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Why wasn't  Breaker Morant’s poetry taught to us oldies in school? Is it fair to say that this talented Bush Poet, Harry Harbord (Breaker) Morant, was thrown under the bus by Lord Kitchener? 

Kitchener sacrificed Breaker ( and Handcock) in order to mollify the Germans over the killing of a German missionary and to shift the blame of all the death and destruction from himself and the British. 

As a result, Breaker's remarkable legacy as a poet was lost because of political scapegoating. His gifted work as a bush poet is largely unknown and therein lies a great tragedy. 


Lord Kitchener




Harry Harbord (Breaker) Morant 1864–1902

Breaker Morant was born Edwin Henry Murrant in 1864 in England and immigrated to Australia in 1883. He changed his surname to Morant in order to claim association with the British nobility, which was capable of belief as he possessed an educated bearing.  He spent time in Western Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia where he was variously employed as a horse-breaker (hence The Breaker), drover, and bookkeeper and storeman.  He wrote poetry which was published in the Bulletin under the pen name The Breaker, and became friendly with Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson.

At the River Crossing


Seemingly written as an ode to a lady love with whom he shared a pleasant day

In 1899, Breaker enlisted in the South Australian Mounted Rifles for service in the Second Boer War under British Command. The Boers (Dutch for farmers) were descendants of colonists of the Dutch East India Company who established a trading post in Cape Town in 1652 which grew into the Dutch Cape Colony following the influx of many Europeans. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British annexed the Dutch Cape Colony in 1806 where the Boers held the Blacks in slavery with great cruelty. In 1834 the British abolished slavery in all of its colonies, and by then had established English as the official language of the Cape Colony. Those actions of the British resulted in the journeying of the Boers northward from 1835 in search of new lands. The expeditions were known as The Great Trek, and resulted in the settlement of the Transvaal, The Orange Free State and Natal, after first subduing the inhabitants.


The Great Trek 1835-1840

Diamonds were discovered in the Orange Free State in 1867which caused the British to attempt annexation. This resulted in the First Boer War from 1880-1881, which resulted in a defeat for the British because of insufficient troop numbers. The Boers were not a regular army but were the local farmers armed with rifles and conscripted for action.

Gold was discovered in a huge deposit in the Transvaal in 1886, The Second Boer War commenced in 1899 with the British determined to gain control over the gold and diamonds. The Boers were successful at first, being armed with German rifles and field pieces. By 1900 the British with 400,000 troops, many conscripted from its colonies. were on the face of it the victors and annexed the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The Boer Commandos then engaged in guerilla tactics, which were opposed by the Bushveldt Carbineers(BVC), in which Breaker Morant, Peter Handcock from Bathurst NSW and George Witton from Warrnambool in Victoria were all lieutenants.

Witton was to write a book titled Scapegoats of the Empire in 1907 which was unavailable for many years, possibly suppressed in order to avoid offending the British. Following the movie Breaker Morant in 1980, it was republished with additional information about the events referred to in the original publication.


Boer Commandos Bushveldt Carbineers in Boer Farmhouse



Lt George Witton Bushveldt Carbineers ready for action L Peter Handcock

In order to crush the Boer Commandos who wore no uniforms and were indistinguishable from the other Boers, the commander-in-chief Kitchener ordered the burning of farms and the destruction of livestock as part of a scorched earth policy. He ordered the closing off of areas with barbed wire and the placing of the survivors of the destruction in concentration camps. Families of the Commandos were placed on half-rations, and at least 30,000 people, many of them children, perished from malnutrition and disease.



This is the horrifying scenario in which Lieutenants Morant, Handcock, and Witton found themselves – combatting the Boer guerillas. Kitchener had decreed a take no prisoners policy.
Breaker, who had previously served as a dispatch rider since his arrival in South Africa, joined the BVC on 1 April 1901 as a commissioned lieutenant under the command of a British officer, Captain Percy Hunt, who was held in high regard by Breaker. It was alleged at the subsequent trial that Hunt ordered that all prisoners taken were to be shot. When Hunt was killed by the Commandos and his body disfigured, another British officer Captain Alfred Taylor gave the order to give no quarter, which Morant, Handcock, and Witton proceeded to implement.



Breaker, along with Handcock and Witton either shot or were accessories to the killing of Boer Commando prisoners. They were eventually court-martialed after a long-lasting Court of Enquiry. Taylor and other British officers were exonerated. All three Australians were sentenced to death, but on representations from Australia Kitchener commuted Witton’s sentence to life imprisonment. Witton served a few years in an English prison but was later released. 


Kitchener signed the death warrants of Breaker and Handcock following which they were executed by firing squad on 27 February 1902 with Breaker bravely advising the squad to Shoot straight you bastards.

Kitchener, the direct cause of all the carnage, sacrificed Breaker and Handcock in order to mollify the Germans over the killing of a German missionary and to shift the blame of all the death and destruction from himself.

The subtitles are a bit off.


The night before the execution, Breaker and Handcock wrote and signed a confession admitting to the killings written on an envelope. Their defence at the court martial had been that they were following orders, which they were.



To the Rev. Canon Fisher

Pretoria  The night before we’re shot

We shot the Boers who killed + mutilated our friend (the best mate I had on Earth) - Harry Harbord Morant

Peter Joseph Handcock

Breaker also penned the following poem the night before his death. He was a man of remarkable courage.


Butchered to make a Dutchman's Holiday 1902

In prison cell I sadly sit,

    A dammed crestfallen chappie,

    And own to you I feel a bit--

    A little bit—unhappy.


    It really ain’t the place nor time

    To reel off rhyming diction ;

    But yet we’ll write a final rhyme

    While waiting crucifixion.


    No matter what end they decide

    Quick-lime? or boiling oil? sir

    We’ll do our best when crucified

    To finish off in style, sir !


    But we bequeath a parting tip

    For sound advice of such men

    Who come across in transport ship

    To polish off the Dutchmen.


    If you encounter any Boers

    You really must not loot ‘em,

    And, if you wish to leave these shores,

    For pity’s sake, don’t shoot ‘em.


    And if you’d earn a D.S.O.,

    Why every British sinner

    Should know the proper way to go

    Is: Ask the Boer to dinner.


    Let’s toss a bumper down our throat

    Before we pass to heaven,

    And toast: “The trim-set petticoat

    We leave behind in Devon.”


Footnote from Monty

Here is a link to the full movie.


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