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No pardon for Breaker Morant

A push to obtain a pardon for Breaker Morant, the Anglo-Australian war criminal executed during the Boer War, has foundered after Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, on advice from her department, declined to pursue the issue.

Morant, who was serving in a South Australian unit under British command, was court-martialled and convicted in 1902 for the murder of Boer prisoners and a Dutch civilian, allegedly as a reprisal for guerilla attacks in what had become a bloody and vicious conflict in South Africa. Morant and his co-defendants partly relied on the defence that they were following orders, a defence later rejected at Nuremberg.

Morant has since become a storied figure in Australian history, particularly after Kit Denton’s 1973 novel The Breaker and Bruce Beresford’s 1980 film, based on Kenneth Ross’s play.

A push by James Unkles for the reconsideration of Morant’s case, along with that of Peter Handcock (also executed) and George Witton (who was gaoled), and a pardon by the British government has been underway for some time – the Australian government having no jurisdiction in British military trials. The British government rejected any reconsideration of the case in 2010.

Roxon today advised Unkles that the government would not be pursuing the issue further with the British, on the basis that there was no doubt that the three men had committed the killings for which they were convicted. The Australian government’s position is that pardons are only appropriate where an offender is both”morally and technically innocent” of the offence. Roxon also noted the seriousness of the offences involved, explaining to Unkles that “I consider that seeking a pardon for these men could be rightly perceived as ‘glossing over’ very grave criminal acts.”

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  • 1
    Holden Back
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I hope I am wrong, but I can imagine this going off like wildfire on the shockjock shows. It writes itself. The fact of Roxon being a woman . . . .

  • 2
    Reds in the bed
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The defense that Mr Unkles is arguing is simply a variation of the wholly unsuccessful Nuremberg Nazi line of “following orders”. At the time there was no outrage at injustice in the Australian community, presumably as the men had actually committed the crime. The trial was, by the standards of the time fair. The Morant saga has become a nationalistic myth that has completely distorted the history of what is actually a quite shameful chapter in our military history. There are better historical figures to champion than three convicted murderers.

  • 3
    ochre1954
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    These executions were last to be carried out on Australian Servicemen by the British. As Australian Servicemen were ALL volunteers the Australian Government in WW1 advised the British that our soldiers were not subject to the British Military Law. We executed none of our own soldiers. The British happily continued on with their own vendetta against war damaged men including tying men to gun-carriage wheels and flogging them, nice eh.
    Kitchener was very quiet on the subject even long after the event, makes one wonder doesn’t it.
    Pulling the sexist strings is pretty low Holden Back. Roxon wouldn’t touch this as there are no votes in it.
    What is wrong with an Australian Act of Parliament to declare a pardon, bugger the poms.

  • 4
    LJG..............
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    What is wrong in my eyes is that no matter how badly the British may have acted that doesn’t cancel out the original act or Murder by Morant and the others.

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