Breaker Morant - Events Leading To Morant's Arrest - Arrests


Then, in mid-October, the Spelonken detachment was suddenly recalled to Pietersburg and Fort Edward was abandoned until March 1902. On 24 October 1901, Colonel Hall ordered the arrest of six members of the Carbineers. Four were Australians: Major Lenehan and Lieutenants Handcock, Witton and Hannam; the other two, Captain Taylor and Lieutenant Picton, were English. When Morant returned from leave in Pietersburg, he too was arrested, although no charges were laid at the time. A Court of Enquiry into the affairs of the Bushveldt Carbineers followed. The War Office subsequently stated that on 8 October 1901, some members of the BVC who had been discharged at Pietersburg on the expiration of their service had reported the irregular actions of the officers at Fort Edward over the preceding months.

The men were held in solitary confinement within the garrison, in spite of vigorous protests by Lenehan; he even wrote directly to Kitchener to ask that he be allowed to inform the Australian government of his position, but Kitchener ignored the request. Meanwhile, the Court of Enquiry held daily hearings, taking evidence from witnesses about the conduct of the BVC. Two weeks later, the prisoners were finally informed of the charges against them; in December, they were again brought before the panel and told that they were to be tried by court-martial. The panel found that there were no charges to answer in the cases of Hannam and Sergeant Major Hammett.

On hearing of the arrests, Kitchener's Chief of Police, Provost Marshall Robert Poore remarked in his diary, "... if they had wanted to shoot Boers they should not have taken them prisoner first" — a view later ruefully echoed in his book by George Witton. While it is certain that Morant and others did kill some prisoners, their real "mistake" in terms of their court-martial was that they killed the Boers after capturing and disarming them after they surrendered with a white flag. As Poore noted in his diary, had they shot them before they surrendered, the repercussions might well have been considerably less serious, since they could have claimed (truthfully or otherwise) that they had been killed in battle, rather than murdered after being taken prisoner.

Just before the court-martial, Colonel Hall was removed from his post at Pietersburg and transferred to India. The BVC were disbanded and replaced by a new regiment called the Pietersburg Light Horse. On 15 January 1902, the accused were finally given copies of the charges against them and informed that they would be defended by Major James Francis Thomas (1861–1942), who in civilian life had been a solicitor in Tenterfield, New South Wales. The court-martial began the following day.

Read more about this topic:  Breaker Morant, Events Leading To Morant's Arrest

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