Henry Harbord (The Breaker) MORANT

MORANT, Henry Harbord

Service Number: 37
Enlisted: 27 December 1899, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: Bushveldt Carbineers (BVC)
Born: Bridgwater, Somerset, England, 9 December 1864
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Horse Breaker, Bush Poet
Died: Executed (firing squad), Pretoria, South Africa, 27 February 1902, aged 37 years
Cemetery: Church Street Cemetery, Pretoria, South Africa
Lt Peter Joseph Handcock and Lt Morant lay in a grave together.
Memorials: Bourke & District War Memorial, Renmark & District Boer War Honour Roll
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Boer War Service

27 Dec 1899: Enlisted Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Private, SN 37, 2nd South Australian Mounted Contingent, Adelaide, South Australia
27 Feb 1900: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Lance Corporal, SN 37, 2nd South Australian Mounted Contingent, The Boer Offensive
27 Feb 1900: Embarked Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Lance Corporal, SN 37, 2nd South Australian Mounted Contingent, S.S. Surrey
1 Apr 1901: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Lieutenant, Bushveldt Carbineers (BVC)

A Poem by Harry Harbord "Breaker" Morant, Lieutenant, Bushveldt Carbineers

In prison cell I sadly sit -
A d-d crestfallen chappy!
And own to you I feel a bit-
A little bit - unhappy!

It really ain't the place nor time
To reel off rhyming diction-
But yet we'll write a final rhyme
While waiting cru-ci-fixion!

No matteer what 'end' they decide-
Quicklime? or 'b'iling ile? sir!
We'll do our best when crucified
To finish off in style, sir!

But we bequeath a parting tip
For sound advice as such men
As come across in transport ship
To polish off the Dutchmen!

If you encounter any Boers
You really must not loot 'em,
And if you wish to leave these shores
For pity's sake don't shoot 'em!

And if you'd earn a D.S.O.-
Why every British sinner
Should know the proper way to go
Is: 'Ask the Boer to dinner'!

Let's toss a bumper down our throat
Before we pass to Heaven,
And toast: 'the trim-set petticoat
We leave behind in Devon.'

The "trim-set petticoat" is a reference to Hunt's sister to whom Morant got engaged whilst visiting England

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Born 9 December 1864 at Bridgwater, Somerset, England.

Father Edwin Murrant  and  Mother Catherine Murrant (née O'Reilly).

Breaker Morant had arrived in Townsville, Qld aboard the SS Waroonga, under the name Edwin Henry Murrant.

01 APR 1883     He arrived in Townsville, Queensland onboard the SS Waroonga from England. He later claimed to be the son of Admiral Sir George Digby Morant of Bideford, Devon, and to have entered the Royal Naval College.

13 MAR 1884    At Charters Towers, married Daisy May O'Dwyer.

Morant was then a groomer at Fanning Downs Station.

After being acquitted of a charge of stealing pigs and a saddle, the pair separated and Morant went to Winton, later overlanding cattle south.

At the end of his one-year enlistment he received good reports and accepted but did not take up a commission in Baden Powell's South African Constabulary. He went to England, and is supposed to have been welcomed into society and to have become engaged.

27 DEC 1899   Enlisted for service Boer War (2nd Contingent South Australian Mounted Rifles)

26 JAN 1900   Embarked aboard the SS Gurney for South Africa as a Lance Corporal

Having become close friends with Captain Percy Hunt during his service, he followed him back to South Africa in March 1901.

In changed conditions, irregular units were formed to counter Boer guerillas. One such, the Bush Veldt Carbineers, formed at Pietersburg, north of Pretoria, was composed largely of time-served colonials, but was not an Australian formation. Its commander, Major R. W. Lenehan, commissioned Morant and sent him into the Strydpoort area south-east of Pietersburg where he served with distinction.

To the north, known as the Spelonken, the British Commander, Captain Robertson, was weak, and Captain Taylor, an intelligence officer from Rhodesia, a man of sadistic brutality. When six Boers came into Fort Edward wishing to surrender, they were shot by the B.V.C. Not long afterwards a B.V.C. patrol led by Lieutenant P. J. Handcock returned with one of its number, Van Buuren, a turncoat Boer, mysteriously shot. There was also insubordination and looting by some troopers and Robertson was recalled.

Hunt was posted to Fort Edward, to be joined by Morant and Lieutenants Picton and Witton.

On patrol on 4 August 1901 Hunt was mortally wounded. Some mutilation was done to the body, and clothing taken. There is evidence that Africans, not Boers, may have been responsible for the atrocities, but Morant, now in command, morose and incensed, encouraged by Taylor, became bent on vengeance. He led a patrol after the Boers, and caught up with them late in the evening.

Harry "breaker" Morant and his colleague Peter Handcock made history by being the first and only Australian service personnel to be executed by an Allied power.  

Former members of Australian Colonial contingents, both subsequently enlisted in the Bushveldt Carbineers, a scratch British force comprised mainly of Colonial "Bushmen" volunteers who took irregular warfare to the Boers.

January 1902 in Petersburg, South Africa - a court martial (by British Lord Kitchener), examining the in-the-field court martial and execution of the Boer prisoner Visser, who was captured wearing British khaki supposedly belonging to Morant's fallen and mutilated friend Captain Percy Hunt, Morant made his infamous retort to the prosecutor that;

"we got them (the prisoners) and shot them under Rule 303".

Captain Hunt was killed 6 August 1901 - while tracking Veldt Cornet Viljoen. Acting on a report that he was hiding at the Viljoen farmhouse, Hunt with seventeen BVC moved in for an ambush. However, they were surprised themselves by the Boers, and Hunt and a sergeant were subsequently killed. It was the mutilation of Hunt's body that allegedly set Morant on his subsequent course of actions. Hunt had a broken face, presumably from being stamped upon by boots, a broken neck, and cuts to his legs, which may possibly be a Victorian-era euphemism for genital mutilation. At the court martial there was conflicting evidence over whether Hunt had been alive or dead when these terrible injuries were inflicted.

Other officers were also charged over incidents, including the BVC's commander Major Robert Lenehan (a Sydney lawyer in civilian life), but only Morant and Handcock were executed. Morant, Witton, and Handcock faced three courts martial, not just one, and the evidence gathered against them was largely collected by Major Ramon de Bertodano. He was an Australian intelligence officer whose involvement in the story was completely removed from popular history by Beresford's film. De Bertodano became suspicious of BVC activities after the disappearance of the Lutheran missionary, Heese. The reverend had, in fact, accompanied an intelligence colleague of de Bertodano to a Swiss army hospital for an urgent operation upon a severe case of goitre.

Major Robert Lenehan, commander of the Bushveldt Carbineers at the time of the Morant-Handcock executions, was himself charged over instances of the shooting of Boer prisoners, but was only found guilty of failing to report such occurrences; he was reprimanded, relieved of his command and returned to Australia.

Lieut. Peter Joseph Handcock and Lieut. Morant were tried on five charges of murder and received two sentences of death. They were shot by a firing party on the morning of 27 FEB 1902, being executed within 18 hours of their sentencing. Their death warrants were personally signed by Lord Kitchener.

At six o'clock on the morning of 27th February 1902, Morant and Handcock were EXECUTED by eighteen men of the Cameron Higlanders under command of Lieut. Thompson.

Morant smoked a last cigarette, refused to be blindfolded, and his final words were: "Shoot straight, you bastards, don't make a mess of it!"

Australian fellow soldiers took their corpses and made certain that both were given a proper burial in the same grave in the Pretoria Church Street Cemetery. The grave, which stands in a quiet civilian section of Pretoria’s Church Street Cemetery, 50m from the official Commonwealth military plot containing the remains of fallen soldiers from Britain, Ireland, Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

In June 1998 the Australian Government spent $1,500 refurbishing the grave site with a new concrete slab and a new marble cross. The Australian government only heard about the Court-martials, verdicts and execution of its soldiers much later. Upset, they demanded an explanation from Kitchener who, on April 5th 1902, sent a telegram to the Australian Governor-General, and which was published completely in the Australian press. It reads as follows:

"In reply to your telegram, Morant, Handcock and Witton were charged with twenty separate murders, including one of a German missionary who had witnessed other murders. Twelve of these murders were proved. From the evidence it appears that Morant was the originator of these crimes which Handcock carried out in cold-blooded manner. The murders were committed in the wildest parts of the Transvaal, known as Spelonken, about eighty miles north of Pretoria, on four separate dates namely 2nd July, 11th August, and 7th September. In one case, where eight Boer prisoners were murdered, it was alleged to have been done in a spirit of revenge for the ill treatment of one of their officents - lieutenant Hunt - who was killed in action. No such ill-treatment was proved. The prisoners were convicted after a most exhaustive trial, and were defended by counsel. There were, in my opinion, no extenuating circumstances. Lieutenant Witton was also convicted but I commuted the sentence to penal servitude for life, in consideration of his having been under the influence of Morant and Handcock. The proceedings have been sent home."
This telegram caused an uproar in Australia, where it was generally believed that Kitchener suppressed the Court-martials. When Kitchener visited Australia in 1910, he was invited to unveil a memorial in Bathurst, New South Wales (Hancock's home state), on which the names of volunteers from the state who fought in the Anglo-Boer War appears. It wasn't until 01 MAR 1964 that Handcock's name was added to it.

A fact that upset the Australians is that two Australians only were found guilty, and that they were convicted by a British Court-martial, whilst Taylor, Robertson and Morrison were found not guilty of the murder of six Boer prisoners. Many other cases of the shooting by English soldiers of Boer soldiers who surrendered with a white flag, were simply ignored. Furthermore, the fact that the sentences were kept secret until a day before the execution of Morant and Handcock, and that the transcripts of the proceedings went missing, upset many. Their case (and one other) were responsible for the Australian Government's decision never to place Australians under total foreign legal command ever again. In WW1, although over 150 Australians were sentenced to death by British courts-martial, not one was executed as the Australian Governor General always refused to sign the order.

The experience of having two Australian volunteers executed by the British in this way had a lasting impact on Australian Defence Policy.  Never again would Australia cede the power of life and death over its soldiers to a foreign military power; not even to "mother England".

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan 18/07/2016.  Lest we forget!