Breaker Morant


Breaker Morant : biography

9 December 1864 – 27 February 1902

Just before the court-martial, Colonel Hall was removed from his post at Pietersburg and transferred to India. The BVC were disbanded and replaced by a new regiment called the Pietersburg Light Horse. On 15 January 1902, the accused were finally given copies of the charges against them and informed that they would be defended by Major James Francis Thomas (1861–1942), who in civilian life had been a solicitor in Tenterfield, New South Wales. The court-martial began the following day.


In 2002, a group of Australians travelled to South Africa and held a service at the Pretoria graveside to commemorate the execution on the morning of the 100th anniversary. The service was also attended by the Australian High Commissioner to South Africa. The group left a new marker on the grave.

A petition to pardon Morant and Handcock was sent to Queen Elizabeth II in February 2010. The petition has been severely criticised in South Africa, specifically by descendants of the Viljoen brothers who were killed in the skirmish with Hunt and Eland, and the descendants of the family of Rev. Heese.

Hamish Paterson states: "I don’t think they [the Australian supporters of a Morant pardon] have actually considered what Morant was convicted of. Let’s start off with the laws of war. If for example, we have a surrender. You want to surrender and I don’t accept your surrender, so I choose not to accept it, that I’m entitled to do. […] However, the situation changes dramatically once I accept your surrender, then I must remove you from the battlefield to a POW camp and keep you safe. If, for example, Kitchener said, “take no prisoners,” that was very different from “shoot prisoners!” So Morant and Handcock made two very basic errors: Once you’ve accepted the surrender, you take them to the railway line and get them shipped off to Bermuda, or wherever. At that point, the sensible thing to do was to ship them off to a POW camp. The next error was to shoot these guys in front of a neutral witness, and then you kill the witness. These are a series of terrible errors of judgement. Because they killed a German missionary, the Kaiser (became) involved. […] Technically, the two “Aussies” were British officers. The problem was you were dealing with an unstable set-up in the BVC . It had just been formed. I don’t see a regular Australian unit behaving that way. I rather suspect why no British guys were shot was that they were either regular army or militia, or yeomanry, all of which are very unlikely to actually shoot prisoners. I think no British were shot because they hadn’t made the mistake of shooting prisoners who’d already surrendered."

Jim Unkles, an Australian lawyer, submitted two petitions, one to Queen Elizabeth II, and the other to the House of Representatives Petitions Committee in October 2009 to review the convictions and sentences of Morant, Handcock and Witton. The petitions were referred to the British Crown by the Australian Attorney General. On Monday, 27 February 2012, in a speech delivered to the House of Representatives on the 110-year anniversary of the sentencing of the three men, Alex Hawke, the Member for Mitchell (NSW), described the case for the pardons as "strong and compelling".

In November 2010 a statement from the Ministry of Defence in the UK said that the appeal had been rejected.

"After detailed historical and legal consideration, the Secretary of State has concluded that no new primary evidence has come to light which supports the petition to overturn the original courts-martial verdicts and sentences," the statement said.

The decision was supported by Australian military historian Craig Wilcox and by South African local historian Charles Leach, while Jim Unkles continues to campaign for a judicial inquiry.

In October 2011 Robert McClelland claimed on ABC radio that the executed men had no legal representation at the Courts Martial. This is untrue since Major J.F. Thomas represented them.

On 12 December 2011 Robert McClelland was replaced as Attorney General with Nicola Roxon.