WHAT THEY WERE TRIED FOR. LORD KITCHENER'S REPORT.
His Excellency the Governor-General has forwarded us a copy of the following cable message he received from Lord Kitchener yesterday, in reply to the request made through His Excellency by Mr. Barton for information concerning the court-martial
on Australians in South Africa:—
"In reply to your telegram, Morant, Handcock, and Witton were charged with 20 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 the crimes, which Handcock carried out in a cold- blooded manner. The murders were com- mitted in the wildest part of the Trans- vaal, known as 'Spelonken,' about 80 miles to the north of Pretoria, on four separate dates, namely, July 2, August 11, August 23, and September 7.
"In one case, when eight Boer prisoners were murdered, it was alleged in defence
to have been done in a spirit of revenge for the ill-treatment of one of their offi- cers, 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. Lieuten- ant Witton was also convicted, but I com- muted his sentence to penal servitude for life in consideration of his having been under the influence of Morant and Hand- cock.
"Copies of the proceedings have been sent home."
WAR OFFICE STATEMENT. AN EXHAUSTIVE TRIAL
TWELVE CASES OF MURDER.
LONDON, April 5.
The War Office has issued the following statement of the events leading up to the trial and conviction of the condemned of- ficers:—
In July and August the Bushveldt Carbineers Regiment, recruited in South Africa, and including Australian and other colonial members, was employed in the wildest part of the Transvaal, known as Spelonken (about 80 miles north of Pretoria). They took a certain number
of prisoners, and in October it came to the knowledge of the British military authorities that certain officers had, dur-
ing the previous three months, been guilty of grave irregularities. An ex- haustive inquiry was ordered, and a
Court assembled on October 16.
The result of the preliminary inquiry was that five officers were ordered to be tried by general court-martial at Pieters- burg. The trial look place in January, and the officers were found guilty, either as principals or accessories, of 12 distinct charges of murder. Lieutenants P. J. Handcock and H. H. Morant were
sentenced to death; the sentences were confirmed by Lord Kitchener, and were
duly carried out. These two officers
were charged with the murder of the Rev. C. Heese, a German missionary, on
August 23, and though there was a strong suspicion that Handcock, insti-
gated by Morant, committed the deed, the evidence was not considered sufficient to justify a conviction, and the men were acquitted of the charge.
Lieutenant G. R. Witton was amongst
those found guilty of murder and sen-
tenced to death, but as the Court found
that he was present under the influence of senior officers, the sentence was com- muted by Lord Kitchener to penal ser-
vitude for life.
Lieutenant H. Picton was found guilty
Major R. W. Lenehan, who com- manded the Bushveldt Carbineers, and who became aware of the crimes some time after their committal, was con- victed of culpable neglect in omitting to
report the offenders. He was ordered to Australia, his dismissal being ren- dered unnecessary by the previous dis- bandment of the corps.
No doubt exists (the official statement continues) as to the guilt of the con- demned officers, whose plea in extenua- tion that a member of their corps had suffered ill-treatment at the hands of the Boers was not sustained by the evidence
at the trial.
The sentences, the statement con- cludes, were such as would have been in- flicted on any officers found guilty of
CASE FOR THE ACCUSED.
LIEUTENANT PICTON'S STORY.
LONDON, April 5.
Lieutenant Picton, who was cashiered for his share in the misdeeds of the Bushveldt Carbineers, and who has arrived in Eng- land by the steamer Canada (the vessel by which Lieutenant Witton arrived as a prisoner), has been interviewed by a re- presentative of the "Daily Mail," to whom he told the following story:—
"We were attacking Barand Viljoen's farm at Duivelstoop, in September, and Lieutenant Hunt was left wounded on the verandah. Next day Lieutenants Morant and Handcock found the body stripped and brutally kicked. The face and legs had been slashed with a knife, one eye had been gouged out, and the neck had been broken. The Rev. Mr. Reuter, of the adjacent Ger- man missionary station, where Hunt was buried, confirmed this. Morant and Hand- cock swore to be revenged, and ordered that if the murderers were captured no quarter should be given them. A Boer dressed in Hunt's clothes, who was cap- tured shortly afterwards, got short shrift.
"Later on eight other Boers were cap- tured. A drumhead court-martial was held, and it was shown that they belonged to the same party as the Boer already shot. They, too, were executed, but revenge, not plun- der, was the motive for the deed. Morant and Handcock considered that the laws of war justified them in acting as they did. The story told by the 'Morning Leader' that they had £20,000 with them was a lie. As to the shooting of the missionary, Mrs. Schiel (the wife of Colonel Schiel, the German artillery officer who was taken prisoner while fighting with the Boers) proved that Handcock and Morant were at a farm house 40 miles away on the night of the murder. Morant, when about to die, protested his innocence of the charges of
DEMAND BY "THE TIMES."
LONDON, April 5.
"The Times" demands this morning that more information respecting the con- demned officers and the crimes for which they were condemned shall be published by the War Office. The details so far given, it says, are meagre, and the country has a right to know the exact truth.
OTHER PRESS OPINIONS.
LONDON, April 4.
All the leading London papers are offer- ing comments upon the case of the court-
The "Daily Mail" says that the guilt of certain irregular soldiers casts no stain
upon the conduct of the war or of the
The "Daily News," the pro-Boer organ, admits that the "minimum facts" adduced shows that Lord Kitchener is a just and fearless commander.
The "Standard" says that misleading statements had fostered a misunderstand- ing in Australia, but the facts would ulti- mately show that the guilty had been treated with the utmost equity.
The "St. James Gazette" points out that Lord Kitchener's justice has vindi- cated the honour of the army. Australia should not, however, be held responsible for the misdeeds of irregular troops.
The "Pall Mall Gazette" thinks that the exemplary punishment meted out to the guilty should convince the Boers of the even-handedness of British justice.
The "New York Mail" and the "New York Express" agree that Lord Kitchener's stern course of action should prevent the incident being charged against Great Bri-
DISCLAIMER OF SIR. G. D. MORANT.
LONDON, April 4.
Admiral Sir George Digby Morant has denied that Lieutenant Morant was his son, or in any way related to him.
[It has been already explained in "The Argus" that Admiral Morant has only one son, Lieut.-Commander Edgar R. Morant, of the destroyer Quail, on the North Ame- rican and West Indian station.]
THE OFFICIAL REPORT.
The Federal Commandant (Major-Gene- ral Dutton) has received the following offi- cial report on the trial and conviction of Major Lenehan and Lieutenants Morant, Handcock, Witton, and Picton, of the Bushveldt Carbineers. The report was not forwarded officially to the commandant, but was contained in an army order re- ceived privately by an Australian officer, who handed it over to him:—
ARMY ORDERS, SOUTH AFRICA.
Army Headquarters, Pretoria,
Feb. 28, 1902. 1. Discipline.
The following extracts from the proceed- ings of general courts-martial held at Pietersburg, Transvaal, between Jan. 16 and Feb. 19, 1902, for the trial of the under- mentioned prisoners, are published for in-
(1) H. H. Morant, P. J. Handcock, G. R. Witton, and H. Picton, of the Bush- veldt Carbineers, were charged with:—
Charge:—When on active service com- mitting the offence of murder.
Finding:—The Court find the prisoner Morant guilty of murder, and find the pri- soners Handcock, Witton, and Picton guilty of manslaughter.
(2) H. H. Morant, P. J. Handcock, and G. R. Witton, of the Bushveldt Carbineers, were charged with:—
Charge:—When on active service com- mitting the offence of murder.
Finding:—The Court find the prisoners guilty of the charge.
Sentence:—The Court sentence the pri- soners Morant, Handcock, and Witton to suffer death by being shot, and the pri- soner Picton to be cashiered.
Confirmation:—The general commanding- in-chief has confirmed the sentence in the case of the prisoners Morant, Handcock, and Picton, but has commuted the sentence awarded to the prisoner Witton to one of penal servitude for life.
The sentences awarded to the prisoners Morant and Handcock have been carried
(4) Major R. W. Lenehan, of the Bush- veldt Carbineers, was charged with:—
Charge:—When on active service, by cul- pable neglect, omitting to make a report which it was his duty to make.
Finding:—The Court find the prisoner guilty of the charge.
Sentence:—The Court sentence the pri- soner to be reprimanded.
The finding and the sentence have been confirmed by the general commanding-in
MR. BARTON'S' VIEW.
The cable message received by the Gover- nor-General from Lord Kitchener was for- warded on to Mr. Barton here to-day, and, after reading it, Mr. Barton said:
"That seems to put the matter beyond doubt. There are two things it seems to establish—first, that there were murders which it was impossible to pass over and which were necessarily the subject of severe punishment, and next that the question of the degree of punishment was considered by Lord Kitchener, as is clear from his commutation of the punishment in the case of one of the officers, Witton. The matter is open to this further comment—that the wild stories which have been told as to plunder or robbery do not seem to be sub- stantiated. I have not received yet any information which for a moment justifies the accusation of the taking of life for the purpose of plunder.''
There is a hope on the part of many that something will be done by your Govern- ment to request a remission of some part of Witton's sentence. Is such action to be anticipated?
Mr. Barton answered:—"The reduction of the sentence on Witton cannot be con- sidered with any pretence to justice until we get the full evidence of the court-martial. I have no doubt it will come here. Major Thomas, who defended the prisoners, has stated that he is bringing the evidence out here. I believe Major Thomas was a good officer, and is a gentleman of good re- pute."
What are you informed occurred in con- nection with Major Lenehan?
"He was held under arrest while he awaited trial, but he was not imprisoned after his trial, because his punishment was merely a mild reprimand. He had neglected his duty by not sending in papers, or some- thing like that. He was sent back, and was escorted by a brother officer to Cape Town, where he took ship."
SYDNEY, Sunday. Major Lenehan was made acquainted with the contents of Lord Kitchener's cable message to-day, and asked if he had any statement to make. He declined to speak on the subject, merely replying "Wait until the official papers come out."
LIEUTENANT WITTON'S DEFENCE.
To-day Mr. Peacock, the Premier of Vic- toria, will send on to the Prime Minister (Mr. Barton) the statement which he re- ceived from Lieutenant Witton through the state's agent in Cape Town (Mr. J. W.
Rail). The Premier assumes that the federal authorities will take whatever ac- tion is necessary, and he is forwarding Mr. Barton all the information on the subject in his possession. He intends to draw the Prime Minister's special attention to the fact that Mr. Rail expresses the view that Witton's case is one in which action might be taken with the object of mitigating the punishment.