The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett, New South Wales Naval Contingent, Boxer Uprising.

Place Asia: China, Peking
Accession Number AWM2017.1.62
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 3 March 2017
Access Open
Conflict China, 1900-1901 (Boxer Uprising)
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Charis May, the story for this day was on Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett, New South Wales Naval Contingent, Boxer Uprising.

Speech transcript

Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett, New South Wales Naval Contingent
DOW 3 March 1901
Photograph: P00417.033

Story delivered 3 March 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett.

At the end of the nineteenth century trade with China was threatened by the secret organisation called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, known by the English as the “Boxers”. By 1900, foreign navies, including the British Royal Navy, started building a presence along the northern Chinese coast.

The Australian colonies were keen to contribute support to the British cause. With the bulk of forces engaged in South Africa, they looked to their naval contingents to provide a pool of professional, full-time crews, as well as reservist-volunteers, including many ex-naval men.

In early August Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett was among those who volunteered in the New South Wales Naval Contingent. . The Australians arrived in China in September 1900 on the liner Salamis, and shortly after arriving, they were ordered to participate in an attack to capture a fort at Sankow. They travelled by boat for part of the journey, but had to march the last 18 miles under the hot sun, which they did in seven and a half hours. One disappointed marcher recalled, “just as we hove in sight the Chinese blew the fort up and made their escape, leaving only three dead”.

By October 1901 Petty Officer Bennett was a member of a 50-strong detachment guarding the Lama Temple in Peking. He was reportedly “very popular, and … on good terms with everyone”. Members of the contingent wrote home to say:

“the temple is something wonderful. It is full of gods and bronze castings, elaborately chased and carved.” The temple was under threat from local Chinese who supported the political aims of the Boxers, including a local man who sent his family away and set his house on fire in the hope that it would spread to the temple and let in the Boxers.

During Petty Officer Bennett’s service in China his condition deteriorated. He complained of insomnia and headaches, and became progressively more depressed. On 3 March 1901 he was alone in the petty officers’ quarters. A member of the contingent heard a crack, but thought it was caused by firecrackers in the street. About half an hour Bennett’s body was found lying face down in a pool of blood. A court of inquiry determined that Bennett had died from “a wound self-inflicted whilst in an unsound state of mind”.

Petty Officer Arthur Bennett was laid to rest in a little British cemetery outside the city walls.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among the small number of Australians who died while serving in China during the Boxer Uprising.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Dr Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur James Bennett, New South Wales Naval Contingent, Boxer Uprising. (video)