Breaker Morant

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Breaker Morant : biography

9 December 1864 – 27 February 1902

The graves of Morant and Handcock were left unattended for many years, but after the release of Beresford’s film it became a popular place of pilgrimage for Australian tourists. In June 1998 the Australian Government spent $1,500 refurbishing the grave site with a new concrete slab. The marble cross which stood over the grave had been vandalised, as had many other gravestones nearby.

Military career

At the time Morant volunteered for military service (in 1899), the formal federation of the Commonwealth of Australia was still two years away. Australia consisted of separate self-governing colonies, each of which was still subject to the British Crown. Because the population included many British immigrants, most Australians still had strong ties to "The Mother Country". Consequently, thousands of Australian men volunteered to fight for Britain in the Second Boer War, which pitted British colonial forces against the Boers in South Africa.

Evidently, seeing this as a chance to return to England and redeem himself in the eyes of the family he had left 16 years before, Morant enlisted with the Second Contingent of the South Australian Mounted Rifles. While in Adelaide, Morant was reportedly invited to visit the summer residence of the South Australian governor, Lord Tennyson. After completing his training, he was appointed lance corporal and his regiment embarked for the Transvaal on 27 February 1900.

In many respects, the terrain and climate of South Africa is remarkably similar to that of outback Australia, so Morant was in his element. His superb horsemanship, expert bush skills, and educated manner soon attracted the attention of his superiors. South Australian Colonel Joseph Gordon recommended him as a dispatch rider to Bennet Burleigh, the war correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph; the job reportedly provided the debonair Morant with ample opportunity to visit the nearby hospital and dally with the nurses.

The statement of service Morant tendered at his trial is quoted, apparently verbatim, in the book written by his friend and colleague, George Witton. According to that account, Morant was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Bushveldt Carbineers (BVC) on 1 April 1901. Prior to that, he had served in the South Australian Second Contingent for nine months. During that duration, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Subsequently, he returned to Devon, England for a period of time.

In March 1900, Morant carried dispatches for the Flying Column to Prieska, under Colonel Lowe, 7th D.G., who was in the general advance to Bloemfontein and took part in the engagements of Karee Siding and Kroonstadt, and other engagements with Lord Roberts until the entry into Pretoria. Morant was at Diamond Hill and was then attached to General French’s staff, Cavalry Brigade, as war correspondent with Bennet Burleigh of the London Daily Telegraph. He accompanied that column through Middelburg and Belfast to the occupation of Barberton. At this point, he took leave and returned to Devon, England for six months. Here he became close friends with Captain Hunt, and the two of them became engaged to a pair of sisters. Hunt, who was still ‘signed on’, returned to South Africa to take command of a regiment in the Bushveldt Carbineers, whereas Morant (who had intended that his military service come to an end) followed him shortly after not having found the forgiveness he sought in England. Originally returning to take up a commission in Baden Powell’s Transvaal Constabulary, he was convinced by Hunt to instead accept a commission in the BVC.

Early life

Accounts of Morant’s life before the Boer War vary considerably, and it appears that Morant fabricated a number of these romantic legends. Morant is often described as being ‘well-educated’ and claimed to have been born in 1865 at Bideford, Devon, EnglandHoofs and Horns, January 1986, Breaker Morant, Harry Reddel, Charlie Stewart and others, p. 65 and to have been the illegitimate son of Admiral Sir George Digby Morant of the Royal Navy; a claim repeated as fact by later writers, although the admiral denied it.Renar, Frank. Bushman and Bucaneer 1902The Adelaide Advertiser, 7 April 1902, page 5 It is alleged that Morant entrusted his cigarette case and other personal belongings to Major Bolton, the prosecuting officer during the later courts-martial with the words "see that my family gets them". Years later, when Bolton’s daughter allegedly tried to hand them to the family of Sir George, she was sent away and told Morant was not related to them. It has been suggested that the young Morant came into the care of a wealthy Scottish author, soldier, hunt-master and golfer, George Whyte-Melville. Like other stories there is no evidence for this theory.