On 18 May 1885, New South Wales Sudan contingent departed Suakin for Sydney, having spent a little over two months in the Sudan without seeing any serious action.
Before Federation, the British gave each state the right to elect its own government. Although the British were responsible for defence, especially naval, the colonies had a role if they wished. The 1885 Sudan campaign illustrates how free the Australian colonies were.
The decision to involve New South Wales troops in the Sudan, and to recall them was made in Sydney, not London. When the government of New South Wales received news in February 1885, of the death of General Charles Gordon at Khartoum during the British campaign against the Dervish revolt in the eastern Sudan, they offered the British forces there the service of New South Wales .
This was accepted and within two weeks a force of 30 officers and 740 men comprising an infantry battalion, with artillery and support units, was enrolled, re-equipped and dispatched for Africa.
…British proposal rejected…
They were farewelled from Circular Quay in Sydney on 3 March 1885 by an enormous public gathering and marching bands. arrived at Suakin on the Red Sea on 29 March 1885. By May 1885, the campaign had been reduced to a series of small skirmishes, the most significant of which for the New South Wales contingent came at Takdul on 6 May. The British government then suggested the NSW contingent be sent to India where there were concerns about Russian intentions in Afghanistan.
Because of public opposition, the NSW government decided they should return to Sydney. On their arrival on 23 June 1885, and despite their service, and their engagements at Tamai and Takdul, the New South Wales Sudan contingent was ridiculed by the media.
Nevertheless, the contingent's efforts were recognised with an official battle honour – "Suakin 1885" – which was the first battle honour awarded to an Australian unit.
[The image is of the departure of the New South Wales contingent from Sydney for the Sudan, hand-coloured lithograph, 55.6 x 70.7 cm. The lithograph, now with the Australian War Memorial, was adapted from a photograph ML (P x A 354, vol 3) of troops passing down Gresham Street, Sydney. Trousers worn by the soldiers, grey with red stripe, are not regulation blue with a red stripe, the soldiers, grey with red stripe, are not regulation blue with a red stripe.]