Eales, Robert: Morant, the expendable icon & other Boer War resources

Eales, Robert

Morant, the expendable icon‘ (and other Boer War resources), Boer War Topics (website)

Update 28 November 2020: Military historian Tom Richardson reviews Peter FitzSimons’ Morant book in Nine Newspapers and gives it a mixed report. ‘Still, for all its flaws, Breaker Morant might be FitzSimons’ most valuable book to date.’  FitzSimons on Late Night Live with Phillip Adams.

Update 27 June 2017: discovery of artefacts possibly associated with Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, conman, murderer – and victim.

Update 13 June 2017: Boer War memorial unveiled in Canberra (scroll down a bit). Governor-General’s speech says nothing at all about Boer civilian deaths.

Myth-busting in relation to the Boer War has not been common in Australia. Robert Eales is originally from South Africa and has researched the war (correctly called ‘the South African War 1899-1902’) widely. This essay, here in the most recent of a number of versions, does not support the recently popular cause of pardoning Morant, Handcock and Witton. Instead, it painstakingly examines the evidence and concludes as follows:

If one takes the stories offered by Morant and his co-accused to excuse what they did and relates them to the circumstances of the time, nothing fits. If on the other hand, one presumes that the courts did their job with adequate diligence, then everything falls into place. On the basis of what we know, it would be inappropriate to pretend we can improve on the decisions of those courts that sat more than one hundred and ten years ago. Pardoning Morant and his co-accused – confessed mass murderers – would be a serious mistake.

Robert Eales has also written a book about Emily Hobhouse, British campaigner for the rights of Boer (white South African) women and children caught up in the war. On this issue and the Boer War generally, see the articles by Ian Buckley and Adam Hughes Henry and this short item. There is also Craig Wilcox’s book Australia’s Boer War from 2003 and Kit Denton’s The Breaker, fiction and the basis for the movie, Breaker Morant.

Boer War historian Craig Wilcox mentions these relevant sources. Our thanks to him (added 5 December 2015)

Frank Renar, Bushman and Buccaneer, Dunn, Sydney, 1902. The legend’s founding text, online at the State Library of Victoria website.

George Witton, Scapegoats of the Empire, Paterson, Melbourne, 1907. A duplicitous memoir, transcribed on Project Gutenberg Australia.

FM Cutlack, Breaker Morant: A Horseman Who Made History, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1962. Revived the legend as a cartoon about British brasshats.

Kit Denton, The Breaker, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1973. Transformed Morant into a romantic anti-hero.

Kenneth Ross, Breaker Morant, Edward Arnold, Melbourne, 1979. A play for the post-Vietnam generation about Morant’s trial.

Bruce Beresford (director), Breaker Morant, South Australian Film Corporation, 1979. The film that made Morant a household name; clips are available.

Margaret Carnegie & Frank Shields, In Search of Breaker Morant, self-published, Melbourne, 1979. A scrupulously researched assault on the legend.

Kit Denton, Closed File, Rigby, Sydney, 1983. Denton’s retraction in light of the evidence.

Arthur Davey, Breaker Morant and the Bushveldt Carbineers, Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town, 1987. Prints documents that point to the serial killing of unarmed civilians.

Craig Wilcox, Australia’s Boer War, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2002, ch. 14. Sees the affair as a perversion of Boer War military-cultural norms.

Nick Bleszynski, Shoot Straight, You Bastards! 2nd edition, Random House, Sydney, 2003. A lurid restatement of the legend but with useful nuggets of research.

Vivienne Kelly, ‘Ghosts of the past: Breaker Morant and re-enactment’, History Australia, vol. 6, no. 1, April 2009. A wise account of Morant’s significance to some Australians.

Craig Wilcox, ‘Breaker Morant: the murderer as martyr’, in Craig Stockings ed., Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, New South, Sydney, 2010, ch. 2. Summarises the Bushveldt Carbineers affair and the rise of the legend.

Charles Leach, The Legend of Breaker Morant is Dead and Buried, self-published, Louis Trichardt, 2012. A South African riposte to the legend, partly based on fieldwork.


To which we can add a few more …

Google throws up lots of references on both side of the argument.

Meanwhile, Australia plans a Boer War memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra.

28 November 2015 updated


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