HOW MORANT AND HANDCOCK
LETTER FROM THEIR
Mr. G. Aldridge, who was a member of the Second South Australian Contingent, has received a letter from Mr. J. H. Mor- row, warder in the Pretoria Gaol, with re- ference to the shooting of Lieutenants Morant and Handcock. Mr. Aldridge was a friend of Lieutenant Morant. The letter
is as follows:—
"Dear George,—I write these few lines to you on behalf of Lieutenant H. H. Morant, who was shot here on February 27, two days ago, by order of court-martial. His last word was that I should write and tell you. There were four officers, one South Australian, one Victorian, one New South Welshman, and one New Zealander, all Australians concerned. The South Aus- tralian and New South Welshman were shot, and the others transported. It is quite a mystery here. Regarding the deed, all I know is they shot 38 Boers, and there are rumours in circulation that the Boers surrendered to them. Morant told me he was guilty of shooting the Boers because they shot his captain. I was the warder who was in charge of the officers the last week they had on earth, and they faced their doom as brave as men could do. Everyone said it was a pity to shoot two such brave men. Morant came out here with the South Aus- tralian Mounted Rifles, with which you and I enlisted. He got a commission in the Bushveldt Carbineers, and I went on the railway here, and I only transferred to this prison about six weeks ago. I was not here when they came here. They had been in prison at Pietersburg for four months and they were transferred to Pretoria where sentence was passed upon them to be shot next morning at 6 o'clock and buried at 5 o'clock in the evening. There were a large number of Australians at the funeral, there being no fewer than 30 Aus- tralian officers. We got a hearse and mourning coach and there was a very nice funeral. I felt it very much. The only reply given by the men when asked if they were ready was "Yes. Where is your shooting party?" and the men marched out hand in hand. The firing party went to blindfold the men, when Morant said, "Take this thing off", and pulled it off, and as the two sat down in chairs awaiting death he remarked "Be sure and make a good job of it". Morant folded his arms across his chest and looked them straight in the face, and said if they didn't fire he would look down the barrels of their rifles for the bullets. The firing party fired, and Morant got it all in the left side, and died at once, with his arms folded and his eyes open. You would have thought he was alive."
STATEMENT BY MR. BARTON.
When the House of Representatives met
Mr. ISAACS (V.) said:—I rise for the purpose of asking the right hon. the Prime Minister a question without notice. It has reference to a matter which is agitating the mind of the people of this country to a most unprecedented degree. I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he has received any information from the Home Government or from the South African authorities with regard to the execution of two Australian officers—Lieutenant
Morant and Veterinary-Lieutenant Hand-
Mr. CONROY (N S.W.).—Morant was not an Australian. ("Order, order.")
Mr. ISAACS.—And the imprisonment of a third—Lieutenant Witton.? I think it needs no words of mine to assure the right hon. gentleman that the fullest informa- tion is awaited with the most intense in- terest all over Australia. (Hear, hear).
Mr. BARTON.—I am endeavouring to obtain information upon this subject, but I think I may say it would be most unwise for any of us to come to any con- clusions or form any judgement at the pre- sent moment, in view of the conflicting ac- counts which have appeared. (Hear, hear). Such information as I have myself received has been entirely in the course of private conversation and under circumstances
which prevent my divulging it in this
Mr. CONROY.—They are condemned by the statements of their own side. ("Order,
Mr. BARTON (continuing) briefly re- capitulated the account of the episode which has already been published in "The Argus", and, in doing so, said:—The same party captured two parties of Boers, one numbering eight, and the other three. I am not able to vouch for the accuracy of the statement, but I am able to disclose that I have been informed that on the capture of these two parties of Boers no court- martial was held. There does not seem to be any clear evidence whether they were wearing the uniform of the British army. But these two parties were shot, and I am not in any way credibly informed that they were submitted to court-martial. It re- mains to be seen whether they were iden- tifiable with those who had maltreated Captain Hunt before or after his death. There is no satisfactory information upon this point at all. If they could not be identified, of course, hon. members will be able to form their own conclusions. (Hear, hear.) . . . . "Major Lenehan was at first charged on several accounts, but the charges were finally reduced to one— that he omitted to send in a report of the occurrence. His defence was that he was exempted from sending in any report. He was convicted and received sentence of a slight reprimand. He was afterwards escorted to Cape Town where he embarked for Australia. Those are all the direct statements I have. Some of them do not leave my mind in any state of certainty. All these men were certainly in an Im- perial Corps under the regulations of the British Army, and as soldiers of that army.
(Hear, hear). They were not in any sense employed by Australia (Hear, hear). Nor were they in a corps which was raised in Australia (Hear, hear)—nor distinctly Australian. Therefore they were liable to be treated according to the King's regula- tions and the legislation governing these matters and it is clear that whatever opinion anybody may hold as to the justice of the cases they were duly tried in the manner prescribed. There is one remain- ing fact—that between their arrest and the passing of sentence they were called upon to serve in defence of Pietersburg. These are all the facts I can give with any pretence to authenticity, and I cannot vouch for them. I am endeavouring to ob- tain information from the military autho- rities. As to the character of the in- formation they will give, that is a matter exclusively for them to determine, having regard to the maintenance of the discipline of the army (Hear, hear).
The matter then dropped.
MR PEACOCK'S SUGGESTION
A PETITION AT CORONATION
Yesterday Mr. E. W. Witton, brother of Lieutenant Witton, who has been sentenced by the court-martial to penal servitude for life, waited upon Mr. Peacock, the Premier, in order to show him Major Thomas's let-
ter, in accordance with the request of that officer, who defended the Australian officers at the court-martial.
Mr. Peacock inquired the date at which Major Thomas was expected to arrive in Australia but Mr. Witton was unable to give him the information. The Premier then said that nothing could be done in the
matter until the full report of the facts was available. If the evidence taken at the court-martial were sent out at once from South Africa it would arrive here in time to enable a public petition to be prepared, which could be sent to London before the Coronation. If a letter were sent at this stage asking for the evidence to be sent out, the papers would arrive here too late, but if cable message were sent to Major Thomas, and the documents were de-
spatched at once, they would arrive here in
Mr. E. W. Witton accepted this sug- gestion, and later in the day he despatched a cable message to Major Thomas, at Pre- toria, in the following terms :—
"Victorian Premier suggests you mail evidence to enable prepare petition. When will you be in Australia?"
At the same time Mr. Witton sent a cable message to Lieutenant Picton, who accompanied his brother on the ship from Cape Town to England, asking him to as- sure Lieutenant Witton that everything possible was being done in his interests.
After sending these messages Mr. Witton
went up to Parliament-house and saw Mr. Barton, who assured him of his sympathy,
and commended his action which he had
It has been stated on the authority of old comrades of Lieutenant Morant that he was a son of Vice-Admiral Sir Digby Morant. This we have ascertained is an inaccuracy. Sir Digby has but one son, Lieutenant and Commander Edgar R. Morant, R.N., com- mander of the destroyer Quail on the North American and West Indies station. Quite recently the officer was congratu- lated by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales for saving a destroyer from collision with the Ophir.
REMARKS BY MAJOR-GENERAL
A SUGGESTIVE REFERENCE.
In the course of his farewell address to the New South Wales section of the Com- monweath Contingent, Major General Hut- ton, the federal commandant, made the following reference to the court-martialling of Lieutenant Morant, Veterinary-Lieu- tenant Handcock, and Lieutenant Wit-
"There is just one unhappy incident in connection with recent stages of the war I should like to allude to, and that is the occurrence of which we have lately read in Australian newspapers by which two officers who went from Australia originally were tried by court-martial and shot, and another officer was sentenced to penal ser- vitude. We here in Australia have unfor-
tunately heard only the defence, but I know, though not yet officially, the true version of the tale, and I regret to say it will when published be seen to be a sad one."
A "DAILY EXPRESS" STATEMENT.
ADMISSION BY LIEUTENANT
LONDON, April 2.
The "Daily Express" states to-day that Lieutenant Witton, who has just arrived in England by the steamer Canada to serve his sentence, told passengers on board the vessel that the Boers had murdered sev- ral wounded officers of the Bushveldt Car- bineers, and that a senior officer had con- sequently ordered the Australians to shoot all the Boers they could lay their hands on. This, he said, was done in the case of Boers dressed in khaki, despite the fact that they displayed the white flag or held up their hands.