Reprint: Letter to the Editor Regarding Breaker Morant



Sir, - In an article under the above headings in last Saturday's issue of the "Herald," the following is stated about the "rebel," Maritz: "He died in the same yard and in the same way as did the Australian outlaw, Captain Harry Morant, in the Boer War, 14 years before." This assertion contains three mis-statements in as many words.

Morant was not an Australian, he was an Englishman, who came to this country for "colonial experience." He knocked about on stations breaking-in horses (hence his nom-de-plume of "The Breaker," under which he published verse). At the time of the Boer War he enlisted, in the ranks, in an Australian regiment, and when this was disbanded he joined the Irregular Corps (not raised in his country, but by Lord Kitchener in South Africa, for guerilla warfare purposes), called the "Bush Veld Carbineers," in which he obtained a commission as a lieutenant (he was never a "captain.") The late Major Lenehan was placed in command of the regiment, but the detachment with which Morant served was taken out of the command of Major Lenehan and placed under that of a certain "Captain" Taylor, under special order of Lord Kitchener, and for service in the far north of the Transvaal. There Morant distinguished himself, but was afterwards arrested, and, with others, court-martlalled, for "shooting Boer prisoners." Morant at the trials declared that he received those orders from his friend and superior officer. Captain Hunt, who was also an Englishman, and commissioned for special service with Captain Taylor, and who had been killed by the Boers under rather tragic circumstances. Morant averred that until Captain Hunt was thus killed, he (Morant) refused to carry out those "no prisoners" orders, but that after Hunt's death he decided that he would carry them out. In the circumstances, the court strongly recommended Morant and all the accused to mercy, but Lord Kitchener ordered him and another to be shot at 24 hours' notice.  Morant, however, was neither an "outlaw" nor a "rebel" (like Maritz). Why these loose statements are made 20 years after Morant was placed in his grave (in Pretoria cemetery) it is difficult to understand. The true story of the Bush Veld Carbineers has never been told, but perhaps some day it will be.

A remarkable fact in connection with those courtsmartial is this: Before Capt. Hunt, who was sent from Pretoria with reinforcements for Captain Taylor's detachment, certain Boer prisoners wore shot, but with those Morant had nothing whatever to do, and was not present - in fact if I remember rightly, he went to join Taylor along with Hunt. Taylor was in supreme command of this special detachment, both before and after the arrival of Hunt and Morant, and, though a charge was preferred against him in connection with these previous shootings, there was no conviction. Morant, the junior officer, and another, junior to Morant, were shot, whilst Taylor was acquitted.

As I defended all the accused, I, perhaps, know more about the facts than anyone else.

I am, etc.


First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 1923

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Note: the writer of this letter was protrayed by Jack Thompson in the 1980 film Breaker Morant, directed by Bruce Beresford.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 7, 2010 6:49 AM.

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