4-Pipe Barling Set From 1898
"As the men were lying behind cover, waiting on the 'Charge!' most of them pulled out pipe and tobacco, and smoked as if for life. When the signal came they still kept pipe in mouth, and went up the kopje and into the battery smoking — or at least chewing the pipe-stem. It is wonderful, and not to be explained, how a soldier can carry a cutty-pipe between his teeth, often in full blast, and keep it there all the time of a charge."

-Richard Danes, Cassell's History of the Boer War (1901)

It was, at first glance, a fairly ordinary pipe case. But I knew from the expression on Sykes's face that it had to be something more. I took the set in my hands and read inscribed upon its silver badge:

Presented To
Sergeant A.W. White, RMLI
By the Officers, N.C.O's & Men
B. Company N.S.W 3rd Contingent
Infantry As a Mark of Esteem
10.5.1900

I opened the case and found four smooth, silver-banded Barling pipes, each bearing hallmarks from 1898, along with a silver match case and a cheroot holder. The set had just arrived in an estate batch, and we knew immediately that we had received not only an important piece of pipe history — four excellent representations of late 19th-Century English pipes — but historical artifacts in their own right. The pipe set that I was holding in my hands had originally been presented by an Australian Infantry Company to a Royal Marine during the Boer War. Sykes and I took an immediate interest in the set and undertook what turned out to be an interesting and fairly extensive effort to learn more about these special pipes and the events surrounding their presentation.

II.

While manufactured in 1898, the pipes were presented on May 10, 1900. The inscription indicates that the set was presented during the Boer War — the first large-scale imperial conflict in which Australian units made a significant contribution to the war effort. The Boer War (1899-1902) was a clash between the British Empire and the Boer nations of the Cape Frontier, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The war grew out of long-standing tensions between the British and the Boers, who were the descendants of Dutch settlers in the region, and concerned mining rights in particular.

The first questions that we explored were these: Who was A.W. White and what act of service did this Royal Marine perform that merited such high esteem from an Australian infantry company? The possibilities were (and still remain) intriguing, but our search for answers was ultimately inconclusive. Although we were able to identify several men named A.W. White who participated in the Boer War, it proved an impossible task to link any of them firmly to the set. As for what act of service A.W. White may have performed, it is, again, impossible to know with certainty. But the history of the infantry company itself allows us to advance some plausible theories.

The only Australian infantry company that arrived in South Africa early enough to present the set departed from Sydney on November 3, 1899, finally joining what became known as "The Australian Regiment" on December 9. The men who made up these early units were primarily drawn from Australian militias. They would have, therefore, had a degree of military training, but probably not the sort of training that would have prepared them to participate in an imperial war in the same way that British regulars would. And this company, like so many others, was put to the test. They faced heavy fighting in February of 1900, and went on to assist in the capture of numerous towns in the Orange Free State in March and April. While it is difficult to imagine this Australian infantry company fighting alongside a sergeant in the Royal Marines, perhaps A.W. White's act of service was to assist in training the Australian company; helping to prepare the men for these difficult months, instilling in them martial discipline and skill could have quite literally saved many of their lives.

III.

Beyond the historical circumstances of its presentation, the pipe set speaks to the culture of pipesmoking in Late Victorian England and the British Empire more broadly. At home, pipes were a feature of male social rituals. Pipesmoking itself was pervasive enough that factories like Barling were turning out large numbers of briar pipes. This culture was transmitted, at least in part, to the battlefield. In war, pipesmoking was a reminder of home and offered a brief reprieve from the realities of armed conflict. Soldiers smoked pipes in their leisure time and clenched them in battle. Prisoners of war carved pipes in their captivity. The Queen even sent soldiers in the Boer War a silver-mounted briar as a Christmas gift.

The presentation of the set was, therefore, culturally resonant and materially significant. Barling advertised two- and three-pipe sets as the pinnacle of their offerings. A four-pipe set was rare, indeed. Considering that the pipes were manufactured in 1898 and presented in 1900, they were most likely purchased and engraved locally. Capetown would have likely been the only city in South Africa advanced enough and thoroughly British enough to offer such a set and to offer such fine engraving.

Josh and Sykes discuss the antique Barling set in more detail.

IV.

The pipes themselves are among the best examples of early Barling Briars that we've encountered here at Smokingpipes. It's rare enough to find a single pipe of such age that's still intact, and a full set of them, every pipe complete and present, really is something else.

The set includes two bent Billiards, the first of which is distinguished by its tall, cylindrical bowl and deep bend. This first pipe's shape in some respects is similar to the Hungarian, which was, incidentally, favored by the President of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger, and which posterity would thus remember as the Oom Paul. It should be noted that although this general shape type takes its now most common name from the Boer leader, it was also very well represented among troops from the British Empire, both in the pipes purchased for them and in the pipes they carved and decorated for themselves as prisoners of war.

The second bent Billiard is a variant of the English classic. The bowl is rounder and softer; the bend a bit less pronounced. Like the other pipes in the set, this bent Billiard reflects many of the pipe-making conventions of late-19th-century English briar pipes. The vulcanite stems are considerably meatier than what is found on more modern pipes. The buttons are likewise round, and rather than slots, we find a simple circular airway.

The third briar is a straight Bulldog, a substantial pipe yet elegant in its lines. The piece is well-proportioned and nicely balanced. The gentle cant of the bowl and tapered waist lends the pipe a sense of refinement and suggests some inspiration from old French pipe designs.

The final pipe in the set is a Cutty — one of the earliest and most traditional of pipe shapes, but not one that we've seen very often from Barling. Here, it is rendered in a particularly reserved fashion. The bowl is less canted than we find in both earlier clay and later briar renditions, and the foot is quite pronounced.

The match case, known as a Vesta, was produced by W.H. Leather for Barling. Vestas were essential pipe smoking accoutrements prior to the rise of the pocket lighter and could be attached to one's clothing with a fob, similar to a pocket watch.

***

It is unlikely we will ever know for certain who Sargeant A.W. White was, or how it came to be that the men who gifted him this set thought so highly of him. It is clear, however, that they did; in 1900 such a set of silver-accented Barlings would have been as much a prize to the enlisted man and smoker as they are today to a collector.

Comments

    • Colin R on March 2, 2017
    • What an amazing story & find.

    • Joshua Burgess on March 2, 2017
    • Thanks for reading, Colin. It really was a remarkable find and a lot of fun to work with.

    • Michael Zuelke on March 3, 2017
    • What a great find. As an avid reader of history I am fascinated by the story and the fact that the set is in tact after 117 years.

    • Adam O'Neill on March 3, 2017
    • @Michael Zuelke We were quite taken ourselves, thanks for reading Michael.

    • Robert M. Scarazzo on March 3, 2017
    • Wonderful treatise and chance to touch someone who lived a life in a different time. I hope he and his men survived to go on to a full life. Given the condition of the pieces, my guess is that the giftee lived long enough to use them well.
      I still own 6 pieces used by my father in WWII. 1 English & 5 French. (He got the French pipes from a bombed out tobacconist shop during Patton's dash across Europe). Also a Castillo I bought for my grandfather who left it to my dad who gave it back to me. Everything in moderation!

      Robert

    • cru3urc on March 3, 2017
    • Fascinating story - one can only imagine the history those pipes have seen. Even more amazing, the set is complete, with vesta and tamp. Clearly the new owner can do with this set as they please... though I can't help but wonder if they will choose to smoke these pipes or retire them for viewing alone.

    • Riaan Meyer on March 4, 2017
    • I'm just guessing here... but based on the time period and likelihood of it being bought from a store in Cape Town(also my hometown), it could very likely have purchased from the Sturk's tobacco store.
      Who knows, maybe they have some old inventory ledgers somewhere???

      http://sturks.co.za/

    • Norm Brown on March 4, 2017
    • Great story and an awesome find - thank you.

    • Jesper R. Nielsen on March 5, 2017
    • What an amazing find and interesting story. Thank you for sharing.
      I do think that the pipe you call a Cutty, looks more like a Dublin equipped with a little foot.
      A Dublin Cutty, perhaps..?
      It'd be nice smoking one of the pipes in my armchair while reading about The Second Boer War.

    • Adam O'Neill on March 6, 2017
    • @Robert M. Scarazzo Sounds like you've got quite the collection of storied pipes yourself Robert. Thanks for reading!

    • Adam O'Neill on March 6, 2017
    • @Cru3urc It is a fascinating story indeed, and we often wonder ourselves what happens to stes/pices like these once they leave our care. I have to admit that part of me hopes they're still being smoked and enjoyed.

    • Adam O'Neill on March 6, 2017
    • @Riaan Meyer Thanks for the tip Riaan!

    • Adam O'Neill on March 6, 2017
    • @Norm Brown Thanks for reading Norm, we're glad you enjoyed it :D

    • Adam O'Neill on March 6, 2017
    • @Jesper R. Nielsen It was our pleasure Jesper, thanks for reading.

      A Dubby perhaps ;)

    • schnorrer on March 6, 2017
    • Great post, thank you. May I ask, is the bent billiard at the top of the set a "military mount" (push in stem). And I am not very familiar with the cutty shape. Is the little protrusion on the bottom of the bowl functional in anyway? Thanks again, really enjoyed it (and the enthusiasm for pipes you guys have).

    • Adam O'Neill on March 7, 2017
    • @Schnorrer We're glad you enjoyed it, thanks for reading. And yes, that Billiard is a military mount.

      As for the spur on the cutty, it was originally incorporated into clay shapes for a little extra support, as well as to provide a place to grip (by, say, tucking it into crook of the first knuckle on the middle finger while the index fingers curls over the shank) that wasn't burning hot clay. These days (and even back when this set was made) it's more ornamental. Some carvers have tried to make it a flat plane so as to be able to sit, but the balance required is a feat of engineering in itself, not to mention that sanding a perfectly flat plane is also a lot harder than it sounds.

    • CM on March 9, 2017
    • Great backstory for a movie or book, something like The Red Violin which follows the history of that particular musical instrument over three centuries. Is that set for sale? Who presented it to Smoking Pipes? A descendant? 👍

    • Adam O'Neill on March 10, 2017
    • @CM It is for sale, yes (link below). As for how this extraordinary set came to us. Well, it was in a rather ordinary way: it was just included in an estate batch.

      https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/estate/england/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=219414

    • Ed on March 14, 2017
    • I have discovered Sgt White's identity and found his photograph! Okay the photograph is either part of a delightful coda to this story or an amusing coincidence that takes us into a completely different but great Second Boer War pipe story.

      Sergeant Arthur William White's Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) service record states he was seconded as drill instructor to the Permanent Staff of Military Forces New South Wales (NSW) from 18 June 1900. According to his service record Sgt White was a career marine born in Tottenham, London in 1869, enlisted 1887, promoted Corporal 1894, Sergeant 1899, Colour Sergeant 1905 completing his service in 1908. He was a Baptist by religion, was married, is described as fresh faced, brown haired, brown eyed and 5ft 10 1/2 ins tall. Since 1897 White had been on the marine complement of HMS Katoomba, a Royal Navy cruiser and flagship of the Auxiliary Squadron on the Australia Station from 1892 to 1906. He is therefore firmly located in NSW up to 18 June 1900 and this in turn locates both his much appreciated instructional activities and the presentation of the pipes on 10 May 1900 to NSW (Australia only officially came into existence in 1901) and almost certainly in or around Sydney. The Official Record confirms that the NSW contingents received their training in NSW before embarking for South Africa and very quickly going into action. In turn this suggests the pipes were bought in Sydney or, just possibly, ordered from London (about 40 days voyage each way although perhaps the order could have gone by cable). Further we can conclude that Sgt White must have provided his instruction to this Company before his formal secondment and that the presentation was made by someone, military or local worthies, on behalf of the Company as all the NSW contingents had either embarked by 10 May or had nearly a year to go before embarkation. This perhaps explains why the dedication on the presentation case is difficult to reconcile to known facts.

      The identity of the unit is now indeed a real puzzle. With the evidence pointing to everything happening in Australia it could have been any of half a dozen units, or far more if the "B'" designation is the wild card. The unit identified by Josh, the NSW Infantry Company, has the considerable advantage of being the only relevant unit to include either infantry or company in its title but it embarked for South Africa on 4 November 1899, was listed by the Official Australian record as part of the first contingent and it is quite difficult to see how they could be viewed as third contingent. Also the six month gap from their embarkation to the presentation seems long unless the presentation set was not just ordered from London but specially made to specification. However, all the rest of the relevant units do not fit easily with the gift's dedication as they are listed in the Official Record as Mounted Rifles organised into squadrons not companies. However, in military usage Mounted Rifles and Mounted Infantry are interchangeable as are Squadrons and Companies in this grey area between orthodox infantry and cavalry. Further conceivably mounted Infantry might have been shortened to infantry to fit the engraved dedication in a fairly small space on the front plate of the gift case. Taking into account as well the factor that the dated engraving on the front plate was probably done after the company had left Australia supervised by some worthy not too closely connected to the company the shift in terminology is reasonably plausible.

      The likelihood that a unit from a later contingent was involved is increased by their relatively greater lack of military discipline so greatly increasing the potential for the drill instructor to demonstrate exceptional performance. The first contingent , including the NSW Infantry Company, were raised from existing militia units and viewed by the Official Record as

      "a superior class of individuals, from whom considerable
      was to be expected ; and there was little trouble in getting them away."
      and so not obviously in need of a special effort by their drill instructor but the later contingents were "rough material" and more particularly
      "Many of the recruits, however — a large majority in some cases — were mere rough bushmen, countrymen, handicraftsmen, farm labourers, and the like, who had never soldiered before, and had everything to learn in the way of drill and discipline."
      Very much the type of recruit that would need the special effort of a good instructor, and if he was successful one who would make at least the officers, and perhaps the NCOs, really grateful. To be fair to the military of those days their style of training did produce units that were successful in South Africa with the only reservation in the official record being the training of the officers. Also the the "rough material" were selected for their ability as marksmen, horsemen and ability to live in the bush rather than military experience as these outback skills was expected to be particularly useful in the circumstances of the Boer War. Some recruiting officers even went to the lengths of replacing accepted recruits from a militia background with better marksmen who had no military experience. When they got to the war their record was good against high quality opponents.

      Picking between the various units of the later official second, third and fourth drafts is speculative but B Squadron NSW Citizens' Bushmen Mounted Rifles (CBMR) is a decent alternative candidate as in the official record the CBMR were the entirety of the NSW third contingent, embarked 28 February making less of a gap before presentation (even if there was still just time to order it from London), would have been very much "rough material" and were commanded by Captain Robertson RMLI (who like Sgt White, was seconded from HMS Katoomba's Marine complement). However, Josh's original selection of the NSW Infantry Company could be correct if the reference to "3rd" was an unerasable typo (engraveyo?) or contingents were differently numbered in 1900 than after the war, long delays (even between November and May) can happen and well disciplined units may love drill. Or it could be any other 1900 NSW unit apart from the cavalry, artillery or medics. The revisionist view would be B Company NSW 3rd Contingent never existed; Sgt White acquired the pipe set, perhaps as a treat from extra pay and allowances received during his secondment, and had the case inscribed to make it a real status symbol in the Sergeants' mess - after all as the donor could be one of half a dozen geographically distant and now disbanded units who could gainsay him!

      Back with orthodox history the explanation of why Sgt White's instruction was so valued as to garner such a gift was that drill was then highly prized by the military. While nowadays it is still seen as having value in militarising recruits into cohesive units the late 19th and early 20th century was at the end of a period where drill manoeuvres were practises of actual battlefield manoeuvres and military training was drill with a bit of musketry. More pressingly these NSW contingents faced embarkations which amounted to formal parades through the streets with cheering crowds and other military present; according to captions on photos in the NSW archive Maj. Gen. French attended the NSW Citizen Bushmen embarkation. Being seen to lead a scruffy shambles ("rough material" !) ) could make a commanding officer, perhaps all the officers, a laughing stock and might well be career threatening so intense gratitude to the drill Sergeant is certainly understandable. The following quote from Australian Official Record perhaps gives a real flavour of what was achieved and how it was valued

      "By these means, and a severe course of what might be termed " forcing," the various Contingents were enabled to make quite a creditable appearance when they marched to the quay for embarkation ; usually in the presence of thousands of interested and enthusiastic spectators. Great encomium was due to the Head-Quarter Staff, both the A.A.6. and A.Q.M.G. Departments, and to the Pay Department, under Mr. J. B. Laing, upon which an unusually severe strain was placed. Also to the officers and sergeants instructors for the unanimity and
      energy with which they worked to bring about so desirable a consummation."

      Very briefly (I know this is really far too long for a comment!) on the photograph the Official Record lists a Sergeant Major Arthur William White in 2nd New South Wales Mounted Rifles (NSWMR) and the Australian Light Horse site carries captioned photographs of this unit including a Sergeant White. The Official Record nominal role does not list any other NCO Arthur William White in 2nd NSWMR so the Sgt and Sgt Maj discrepancy could be explained by a promotion after he joined the company. Our Sgt White certainly served in South Africa as his record lists the relevant service decoration (that gives no indication of date) and his return to the RMLI at the end of his secondment in September 1902 is consistent with the 2nd NSW Mounted Rifles' embarkation from South Africa in July 1902. Unfortunately the Australian Boer War record site lists the Sgt Maj White of 2nd NSWMR as Australian but that may just be an error as he was serving in an Australian unit and came to them from another Australian unit.

      The great pipe story certainly attached to Sgt Maj White 2nd NSWMR, whether he is the Sgt White of the Barling gift set or not, is a reference in the Official Record to him being one of 18 or 20 members of that unit who were awarded Queen Alexandra presentation pipes for gallantry and distinguished conduct in the field. Queen Alexandra was the consort of the then reigning monarch King Edward VII and 5,500 presentation pipes were sent to the forces in South Africa in her name and engraved with her insignia to be presented to selected recipients. Whether the connection is a coincidence of name or not, the story of presentation pipes being listed as gallantry awards in an Official Record with the same prominence as medals is still surely a great pipe story!

      Sources
      Sgt White's service record at UK National Archive ADM 159-113-204
      "HMS Katoomba" Wikipedia
      "Capt Robertson" on british armed forces site (.org)
      Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 28/7/1900
      Australian light horse study centre site for photograph
      OFFICIAL
      RECORDS OF THE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY CONTINGENTS TO THE WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA.

    • Joshua Burgess on March 14, 2017
    • Ed,

      This is marvelous. You've made a really compelling case for the set's presentation in Australia rather than in South Africa itself and built a well-researched and convincing narrative.

      You're quite right that the identity of the unit is challenging, but I think the case you've made helps to resolve it nicely. Until reading your comments, my assumption had simply been that the units were referring to themselves differently, or numbering themselves differently, at this early stage of the war. I was familiar with the NSW Bushmen as the 3rd Contingent, but I couldn't quite work out how that unit presenting the set could possibly square with the timeline. But when one considers the presence of White in Australia, these pieces fall into place. And as delightful as I find your revisionist theory, I think the orthodox narrative that you outline is entirely convincing.

      Thanks for sharing the additional detail about the presentation of pipes by Queen Alexandra. That's fascinating and a wonderful piece of pipe history.

      Again, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to research the set further and for sharing your findings here. You've made my day.





    • Sykes Wilford on March 16, 2017
    • Ed,

      I echo Josh's sentiments. It was extraordinary to read your compelling narrative for Sgt. White. I think you've likely nailed it.

      Our pipe theories (having to do with how the pipes were handled) work equally well for Sydney or Cape Town, so I think those are unchanged, excepting where the shop would have been.

      And I was unaware of the presentation of pipes by Queen Alexandra. What a wonderful story in its own right!

      Thank you again for your efforts on this.

    • Garreck27 on March 31, 2017
    • Love, love, love personal history like this! When we are able to tie in actual personalities, their beloved personal belongings to actual events is just tremendous! Thank you for posting and thanks to Ed for the more detailed history. Cheers

    • Jennifer Humphries on July 29, 2018
    • I am Sec, South Aust Boer War Assoc Adelaide, and I have in my possession a similar vesta - My g.father, Tpr G.C Davies, was in 1st South Aust Mounted Infantry from Oct 1899 - 1900 and have since seen a similar one exhibited by Lt. J.M Powell 1SAMR. In researching - in a letter written by Sgt. Rust 1SAMR dated Apr 18 1900 in Adel Advertiser 8 Jun 1900 p.9 it mentions "we have just been presented with pipe, tobacco and matches sent by our friends in England" which I feel might sort out my vesta. Cheers

    • Bob Prewett on November 2, 2018
    • That's a great piece of research Ed.

      My grandfather was CSM with 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen during the Boer War ... He too was the recipient of a Queen Alexandra's Pipe awarded for Gallantry and Distinguished Conduct in the Field. I have seen his similar Vesta too, but not the pipe. I wish i knew what happened to his pipe once he died.

    • Sykes Wilford on November 3, 2018
    • @Bob: That's fascinating. Was his also from Barling? Is there anything else you know about the pipe, or the circumstances in which it was awarded?

    • Bruce on November 12, 2018
    • Interesting piece of history

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