Breaker Morant : biography
Harry ‘Breaker’ Harbord Morant (9 December 1864 – 27 February 1902) was an Anglo-Australian drover, horseman, poet, soldier and convicted war criminal whose skill with horses earned him the nickname "The Breaker". The bulk of his published work appeared in The Bulletin magazine.
During service in the Second Boer War, Morant allegedly participated in the summary execution of several Boer (Afrikaner) prisoners and the killing of a German missionary, Daniel Heese, who had been a witness to the shootings. His actions led to his controversial court-martial and execution for murder.
In the century since his death, Morant has become a folk hero to some in Australia. His story has been the subject of several books, a stage play, and a major Australian feature film.
During the day of 26 February, Morant and Handcock were visited by a distraught Major Thomas; Witton says that news of the impending execution had "almost driven him crazy". Thomas then rushed off to find Kitchener and plead with him, but was informed by Colonel Kelly that the Commander-in-Chief was away and was not expected back for several days. Thomas pleaded with Kelly to have the executions stayed for a few days until he could appeal to the King, but was told that the sentences had already been referred to England — and confirmed — and that there was "not the slightest hope" of a reprieve; Morant and Handcock "must pay for what he did".
When asked if he wanted to see a clergyman, Morant replied indignantly, "No! I’m a Pagan!"Witton, Ch. XX – "Execution of Morant and Handcock" On hearing this, the unfortunate Handcock asked, "What’s a Pagan?" and after hearing the explanation, declared "I’m a Pagan too!" As the afternoon wore on, all the prisoners could clearly hear the sound of coffins being built in the nearby workshop. At 16:00 hours, Witton was told he would be leaving for England at five the following morning.
That night, Morant, Picton, Handcock and Witton had a "last supper" together; at Morant’s request, he and Handcock were allowed to spend their last night in the same cell. Morant spent most of the night writing and then penned a final sardonic verse, which Witton quotes in its entirety.
26 February 1902 The ‘Confession’
The ‘Confession’ written on the back of photograph A05828 addressed to the Reverend Canon Fisher was written by Lieutenant (Lt) Harry Harbord Morant and signed by Morant and Lt Peter Joseph Handcock, it reads:
- To the Rev. Canon FisherPretoriaThe night before we’re shotWe shot the Boers who killed and mutilatedour friend (the best mate I had on Earth)Harry Harbord MorantPeter Joseph Handcockhttp://cas.awm.gov.au/screen_img/A05829
At 05:00 hours on 27 February, Witton was taken away and was allowed to say a brief farewell to Morant and Handcock, but was only allowed to see them through the small gate in the cell door and clasped hands.
Shortly before 06:00 hours, Morant and Handcock were led out of the fort at Pretoria to be executed by a firing squad from the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Both men refused to be blindfolded; Morant gave his cigarette case to the squad leader, and his famous last words were: "Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!". A contemporary report (from The Argus 3 April 1902) however has his last words as "Take this thing (the blindfold) off", and on its removal, "Be sure and make a good job of it!". Witton wrote that he was by then at Pretoria railway station and heard the volley of shots that killed his comrades. However Poore, who attended the execution, wrote in his diary that he put Witton and Lieutenant Picton on the train that left at 05:30 hours. Thus Witton would have been several miles on the way to Cape Town when the execution occurred.
Aftermath of the execution
Due to British military censorship, reports of the trial and execution did not begin to appear in Australia until the end of March 1902. The Australian government and Lieutenant Handcock’s wife, who lived in Bathurst with their three children, only learned of Handcock and Morant’s death from the Australian newspapers weeks after their executions. After learning of his sentence, Lieutenant Witton arranged to send two telegrams, one to the Australian government representative in Pretoria and the other to a relative in Victoria, but despite assurances from the British, neither telegram was ever received.