Saturday, 26 April 2014

About This Site

After being held in solitary confinement for over three months, Lieutenants Peter Handcock, Harry (“Breaker”) Morant, and George Witton were tried by courts-martial and found guilty of killing Boer prisoners.

Lord Kitchener ignored the court’s recommendation for mercy, ordered the execution of Morant and Handcock, then made himself unavailable for appeal.

At 6am on 27 February 1902, in Pretoria, South Africa, they were taken out and shot. Witton’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

“...but those who have all the documents in their hands believe them to have been made scapegoats”.
Emily Hobhouse - British Pacifist in a letter to her brother 1903 - (in Australia’s Boer War - Craig Wilcox, 2002, p296)

“...and we’re sorry that the other men were shot. We all did things during the war we are sorry for in peace. Let us wipe out all traces of bitterness.”
Boer Commandant-General Louis Botha - Published in The Owl, Cape Colony  South Africa 15 April 1904 - Referring to the imprisonment of George Witton and the execution of Morant and Handcock.

While opinions will vary as to whether Harry Morant and Peter Handcock deserved to be executed for shooting Boer prisoners the fact remains that more senior officers who issued the orders for these shootings went unpunished and this is simply unacceptable by any standards.

My name is Richard Williams and Peter Handcock is my great-grandfather. When I decided to learn more about this affair I was frustrated to find that some historians, particularly those associated with the Australian War Memorial, were acting more like spin doctors for the British military establishment. They appeared to skim over or omit completely details that contradicted Kitchener's claim that he was justified in blaming  and scapegoating the BVC officers alone for the barbaric methods he used to conduct this war. In this blog I will present a series of papers that represent my views on various aspects of the affair. While I will offer opinions, if I ever state something as fact I will provide the relevant reference. Most of my sources are contained in the books listed on my Bibliography page.

My main focus is a defence of my great-grandfather who I believe was a victim of his lack of education, his over-developed sense of duty and his unquestioning belief in the necessity to obey the orders of his superior officers.

The views expressed in this blog are my own and are not necessarily those of other descendants of Peter Handcock. I would appreciate hearing from anyone, relation or otherwise, who has a genuine interest in this matter.

 This site is dedicated to the memory of my late grandfather (also Peter Handcock) who, throughout his life, remained steadfast in the belief that his father was executed as a scapegoat to cover up the increasingly desperate and brutal practices of the British military under Lord Kitchener during the Boer War. His one consolation was to see his father’s name restored to the Bathurst Boer War Memorial shortly before his own death. He always believed that Peter Handcock’s name was removed or omitted to appease Kitchener, who unveiled the memorial when he visited Australia in 1910.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Peter Joseph Handcock

Updated Sept. 2016
Peter Handcock was born near Peel, New South Wales in 1868. His father died when he was aged 6 so he had a minimal education and was apprenticed to a blacksmith at age 12.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Letter from Rev. Joshua Brough to Peter Handcock’s Widow

The Rev. Joshua Brough’s letter to Peter Handcock’s widow is an important piece of historical evidence. He waited seven months until he had returned home to England before he wrote it, thus ensuring that it would not be subject to military censorship in South Africa. This is not surprising since it is far more than a simple letter of condolence to a grieving widow.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Peter Handcock's "Affidavit"

On 20 July 2013 the Victorian Bar in conjunction with James Unkles and the Supreme Court conducted a moot hearing to consider whether Morant, Handcock and Witton had the right to appeal against the verdicts and sentences imposed by the courts-martial. In a non-binding decision the court ruled that the men had not received a fair trial and indeed had grounds to appeal.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Witton's Letter to Thomas 21 October 1929

I cannot understand how so many historians can take this letter at face value without subjecting it to any form of critical analysis and declare it a matter of "historical record" that is capable of of rewriting history. The following is a presentation of my views regarding the letter and the many questions it elicits.

George Ramsdale Witton

Since I first learned of this affair I have felt the greatest empathy for George Witton and I wonder if anyone can honestly claim that they would have acted any differently than he did in the circumstances that he found himself.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Cochrane Letter

Many people falsely claim that it was a letter dated 4 October 1901 from 15 of the BVC officers’ own men that initiated the inquiry and subsequent courts-martial resulting in the execution of Harry Morant and Peter Handcock and the imprisonment of George Witton.

Who Killed Rev. Daniel Heese?

Despite over 4 months of zealous investigation by the prosecution, Peter Handcock was court-martialled for this crime and found not guilty. Harry Morant was charged as an accessory and also acquitted. This verdict is not surprising if we look at all the evidence pointing to their innocence and the lack of any proof that they were guilty.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Good Old British Justice

In 2001 retired Australian Army Colonel Barry Caligari petitioned the British Government for pardons for Lieutenants Morant, Handcock and Witton.

Deputy JAG, Colonel St. Clair's Opinion

 In November, 1901, at the conclusion of the Court of Inquiry, the senior legal officer in South Africa, Deputy Judge Advocate General Colonel St. Clair reviewed the evidence obtained and made his recommendations.