November 11, 2010


'Breaker' Morant legend poised for a rewrite (Paola Totaro, November 11, 2010, Sydney Morning Herald)

Fairfax Media has confirmed that the British Secretary of Defence, Dr Liam Fox, has delivered a letter to former Australian military lawyer James Unkles after considering new evidence which, if accepted, could pave the way for a review or even a royal pardon. [...]

Most Australians know the story of Breaker Morant thanks to the 1980 award winning film starring Jack Thompson, Brian Brown and Edward Woodward. But for close to a century, controversy has surrounded the trials of Lieutenants Morant and Peter Handcock, who were found guilty of the murder of 12 prisoners of war in the dying days of the Boer War.

A third soldier, George Witton, also from the largely Australian Bushveldt Carbineers, was sentenced to life but was freed in 1904 after the presentation of a petition of more than 80,000 signatures to King Edward VII. All three officers had insisted they had simply been following orders.

Commander Unkles believes that the men were acting under direct orders from Captain Hunt, who had been a friend of Morant but who was murdered and his body mutilated by Boer fighters shortly before.

It has also been argued that British forces chief, Lord Kitchener, had issued an informal order that troops fighting the Boers, including the Bushveldt Carbineers unit, should not take prisoners.

Commander Unkles, who has doggedly pursued the campaign to petition the Governor-General to grant a royal pardon for the three on behalf of their descendants, is adamant that the passing of time since the men's convictions is irrelevant. [...]

"The passing of time ... does not diminish the errors of injustice," he said.

"They were treated unfairly."

He said the petition was also a vehicle to demonstrate to the public that due process and fairness were hallmarks of Australia's democratic system.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2010 6:04 PM
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