The Cochrane Memorandum

 It is important to note that this memorandum was compiled by Trooper R.M. Cochrane three days after the submission of the original letter. It is signed by him alone and it is safe to assume that he was not a witness to any of the allegations made as he was not called as a witness in any of the subsequent courts-martial, nor did he make a sworn deposition beforehand.

My comments are in red.

Source: Breaker Morant and the Bushveldt Carbineers, Edited by Arthur Davey, Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town, 1987, pp.82-89

No.51                            CS1092, Letterbook II, pp. 47-62


The following memorandum is submitted to amplify the preceding one, that having then confined to statements to which we had all the necessary evidence in camp (sic). This memorandum will suppl[ement] some omissions in the previous one.

Complicity of Capt. Taylor
Before the six prisoners were shot there was a meeting of officers at Sweetwaters Farm. There were present Capt. Taylor, Capt. Robertson, Lt. Handcock. Nearly the whole patrol could see them. Immediately the council was over Sergt. Major Morrison was called up and received instructions from Capt. Robertson to wipe out the prisoners. He and Capt. Robertson can alone prove whether Capt. Taylor was actually present when these orders were given him. Capt. Taylor was undoubtedly present at the council. It can be abundantly proved that Capt. Taylor also saw the dead bodies lying in the road.

The witnesses required in this case are: Capt. Robertson, at present in Pietersburg, was present at council, issued instructions to S.S.M. Morrison, saw dead bodies.
S.S.M. Morrison, address unknown, received the instructions and conveyed them to Sergt. Oldham. Sergt. Must, address unknown, was left at Sweetwaters Farm in charge of the residue of the patrol. Sergt. Oldham, received instructions from S.S.M. Morrison and executed them. He was in charge of the firing party. Address Pietersburg.
Trooper Eden Address unknown, member of firing party
Trooper E. Brown Address unknown, member of firing party
Trooper Heath Address unknown, member of firing party
Trooper Dale Address unknown, member of firing party
Corpl. Primrose. He was a member of the firing party, but was sent back with a report before the actual firing took place. Address Pietersburg. It lies between Troopers Eden and Dale as to which shot the aged sick Boer who was unable to leave his bed in the wagon. Trooper Arnold, address Pietersburg, was a member of the firing party.
Other witnesses are:
Corporal Browne saw the dead bodies. Saw the Kaffir voorloper alive after the shooting but, who, with two other Kaffir eyewitnesses, was chased by a small patrol and shot in their back on Bristow’s Farm. Corporal Browne can testify that the order to shoot the six Boers was issued at a council meeting (or rather shortly after it) at Sweetwaters Farm. Corporal Browne’s address, BVC Orderly Room, Pretoria.

Trooper Penn, Pietersburg, can probably supply the names of the patrol who shot the three Kaffir eyewitnesses.

Q.M.S. Venables, Pietersburg, superintended the digging of the graves in which were buried six Boers. He can also probably give the names of the patrol who shot the Kaffir eyewitnesses. The above witnesses are concerned with the shooting of the six surrendered Boer prisoners on July 2nd near a Kaffir kraal by an empty house. The patrol travelled easterly from Sweetwaters Farm. It passed Dr. Leyme’s [Liengme’s] private hospital some 6, or 7 miles till the aforesaid empty house was reached. There the tragedy occurred.

It should be stated that after the shooting Capt. Taylor rode alone to the Kaffir kraal and it is presumed instructed the Kaffirs what evidence to give. Three inconvenient ones were chased and shot.

Shooting of Trooper van Buuren
The witnesses are:
Trooper Eden, member of the patrol left flanks
Trooper Arnold, member of the patrol left flanks
Trooper Brown, member of the patrol left flanks
Regimental books will give full names of patrol if required. Address of Troopers Eden and Brown unknown. Trooper Arnold is at Pietersburg. Corporal Browne states that he could approximately indicate the site of the murder and if provided with an interpreter could probably find or trace the rifle, bandolier and body of the murdered man.

Shooting of the wounded Boer, Visser
The following troopers volunteered to shoot the wounded man:
Trooper Petrie, hospital, Spelonken
Trooper Gill, Pietersburg
Lt. Picton BVC after the shooting stepped up to the Boer who was not dead and blew his brains out with a revolver.
Other witnesses are:
S.S.M. Hammett, Spelonken
S.S.M. Clarke, Pietersburg
Sergt. Wrench
Corpl. McCormick
Trooper Christie
Corpl. Sharpe, Spelonken
Corpl. Torquis Durban (?)
The officers present were:
Lt Morant
Lt Picton
Lt Handcock
It is believed that Lt Witton was also present though I am not absolutely certain of this. The fact can be easily ascertained.

Shooting eight surrendered Boer prisoners and one German missionary Aug. 23.
This tragedy took place about halfway between the private hospital and Sweetwaters Farm. The officers present were:
Lt Morant, who fired himself
Lt Handcock, who fired himself
Lt Witton, who fired himself
S.S.M. Hammett who fired himself
Sergt Wrench who was in charge of the prisoners and who asked to leave before the firing began.
Trooper A. Thompson was coerced into firing
Trooper Duckett was coerced into firing
Thompson and Duckett are in Pietersburg.

Shooting of the Missionary
Corpl Sharpe, Spelonken, saw Lt Handcock, armed, leaving camp and could give the names of the others. Lt Handcock usually rode a chestnut pony about 13 hands, a stoutly built pot-bellied animal, no white marks, except under saddle.

On the day the missionary was shot a picket comprising Trooper Phillips, Wrangham and Benadie were at Cooksley’s Farm, saw van Rooyen [a farmer] who told them he had passed one of the BVC in the vicinity of Bandolier Kopjes.

[Comment: The shooting of Heese occurred at Bandolier Kopjes, some 20 miles from Fort Edward. van Rooyen testified in the court-martial that he met Heese there at about 2pm. He did not claim in his testimony to have seen anyone from the BVC at that time. He testified that he trekked on until sundown, which would have been around 6pm at that time of year when he met Handcock, who was on foot.1]

Almost immediately after the tragedy Lt Handcock heard that Troopers Wrangham and Phillips knew of the murder of the missionary. He sent for them, cross-questioned them very minutely as to the extent of their knowledge and the source where they got it. All the time he seemed labouring under very great excitement.

[Comment: This is highly suspicious. The murder of the missionary happened some 20 miles away so if Troopers Phillips and Wrangham knew about it “almost immediately after the tragedy” it is not surprising that they were questioned as to how they came by this knowledge. The rest of the camp didn’t know about it or where it occurred for several days.]

Slaughter by Lt. Hannam of two little Boer boys and the wounding of one little girl Sept. 5.
The two principal witnesses in this case are:
Trooper Hatfield, Pietersburg
Trooper Hampton, Pietersburg
They will call what others may be required and should be called upon to name them.

Shooting at Mr Bristow [i.e. on his farm]
The witnesses are:
Trooper Lucas who was on guard. Address Pietersburg
Trooper Bonnie [Bonney] Address Pietersburg. Cook to officers’ mess, who has never had the opportunity yet to give evidence, but probably can give material evidence.

[Comment: There is no record that Mr. Bristow ever complained that he had been shot at. According to Trooper Heath both Mr. and Mrs. Bristow testified on Handcock’s behalf at the Heese court-martial.2]

Shooting of two men and a boy Sept. 7th
The officers and others present at this tragedy were:
Lt Handcock                    ]
Lt Morant                        ] All of whom fired except
Sergt. Major Hammett    ] Trooper Hodds who was sent
Corporal McMahon        ] back with two mules just
Trooper Hodds                ] before they met the Boers.
Of these S.S.M. Hammett and Corporal McMahon are in the Spelonken.
Trooper Hodds is in Pietersburg and Trooper Botha in Pretoria.
The three shot are stated to have been grandson, father and grandfather. The boy was so sick with fever that he could not walk alone, but had to be supported by the other two.

[Comment: As far as we know no evidence was produced at the trial to support the allegation that the boy was sick with fever.]

Fabrication of evidence by Major Lenehan
When Major Lenehan was sent out to hold an inquiry he endeavoured to bounce the troopers into giving evidence which would exonerate the officers. Particularly he tried to make them swear that the wounded Boer prisoner Visser shot on Aug. 11th was wearing the tunic of the late Capt. Hunt, where as the witnesses pointed out that the clothes of the late Capt. Hunt had been continuously worn by Lt Morant who was wearing them himself at that moment. Lt Morant wore the late Capt. Hunt’s British Warm, riding breeches, tunic and leggings. When the witnesses refused to swear what Major Lenehan required but swore that the prisoner was wearing an old British Warm Major Lenehan and ordered the men out of his tent as if they had been dogs saying “That kind of evidence is no good to us.”
The witnesses are:
Corporal Gibbons, Spelonken
Sergt. Robinson, Spelonken
S.S.M. Clarke, Pietersburg

[Comment: It is not surprising that Major Lenehan reacted as he did. Captain Hunt’s body was found stripped of all his clothing so what was he wearing on the night he was shot if, as claimed above, Lt. Morant was in possession of all of Hunt’s clothes? None of these alleged witnesses appeared at Major Lenehan's court-martial.]

Complicity of Major Lenehan
When the two Boers and a boy was shot Sept 7th, Major Lenehan heard the firing. As Lt Morant came in the following conversation occurred:
    Major Lenehan: “Have you been shooting buck?”
    Lt Morant: “Something better than – buck”.
    At the mess table, in Major Lenehan’s presence, Lt. Morant elicited from Trooper Botha the statement that he had that day shot the Dutch boy.
The witnesses are:
Trooper Lucas, Pietersburg
Trooper Botha, Pretoria
and others whose names I have not booked but who will readily come forward if asked. The last outrages, of which only the barest information is yet to hand, occurred while Major Lenehan was in charge. For full information apply to Corpl Sharpe, Spelonken.

[Comment: This sounds like Trooper Cochrane, who was 100 miles away, alleged that Major Lenehan was complicit in the shooting of the 3 Boers. This is a fairly daring allegation to make about his Commanding Officer without the production of any evidence other than to suggest to Colonel Hall that he should “for full information apply to Corpl Sharpe”. This is just more evidence that the Cochrane documents were requisitioned and sponsored by a much higher authority. By the way, Major Lenehan was able to prove that he did report this incident because he was acquitted of failing to do so by the court-martial.3]

Attempts on the lives of Troopers whose deaths were desired to extinguish evidence.
The lives of the following were deliberately attempted:
Sergt. Wrench, address Pietersburg
Sergt. Rogers, address Spelonken
Trooper Lucas, address Pietersburg
Trooper Dale, address unknown
    It is tolerably certain that Capt. Taylor was privy to the attempt to murder Sergt. Wrench.

[Comment: Sergt. Wrench deposed as to the so-called attempt on his life by stating “…Several men warned me that if I went out on that patrol my life would probably be attempted. Soon after starting I threw myself off my horse purposely and came back to camp injured. When the Kaffir arrived at Capt. Taylor’s with my horse and the message I was injured, he sent up word that “I was to go at all costs.” That message confirmed my suspicions that my life would have been none too safe on that patrol.” 4 This is no proof whatsoever that any attempt was made on Wrench’s life – it sounds more like an attempt to malinger.

A Trooper Paul Cullen, who is not listed above, made a bizarre, long-winded unsigned deposition about an alleged attempt on his life but offered no proof, just a great deal of vague paranoid speculation.5 None of the other above-mentioned soldiers made statements supporting the allegation.]

Plot to murder forty-five prisoners at Fort Edward by shooting
A very plain hint was conveyed by Lt Hannam to Corporal Browne to the same effect, that the blotting out of the prisoners was desired. Corporal Browne’s address, Pretoria (BVC orderly room, Church Street).

[Comment: A careful reading of Corporal Browne’s deposition reveals that he was instructed by Lt. Hannam to shoot any prisoners who attempted to escape from the compound he was guarding. Somehow he managed to interpret this very valid order as “a broad hint to shoot the lot”.6]
Plot to murder the forty-five prisoners at Fort Edward by poison

When the men were “too squeamish” the officers said, to shoot the Boer prisoners, Ambulance Sergeant Baker was requested to poison them with strychnine (note: they may have been arsenic tabloids). These tabloids, whether arsenic or strychnine, were requisitioned from the doctor who was then living at the fort. His name can be ascertained. It is not believed that he was aware of the criminal purpose for which these tabloids were intended to be used. He had left the fort before any suggestion was made to Sergt. Baker to use the tabloids.
    Sergt. Baker consulted with Corporal Browne what he was to do to prevent himself being shot when the time came to refuse to poison the prisoners. He was advised by Corpl Browne to procure some other tabloids of a mild and harmless nature and to substitute them for the poisonous ones.
The witnesses therefore are:
Ambulance Sergeant Baker, Spelonken
Corporal Browne, BVC orderly room, Pretoria

[Comment: Sergeant Baker made no deposition regarding the above allegation or anything else for that matter. In Corporal Browne’s deposition he claimed that Sergeant Baker told him that he feared he would be ordered to administer the poison (not that he was actually ordered to do so). This memorandum by Cochrane is becoming increasingly implausible. Even if he happened to have strychnine or arsenic in his possession, to suggest that the doctor would simply hand over such a large quantity to Sergt. Baker without knowing its purpose is simply preposterous. In fact, this whole paragraph reads as a not very clever work of fiction.]

Thefts of Cattle
Considerable thefts of cattle have occurred from friendly Kaffirs and others, but principally from murdered prisoners. These cattle have been driven into Matabeleland to Capt. Taylor’s farms there and Portuguese territory. Many of the BVC, I believe, can give some evidence on this point, but Capt. Taylor is known mostly to have employed his own Kaffir boys in the work. S. S. M. Morrison is believed to have been an interested party in this business.

The Gold Nuggets
The gold dust and nuggets taken from the wagon when the Boers were slaughtered on July 2nd is believed to be in Capt. Taylor’s possession for sub-division after the war.

[Comment: This is another fabrication by Cochrane. There were several depositions taken regarding the shooting of the 6 Boers and not one of them made any mention of gold dust or nuggets.7]

Object of these crimes
It may be asked what was the object of their crimes? The general belief is that it was actuated by lust for loot in Land, Cattle and Gold. The program appears to have been to wipe out the holders of certain farms which they had hoped to get for themselves after the war in return for their “distinguish services”, to round up loot cattle for stocking the same and to provide a surplus for sale to get ready money and lastly to lay their hands on all ready money and portable valuables possible. Then after the war they could settle down as wealthy landed proprietors while all inconvenient evidence as to how the wealth was acquired would have been snuffed out with Lee Metford bullets. This last paragraph is of course a surmise but it is believed generally among the men to have been the main motive. A minor motive was also probably to avenge Capt. Hunt’s death. The last was the motive assigned to the men by Lt Morant.

[Comment: As Cochrane points out this paragraph is purely surmise on his part. It is even less relevant considering that he was never stationed at Fort Edward.8 ]

Antecedents of Major Lenehan
R.Q.M.S. Ross can prove that Major Lenehan was drummed out of the permanent artillery in New South Wales. His cowardice in the field in this country has been commented on in the Bulletin, Sydney which had nicknamed him the “Hero of Abram’s Kraal”. R.Q.M.S. Ross was an eye-witness of his cowardice at Abram’s Kraal and subsequent engagements. Further testimony can be got from Lt. Col. Knight, New South Wales Mounted Rifles.

[Comment: At Wilmansrust in June 1901 three Australian soldiers were overheard by a junior officer to make disparaging remarks about a senior British officer. They were sentenced to death (later commuted to imprisonment) for “inciting mutiny”.9 Here we have a trooper, in writing, falsely accusing his Commanding Officer of cowardice. What sort of punishment would that have normally earned back in 1901? No historian has been able to find a shred of evidence to support this allegation and Major Lenehan was merely sentenced to a reprimand for allegedly failing to report the shooting of Trooper van Buuren. No action was subsequently taken against Cochrane which is a further suggestion of the suspicious manoeuvres behind the production of this very convenient document so long after the facts were already known.]

Forgery of Col. Hall’s Name
To make the men believe that these crimes had the sanction of Col. Hall sundry contemptible devices were practised. One time, when the men were showing their disgust very freely, Lt Morant and Handcock ordered Sergt. Rogers to tell the men that “These proceedings are sanctioned at headquarters and the orders must be carried out”. But for the fact that many men believed that they would have no support at headquarters in refusing, and they would have been sent to the Breakwater [Cape Town prison] for two or three years penal servitude for mutiny they would never have carried out these orders. Another time to strengthen this conviction a report of the killing of the six Boers on July 2nd – an account of alleged resistance was left lying where it must be seen by several. It bore the following endorsement: “This report will not do. How could disarmed men assume the offensive. Send something more probable.. Hall.” The above words may not be verbatim as they are written from memory and the initial is forgotten but that was the purpose of the endorsement. It was also insinuated that the profits of the cattle thefts were participated in at headquarters. Who was the author of this forgery I cannot say. The presumption is that if the idea did not originate with Lt Morant the endorsement was written by him as Lt Handcock would not write or spell the simplest sentence without disclosing his authorship; he was so grossly illiterate. This statement has been compiled by me from the statements given to me by those concerned.

[Comment: What proof is offered that Colonel Hall’s signature was forged? If anything, this paragraph merely supports the argument that Hall was both aware of and had condoned the shooting. Cochrane reveals his ignorance by attempting to link Morant to it. Morant was stationed elsewhere when this incident took place. He arrived at Fort Edward with Captain Hunt two weeks later.]

[Sgd] R. M. Cochrane, Justice of the Peace
W. Australia
7 October 1901.

1 The Times (London), 17 April 1902, p6
2 The Advertiser (Adelaide SA), Thursday 8 May 1902, p3
3 Carnegie M. and Shields F.In Search of Breaker Morant Graphic Books,1979, pp189-190
4 Davey, Arthur, op cit, p104
5 Davey, Arthur, op cit, pp107-108
6 Davey, Arthur, op cit, p93
7 Davey, Arthur, op cit, pp91-100
8 Woolmore, William, The Bushveldt Carbineers and the Pietersburg Light Horse,Slouch Hat Publications,Australia,2002, p112
9 Woolmore,William, op cit, p145

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you wish to comment using a name only, choose Name/URL from the drop down list. There is no need to provide a URL.

Thank you for your comment. All comments are moderated prior to publication and I will attend to them as soon as possible.