Lieutenant-General Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton was born on 16 January 1853 and, having completed his schooling, attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, where he received a commission as an infantry officer in 1871. 

During the First Boer War he saw action at the Battle of Majuba, where he was wounded, which rendered his left hand permanently injured.

When the South African War (1899-1902) broke out he commanded the infantry at the Battle of Elandslaagte. He was then part of the force which was besieged in Ladysmith and, being in command of the southern sector of the towns defences, was involved in the battle of Platrand.

After the relief of Ladysmith in February Hamilton took command of a brigade of Mounted Infantry, taking part in the battles between Bloemfontein to Pretoria.

He returned to the UK early in 1900, but in November 1901 Lord Kitchener requested his return to South Africa.

Early in 1902 he took command of the military columns operating in the Western Transvaal.

He was twice recommended for the Victoria Cross, but on the first occasion was considered too young, and on the second too senior.