A three-year bid to have the British government pardon executed Boer War fighter Harry “Breaker” Morant has failed after Australia’s attorney-general yesterday declined to revisit the case.
Morant went before a firing squad, along with fellow Australian soldier Peter Handcock, over the killing of 12 Boer prisoners in the 1899-1902 war while fighting with the British Army’s Bushveldt Carbineers.
His story has become a cause celebre and formed the basis of the movie Breaker Morant starring the late Edward Woodward, with questions still raised over whether the men had a fair trial.
Military historian James Unkles has been pushing the case, arguing that Morant and his co-accused were denied the right to prepare their cases and were not guilty because they were ordered to shoot the prisoners.
In 2010 the then-Australian attorney-general Robert McClelland asked then-British defense secretary Liam Fox to examine Unkles’ material, but his appeal was later rejected.
In a letter to Unkles, McClelland’s successor Nicola Roxon refused to take the matter further, saying it would not be appropriate to seek pardons when there appeared to be no dispute the men committed the killings.
“I consider that seeking a pardon for these men could be rightly perceived as ‘glossing over’ very grave criminal acts,” she said.
Unkles claimed either Roxon or her advisers “have made a political decision in this case.”
“They don’t want to offend the British, and there are powerful institutions and individuals in this country who want to make sure that this case goes no further,” he told ABC radio.
Morant, a horse-breaker and poet, volunteered to fight with the British against the Boers.