Friday, October 29, 2010


The movie, “Breaker Morant” is generally an excellent portrayal of the 1902 contemporary atmosphere in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. However, it distorts several historical events. Though Lt. Harry “Breaker” Morant was a gallant soldier in real life, there is no escaping the reality that Morant was guilty of murder as charged, and he wrote a confession to that effect the night before his death.
Among other distortions, is the movie’s melodramatic portrayal of the moments before his execution, when the actor has Morant shout at the firing-squad, “Shoot straight, you bastards!”
The facts of Morant’s last moments were described in a letter written at the time by an Australian eye-witness, Mr. J. H. Morrow, warder of the Pretoria Gaol, with reference to the shooting of Lieutenant Morant and Handcock. The letter was mailed to a mutual friend, dated March 1, 1902, and published in an Adelaide newspaper. The letter states :-
"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 that there were four officers -- one South Australian, one Victorian, one New South Welshman, and one New Zealander, all Australians -- concerned. The South Australian and the New South Welshman were shot, and the others were transported [to prison]."
"It is quite a mystery here regarding the deed. All I know is that they shot 38 Boers, and there are rumours circulating that these Boers surrendered to them. Morant told me that 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 Australian Mounted Rifles with which you and I enlisted. Morant got a commission with the Bushveldt Carbineers, and I went on the railway here, and I was 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 then they were transferred to Pretoria, where sentence was passed upon them. They were shot next morning at 6 o'clock, and were buried at 5 o'clock in the evening. There were a large number of Australians at the funeral; no less than 30 of them were Australian officers. I felt it very much.”
“The only reply given by the two 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, but Morant said, 'Take this thing off,” and pulled the handkerchief off. As the two sat in the chair awaiting death Morant remarked, 'Be sure and make a good job of it.' Morant folded his arms across his chest and looked them straight in the face. The firing party fired, and Morant got all in the left side, and died at once. With his arms folded and his eyes open you would have thought he was alive."
[See other passing reference in “KRUGER’S GOLD: A novel of the Anglo-Boer War.”]

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