Breaker Morant

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Breaker Morant : biography

9 December 1864 – 27 February 1902

Back at Fort Edward, the seized livestock was collected and handed over to the proper authorities and the stills were broken up, but according to Witton, these actions were resented by the perpetrators, and as a result Morant and Handcock were "detested" by certain members of the detachment.

Witton arrived at Fort Edwards on 3 August with Sergeant Major Hammett and 30 men, and it was at this point that he met Morant and Handcock for the first time.

Death of Captain Hunt

The pivotal event of the Morant affair took place two days later, on the night of 5 August 1901. Captain Hunt led a 17-man patrol to a Boer farmhouse called Duivelskloof (Devil’s Gorge), about south of the fort, hoping to capture its owner, the Boer commando leader Veldtcornet Barend Viljoen. Hunt also had some 200 armed native African irregulars with him, and Witton claimed that although "those in authority" denied the use of African auxiliaries, they were in fact widely used and were responsible for "the most hideous atrocities".

Hunt had been told that Viljoen had only 20 men with him. The Boers surprised the British as they approached. During the ensuing skirmish, both Barend Viljoen and his brother Jacob Viljoen were killed. Witnesses later testified that Captain Hunt was wounded in the chest while firing through the windows and Sergeant Frank Eland was killed while trying to recover his body.Woolmore, The Bushveldt Carbineers Witnesses later testified that Hunt was still alive when the British retreated.

When news of Hunt’s death reached the fort, it had a profound effect on Morant; Witton said he became "like a man demented". Morant immediately ordered every available man out on patrol, broke down while addressing the men, and ordered them to avenge the death of their captain and "give no quarter".

Significantly, Morant did not see Hunt’s body himself; according to Witton, Morant arrived about an hour after the burial. He questioned the men about Hunt’s death and, convinced that his friend had been murdered in cold blood, he again vowed to give no quarter and take no prisoners. Witton recounted that Morant then declared that he had, on occasion, ignored Hunt’s order to this effect in the past, but that he would carry it out in the future.

Reprisals in Hunt’s name

The following day, after leaving a few men to guard the mission (which the Boers threatened to burn in reprisal for harbouring the British), Morant led his unit back to the Viljoen farm. It had been abandoned, so they tracked the retreating Boers all day, sighting them just on dusk. As the Australians closed in, the hot-headed Morant opened fire too early and they lost the element of surprise, so most of the Boers escaped. They did, however, capture one commando called Visser, wounded in the ankles so that he could not walk.

The next morning, as Morant and his men continued their pursuit, a native runner brought a message that the lightly manned Fort Edward was in danger of being attacked by the Boers, so Morant decided to abandon the chase.

At this point, he searched and questioned Visser and found items of British uniform, including a pair of trousers which he believed was that of Hunt’s, but was later proved to be of much older origin; he then told Witton and others that he would have Visser shot at the first opportunity. When they stopped to eat around 11 a.m. Morant again told Witton that he intended to have Visser shot, quoting orders "direct from headquarters" and citing Kitchener’s recent alleged ‘no prisoners’ proclamation. He called for a firing party, and although some of the men initially objected, Visser was made to sit down on an embankment (he could not stand), and was shot. After being shot, Visser was still alive, and Morant ordered Picton to administer a coup-de-grace with pistol shots to the head.

On the return journey to the fort, Morant’s unit stopped for the night at the store of a British trader, a Mr Hays, who was well known for his hospitality. After they left, Hays was raided by a party of Boers who looted everything he owned. When Morant and his men arrived back at Fort Edward, they learned that a convoy under Lieutenant Neel had arrived from Pietersburg the previous day, just in time to reinforce Captain Taylor against a strong Boer force that attacked the fort. During the encounter, one Carbineer was wounded and several horses were shot and it was at this time that Taylor had a native shot for refusing to give him information about the Boers’ movements. Neel and Picton then returned to Pietersburg.