for such an invasion were in motion and his experiences would be of great value to the local militia…we travel to St Petersburg Russia, February 1879:
February 14th 1879 sees the grand city
of St Petersburg is wrapped in the arms of winter and with the buildings
blanketed in snow it resembled a scene from a child's fairy tale.
Far from living in a child's fairy
tale Colonel Anton Ovsiannikov and his aide Captain Vadim Apraxim from the army
intelligence bureau clad in their heavy greatcoats worked in their dank and
small basement office of the General Staff Building. They were engaged in the
monumental task of writing assessments concerning 'the company level deployment
of skirmishers and their effects on the enemy during combat' in the recent war
against the Ottoman Turks.
Colonel Ovsiannikov turned to his aide
and enquired as to the sins they must have committed in past lives to be given
such a tedious chore. Their haughty discussion on this point was interrupted by
the arrival of two men, two men who they would never expect to have seen, especially
in their lowly office! Wide eyed and open mouthed they saluted to greet Prince
Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov, the Russian Foreign Minister and Vice Admiral
Stepan Lesovskiy, the commander of the Imperial Fleet!
Dispensing with formalities Gorchakov
cast a sealed folder marked in large red text "for the Tsar's viewing
only" on Colonel Ovsiannikov's desk. He gestured with open hands to himself
and Vice admiral Lesovskiy announcing, "Gentlemen there's no need for
introductions here we know who you are and I believe you know us." The two
officers nodded in agreement their eyes fixed on the folder. He continued,
"I expect you are aware of the British army’s difficulties on the Dark
Continent." Further silent nods from the pair of officers showed they were
aware of the recent news of the defeat of the British invasion force at the
hands of the Zulu Kingdoms fierce warriors, "Well his Imperial Majesty
wishes to take advantage of the British Government’s distraction and follow up
their own armies glorious victory against the infidel Turks the previous year
with the launching of a grand new adventure of military prowess!"
He beckoned to the documents, "Please
take a look the documentation before you, you have one month from today to
develop these ideas into action! We must move quickly to take advantage of the
British nations, shall we say discomfort!"
Colonel Ovsiannikov broke the seal on
the folder and gently opened it. The title page contained only a few words 'Invasion
Directive: ObjectiveAdelaide, the
Colony of South Australia’ he glanced toward Apraxim grinned and commanded,
"Captain Apraxim order a crate of vodka and the best maps of the globe our
cartographers have available we are going to be busy for the next month!"
At this Gorchakov and Lesovskiy looked
at each other smiling they had indeed selected the best men available to turn
the Tsar's impossible dream of an invasion of the Colony of South Australia
into a reality!
With words of encouragement Gorchakov
and Lesovskiy let it be known to the army intelligence officers that they
wanted daily briefings on their progress they saluted and promptly left the
cold room to return to their grand offices...
From Captain Darlings
own memiors he described his departure from and return to the Colony of South
Australia in these words:
“In March of 1861 I
decided to pack up all my belongings resign from my various employments and
begin my ‘grand adventure’ overseas. I announced to my friends and relatives I
wanted to travel the world and broaden my mind thus ensuring I can furthering myself in
Adelaide’s literary and social circles! With great pomp and pageantry and leaving
many broken hearts I departed from Port Adelaide and sailed for Southampton from
where I toured Europe and travelled back to Australia via Africa and Asia.
I returned in mid 1878
in response to the stories I had read in the newspapers that it was feared the
Colony of South Australia would be invaded by the Russians at any moment. On my
arrival back I patriotically announced that I had returned to the colony
answering its call for every one of its brave young men to join the militia to protect
their homeland and heritage. With my military background and experiences from traversing
the Dark Continent and the Asian lands I
was able to secure myself a position as an aide on the military staff of the
local South Australian military commander Lieutenant Colonel Downes.”
These claims by
Captain Darling relating to the reasons for his departure i.e. to
garner enlightenment appear dubios at best. What follows is a recollection from
a private of the South Australian Free Rifle Corps relating to the good
Captains experiences leading up to his departure in 1861 that bears this out:
“Ah you ask me of the
circumstances of the depature of Captain Edward Darling from Adelaide in 1861,
it was unfortunate but I could see it looming. I first met Darling when he joined
the South Australian Free Rifle Corps in late 1860. I believe his motivations
for volunteering were no more than to obtain a smart uniform to assist in
making him even more irressistable to women than he already was, more a ladies
man I had never before had the pleasure to meet! Everyone believed he would be
no more than a dandy in military garb but he proved to be a good soldier and an expert marksman,
he passed onto me the latter was the product of a misspent youth furnishing several
of the local furriers with a great deal of stock. We in the unit were surprised
when in January 1861 Darling appeared at drill in the uniform of a captain!
Rumour was he earned his rank in a card game though he never disclosed the particulars
of his rapid promotion through the ranks. He was very popular amongst the rank and
file his generousity was renown and he was a true mans man but the other officers
tended to look down their noses at him considering he was an upstart!
In early March 1861 a
large shooting competetion was held, amongst the men of the South Australian Free
Rifle Corps only Lieutenant Sutherland even came close to Captain Darlings
shooting prowess and as was expected Darling walked away from the tornament
with a splendid cup and a small prize. Mysteriously he did not appear at the
afternoons award presentations or sit for the winners photographs he said he had been busy
having ‘afternoon tea’ with one of the Mayors fine daughters. It was only the
next day that the Mayor, Edward Bottle Wilbraham
Glandfield abrute of a man uncovered Darling’s daliance and not only was his
shooting title promptly recinded and the trophy retrieved from his possession
but he was drummed out of the South Australian Free Rifle Corps and then literally
run out of the Colony with only the clothes on his back!”
The doctored results of the March 1861 shooting Competition
appear in the local press, Captain Darling’s name was conspicuously missing!
Coming Soon the Story of the Russian Invasion of the Colony of South Australia!
Captain Edward Darling’s early life was shrouded in mystery and very few details
are known about this period of his life. There are many anecdotes of his youthful adventures but it is suspected they all can be traced back to the good Captain himself!
What can be said is he was born during November 1851 to English parents in the city of Adelaide, the Colony
of South Australia . Of his father little is known
but his mother Kathryn Louise was a school teacher and raised the young
Edward in quite comfortable surroundings.
Captain Darling was a 'Cute Baby' this is the only known picture of him as an infant: