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SA82 Trooper Denis Joseph Ryan  -  1st Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles
 
Denis Joseph Ryan was born in Tawa Flat on the 10th May 1880 the youngest of five sons, in a family of nine, born to Martha and Denis Ryan. The Ryan family were farming at Tawa Flat, Manawatu Line.
 
On the outbreak of the South African War (2nd Anglo-Boer War) Denis Joseph Ryan enlisted for service. On his 21st October 1889 enlistment form, Denis is listed as a 20 year old single man, farming at Tawa Flat. Denis had previously served as a volunteer with the Heretaunga Mounted Rifles. On the same
day that that Private Ryan signed his papers he sailed for South Africa as
part of the 1st (North Island) Company, 1st Contingent. SA82 Private Ryan
was taking with him his carbine #811 and his horse #82. Also travelling
with the 1st Company were Corporal Charles William Hensman Bould
(from Johnsonville) and SA137 Trooper Joseph (Joe) Louis Gestro from
Paremata. Joe was also a volunteer from the Heretaunga Mounted Rifles.
 
 
 
SA82 Trooper Denis Joseph Ryan (1899)
 
The 1st Contingent arrived in Cape Town on 23rd November 1899 and
was attached to General French who was defending the central Colesberg
District from a Boer advance. The New Zealand troops were soon in action
on 18th December 1899 at Jastontein Farm where the first New Zealander
to died in an overseas conflict, Private George Bradford was wounded and
died ten days later.[i] General French reporting on this action at Jasfontein
noted:
 
‘I wish particularly to bring to notice the excellent conduct and bearing of
the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, commanded by Major A W Robin, on one
occasion, on 18th December, I took them out with a battery of Horse
Artilley to reconnoitre around the enemy’s left flank and determined to
dislodge him from a farm called Jasfontein, lying on his left rear. The guns shelled the farm, and the New Zealand MR
then gained possession of it. But the enemy very suddenly bought up strong reinforcements and pressed on us with
his artillery. Our artillery had been left some way behind to avoid this latter fire, and I had to send back some distance
or its support, during which time we were exposed to a heavy musketry fire from surrounding hills. The conduct of
the New Zealanders was admirable in thus maintaining a difficult position till the artillery caused the enemy to retire.’
 
The climate and disease was a major contributor the New Zealand casualties and Trooper Ryan was one of these contracting dysentery at Renberg ( near Johannesburg) in early 1900 he was moved down to Wynberg (near Capetown) where he was diagnosed as having  diabetes mellitus.[ii]  Trooper Ryan was sent from Capetown to the
Guards Hospital, London for treatment. The location of Trooper Ryan became a concern to the New Zealand Government with letters send by the New Zealand Premier, Richard Seddon to the NZ Government agent in London to locate this trooper. Once Trooper Ryan was located arrangements were made, by the New Zealand Government, to return him to New Zealand and as reported Trooper Ryan was;
 
            ‘Despite his serious condition, been anxious to get back to New Zealand and his family.’
 
The arrival of Trooper Ryan was a time of celebration in the district, as reported in the Evening Post on 29th October
1900:[iii]
 
 
‘           TROOPER RYAN’S RECEPTION AT TAWA FLAT
--------------------
  Trooper D. Ryan, of our First Contingent, son of Mr Denis   
  Ryan, J.P., of  Tawa Flat, was on Saturday given a hearty
            reception home by the people of the district. The crowd
            assembled at the Porirua station headed by the Pahautanui
            band, and escorted the invalided trooper to the local hall.
            Here Mr W. H. Field, M.H.R., took the chair, and an address
            of welcome was read by Mr, D. Hegarty, followed by
            congratulatory  speeches by the Hon, T, Y, Duncan (Minister
            of Lands), the Chairman, and the guest’s father. After the
            trooper had replied, a procession was formed, including a
            detachment of Heretaunga Mounted Rifles and the Johnson-
            ville School Cadets, and marched to the Tawa schoolhouse.
            The possession was a long one, and included people from all
            parts of the district, Mr. Geo. Thompson acting as marshal.
            Mr. Anson was Secretary of the Committee that organised the
            “social” which, in the evening, concluded the festivities.’
 
However the next day the Evening Post reported in the, as expected, death of Trooper Ryan form the effects of Diabetes.[iv]
 
            ‘           Death    of    Trooper   D.   Ryan
Trooper D, Ryan, of the First Contingent, youngest son of Mr. Denis Ryan, J.P.,
of Tawa Flat, who arrived by the Tokomaru on Friday, invalided from South
Africa, and an account of whose reception at Porirua and Tawa Flat we published
yesterday, died at 3 o’clock this morning. The cause of death was diabetes,
contracted from exposure and hardships undergone while in South Africa.
Though among the First New Zealanders to arrive at the Cape, Ryan saw very
little fighting, the only time he was under fire being at the actions at and around
Arundel. Shortly after this he was taken ill, and has since been in hospital at the
Cape and in England. On the voyage out Ryan was subject to special medical
treatment. Knowing the critical state of his health Ryan’s greatest goal has all
along been to get home and see his friends. He was in the best of spirits on his
arrival, and kept bright until Sunday night, when a sudden change for the worse
set in, culminating in his death this morning. Ryan was one of the first members
of the Heretaunga Mounted Rifles, and on Sunday he spent the best part of the
day with Trooper Young, another Heretaunga man, who was invalided back from
South Africa some time ago. Ryan is, with the permission of the Defence authorities,
to be given a military funeral on Thursday afternoon.
The Heretaunga Rifles will form the guard of honour at the funeral obsequies.’
 
Trooper Ryan was taken from his father’s house in Tawa Flat and his very public funeral was reported nationwide the following report in the New Zealand Herald on 3rd November 1900.[v]    
 
‘           AN IMPRESSIVE FUNERAL
 
            The remains of Trooper Ryan were yesterday
            committed to their last resting place. The
            procession was three-quarters of a mile long.
            the pall was borne by four of the deceased’s
            South African comrades. The body was followed
 by the trooper’s horse, boots, and stirrups
 reversed, and the Heretaunga Mounted Rifles.
 A large number of Maoris of both sexes were
 present. Wreaths were sent from all parts of the
 district. The Hon. C. H. Mills represented the
 Government, and Major Owen represented the
 Defence Department. The Rev. Father Lane
           officiated at the grave. ‘
 
 
Denis Joseph Ryan was buried in the Porirua Cemetery and local settlers and friends contributed to rasie an inscribed column  with a inscribed column over the grave. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Trooper Denis Joseph Ryan’s grave at Porirua
 
The family of Denis received his Queen’s South Africa medal with clasp ‘Cape Colony.’
 
Denis’s elder brother Thomas Francis Ryan served , with the 8th Contingent, in South Africa.
 
 
 
Notes:
There are two spellings used in material, Denis or Dennis but this article uses the spelling on his grave.
Private and Trooper are used in Military Records and newspaper items, Trooper is used in Porirua stories for consistancy
Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic condition lifelong condition that affects the body’s ability to great energy from food.
 
References:
http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/nz-units-south-africa/the-contingents
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA5111 Trooper Thomas Francis Ryan
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: SA137 Private Joseph Louis Gestro
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Records: SA82 Private Denis Joseph Ryan
 
Photos:
Background 1st Contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles march through Karori, Wellington 1899 NZHistory Online
SA82 Trooper Denis Joseph Ryan: Auckland Cenotaph online
Grave of Trooper Denis Joseph: New Zealand Wargraves project
 
 
[i] Key Battles – South African ‘Boer War’ 1899 – 1900: New Zealand History Online
[ii] Archives New Zealand Military Records: SA82 Trooper Thomas Francis Ryan
[iii] Trooper Ryan’s Reception at Tawa Flat (29th October 1900) Evening Post
[iv] Death of Trooper D Ryan (30th October 1900) Evening Post
[v] An Impressive Funeral (3rd November 1900) New Zealand Herald
 
 
 
 

1st Contingent march at karori 1899