EXECUTION OF OFFICERS.
IMPORTANT STATEMENT BY MR. BARTON. Melbourne, Wednesday.
In the House of Representatives to-day the Prime Minister, in reply to Mr. Isaacs, said it would be unwise to come to any conclusion with regard to the execution of Australian officers in South Africa in view of the conflicting evidence that was so far available. He could not make any authori- tative statement as the particulars he had learnt were communicated to him in private conversation, and under circumstances which
prevented him from giving publicity to them. He could, however, give an outline of the occurrence. In the course of an attack on a farm, Captain Hunt was wounded, and his dead body was afterwards found in a muti- lated condition. Subsequently on the capture of a Boer laager a Boer was taken prisoner who was dressed in khaki, and was, besides, wearing certain articles which were recog- nised as having belonged to Captain Hunt. He was tried by drumhead court martial by Lieutenants Handcock, Morant and Witton, and was shot. Further evidence, as far as he was able to divulge, went to show that subsequently two parties of Boers were taken prisoners, one of three, and the other of eight men. He was not creditably informed whether any court-martial was held an these men, but all the prisoners were shot. There was also no clear evidence about these men or not. It also remained to be seen whether these men were identifiable with those who had maltreated Captain Hunt. The other officer, Major Lenehan, was 70 miles away when these shooting incidents occurred. Between the arrest of the three officers and their trial four months elapsed, during which time they were allowed to take part in the fighting that was going on, distinguishing themselves very much. Mr. Isaacs : This is very important. Mr. Barton, continuing, said that then the three officers were tried by court-martial. Handcock and Morant were sentenced to death, and were shot, while the sentence on Witton was commuted to life imprisonment. Major Lenehan was tried for having failed to send in a report, his defence being that he was exempted from doing so. He was slightly reprimanded, and conducted to Capetown. The information in his (Mr. Barton's) possession did not leave his mind in any state. Certainly he was giving the House all the information he could without divulging what was confidential. No official information was available. The officers were serving in the British army, and were liable to the provisions contained in the King's regulations and to the legislation governing such matters. They were duly tried in proper form. He was endeavoring to obtain full information from the authorities, but it would entirely rest with the authorities in South Africa to furnish what information they saw fit.