View Full Version : Breaker Morant
05-12-2005, 7:06 PM
I am a volunteer researcher for my Regimental Museum at Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. I am in the process of compliing on thier behalf a photographic history of the Wiltshire Regiment. I am at present working on the Boer War section and the part played by the Regiment. 'Breaker' MORANT a member of the Australian forces was executed during that war and we believe some members of the Court Martial were Wiltshire Regiment Officers (One might be Brown). Can anybody assist with information about the board or point me in the right direction to establish names. We have no information within the Museum archives.
05-12-2005, 7:44 PM
There are quite a few books on the subject, including Nick Bleszynski's "Shoot Straight You Bastards" and Barry Caligari's "Morant Affair". Also try the Australian War Memorial site as they have various related documents. Good hunting.
PS I suppose that you could always give Edward Woodward a "bell":)
06-12-2005, 8:18 AM
Many thanks for that steer, I will go hot foot to the library and order it up. I have my fingers crossed that the book will name the board members.
06-12-2005, 10:38 AM
I thought the place to get such information would be from his war records, so had a look at the Australian Archives index. There isn't a file for his court-martial. There are some digital images, Kitchener's telegram.
(log in as a guest)
Now this other web page says..
"Although history suggests that the primary evidence against the officers came from their own men, disgusted at some of the actions they had been ordered to perform, the executions caused much disquiet in Australia. The court martial was conducted hurriedly and in secret, contrary to regulations, and the transcripts conveniently went missing soon afterwards. A summary of the trial appeared in the London Times on 18 April 1902. "
Apparently this was the last time that the Australian government handed over complete control of troops to the British command. Lots of Australians had been sentenced to death in subsequent wars but the Australians refused to put the final signature on the orders.
06-12-2005, 4:37 PM
Many thanks for that. I think the whole episode left a bad taste in everybodies mouth. I was aware of the missing records and have had a look at the Times but I cannot fond out the names of the officers on the Court Martial Board. We would normally expect to find something in an officers diary within our own archives, but there is nothing. We have plenty of portrair photos of Wilts Officers at this time so I am sure if I keep plugging away I will tie the two together.
06-12-2005, 4:52 PM
I assume you have seen the movie? I'm pretty sure there is a movie called Breaker Morant. Didnt watch it cause old pre-WW1 war movies don't interest me at all. :) I've seen quite a few WW2 movies however.
06-12-2005, 7:06 PM
Hi Maiwand, Re the film, 1980 "Breaker Morant", cast includes Edward Woodward and Charles Tingwell (shades of Emergency Ward 10 :rolleyes: ). Don't know how historically accurate it is, but it might be out on DVD. The Australian War Memorial site has a referefence to a Research Paper (PRMF 0025) about the Court Martial. I did read somewhere that there were 3 different hearings and that they actually broke off at one point and the defendants helped repel a Boer attack. Good Luck.
06-12-2005, 9:52 PM
You will find the names of some the Court Martial panel here:
07-12-2005, 6:49 PM
Dear all & Terry
Many thanks for all your helpful pointers. Terry I think you might have got me there in as much as one of the names fit and that is BROWN. I will carry out research in the Museum archives/Army lists and firm it up. All I have to do then is find a photo and tell the story.
Most gratful to you all
16-12-2005, 2:33 AM
Wilts members of GCM : Capt W. H. Matcham, 2/Wilts.R
Capt W. S Brown, 2/Wilts. R
Prosecutor : Capt/ Maj Bolton, Wilts.R
Reference: Margaret Carnegie and Frank Shields, Breaker Morant Balladist and Bushveldt Carbineer,Graphic Books Australia,Apr 1979. pp 189-193
Further reference to Wilts see: William willmore, The Bushveldt Carbineers and the Pietersburg Light Horse, Slouch Hat Oublications Australia, 2002. p61.
Comment. I believe the members of the courts martial did their unsavory task with due diligence and compassion. The strong recommendation to mercy was the signal to the CinC to view the finding with compassion but the outcome desired by Kitchener was a foregone conclusion beyond change.
Hope this helps, Barrine
18-12-2005, 11:18 AM
Thanks for that, it is all now coming together and I am locating photograph's of these officers. The book we are doing is a photographic book so we are limited on going over board on the story, but we will weave this into our story as within the Regiment it is not known.
To all, many thanks and merry christmas.
20-12-2005, 5:11 AM
I cannot find any photos of the Wilts. in my stuff. But if I come across anything will advise. Regards, Barry.
27-12-2005, 11:17 AM
I am a volunteer researcher for my Regimental Museum at Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. I am in the process of compliing on thier behalf a photographic history of the Wiltshire Regiment. I am at present working on the Boer War section and the part played by the Regiment. 'Breaker' MORANT a member of the Australian forces was executed during that war <snip>
Can I just clear up one thing - Morant at the time of the court martial was serving in a British irregular unit, the Bushveldt Carbineers. He had been a member of a South Australian colonial unit, but had taken his discharge, so couldn't in that respect be considered part of the "Australian Forces" at the time of the court martial- the records connected with the case, apart from the odd telegram or two, would not be found in Australian Archives but in appropriate British or South African Archives.
29-12-2005, 4:23 PM
Many thanks for that, I am reading up on all this as we speak and these 'little' pointers in terms of getting it right are most important even for a project of the photogrphic type that we are engaged in. If I get this one wrong any hope of a peaceful hioliday in Australia will be dashed!!
As a point of interest for those who have responded. Capt MATCHEM went on to get a DSO as did Capt BROWN. Capt BROWN later commanded a Wiltshire Battalion in the Great War and was Killed in Action on the 4th July 1916. I have uncovered photographs of both of these officers so I should be able to tell the story properly.
29-01-2008, 11:07 AM
There is also www.
George Witton's ''Scapegoats of the Empire''
Among Deakin University Library's many books about the Boer War in the Special Collection is a small brown-coloured book which has a significance that far outweighs its plain cover. ''Scapegoats of the Empire'' is the only first hand account of the infamous 'Breaker' Morant - Peter Handcock trial, held in South Africa in 1901-2 and of the Bushveldt Carbineers, the irregular force in which these Australians served during the war against the Boers. It is alone amongst Australian memoirs of the Boer War in being infused with disappointment and disillusion and it is the reasons for this, and for its rarity today, which go some way towards explaining its significance.
''Scapegoats of the Empire'' by George R. Witton was first published in June 1907 and although it was reprinted at least twice that year, it is today an extremely rare book with very few copies in existence outside major libraries. This is because there is still some mystery surrounding the circumstances of the book's publication. Stories persist that the Australian government of the day were so nervous that the book's contents reflected badly on Lord Kitchener (who was then one of the foremost heroes of the Empire) that they caused all copies of the book to be seized from D.W. Paterson, the original publishers and printers, prior to its publication. Another rumour abounded to the effect that the government bought up copies as they were published in order to prevent the truth from 'getting out' and, more prosaically, it has also been suggested that there was a fire in the publisher's warehouse in Melbourne which destroyed all copies.
Whatever the truth behind the circumstances of its publication, the rarity of the first edition of ''Scapegoats'' today suggests that the possibility may well be correct that the only copies of the 1907 version to survive are the author's own pre-publication copies.
In 1980 the award-winning film ''Breaker Morant'' was released. A line in the credits of the film stated that it had been based in part upon ''Scapegoats''; this heightened interest in the book and led to its republication in 1982 by Angus and Robertson. The edition they reprinted is one of the later impressions of 1907, not the true first edition.
George Witton on trial
George Ramsdale Witton (1874-1942) was born in Victoria to a farming family and was an expert horseman and rifle shot. Prior to the war in South Africa he served with a volunteer infantry regiment and with the Victorian Permanent Artillery at Fort Queenscliffe. He sailed with the Victorian Imperial Bushmen for South Africa on 1 May 1900 to fight in the war against the Boers and on 1 June 1901 was commissioned a lieutenant in the Bushveldt Carbineers. It was whilst serving with the Carbineers that Witton, along with Lenehan, Morant, Handcock and Picton, was arrested for the murder of a number of Boers, including prisoners, and of a German missionary, Daniel Heese, who had been a witness to the shootings.
After a lengthy trial, at which the prisoners were defended by Major James Thomas, a solicitor from Tenterfield, NSW who had originally enlisted with the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Lenehan and Picton were reprimanded and cashiered respectively and Morant, Handcock and Witton were found guilty. They were sentenced to death by firing squad, although the court made a strong recommendation for mercy. However only Witton was to be reprieved; he was gaoled for life in an English military prison and Morant and Handcock were shot on 27 February 1902.
Whilst Witton was serving his sentence in England, the case had received publicity in Australia and efforts were being made to have him released. A petition was forwarded to King Edward VII (containing over 80,000 signatures) and increasing pressure from the Australian government, Witton's own ill health and the death of his father led to him being released on 11 August 1904.
Witton arrived back in Australia on 12 November 1904 an angry and bitter man. He felt his imprisonment had been unjust and was determined to remedy the situation. Using the notes and trial documents kept by Major Thomas, he wrote ''Scapegoats of the Empire'' to present what he claimed to be the true story; it was well received by the critics, but didn’t get him the pardon or compensation he felt he deserved.
After the publication of ''Scapegoats'', Witton worked at a succession of jobs in Queensland and Victoria. His first wife died and he married again, but the marriage did not last. He had no children. Unlike many Boer War veterans who rushed to enlist in the First World War, Witton's disillusionment and bitterness caused him to refuse. Prime Minister Fisher pledged Australia’s assistance to 'the last man', and Witton is reported to have said: ''I am the last man''.
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