Court Martial of Breaker Morant - Visser Case

Visser Case

The first case was that of the shooting of the Boer commando, Visser, who was captured after the death of Capt. Hunt and executed on Morant's orders for allegedly being in possession of items of Hunt's uniform.

The accused entered pleas of 'Not guilty'. Prosecution witnesses were then called and they testified about the deaths of Hunt and Visser. Under cross-examination, several testified that Hunt had given them orders to take no prisoners and had reprimanded them for bringing them in.

Morant then testified that they fought "regular guerilla warfare" and that Hunt acted on orders "from Pretoria" to take no prisoners while clearing the district of the Boer commandos. Hunt, he said, told him that military secretary Colonel Hamilton had given him the orders "at Lord Kitchener's private house" and that all the detachment knew the order. After Hunt's death he had assumed command, and had decided to carry out the orders, and believed them to be lawful, even though he had previously disregarded them. He testified that he shot no prisoner before Visser and that the facts of the case had been reported to Captain Taylor and Colonel Hall.

When asked by the President whether his court had been constituted like the court-martial, and whether he had observed certain of the King's Regulations, Morant responded defiantly. His reply, as recorded by Witton, is legendary:

"Was it like this?" fiercely answered Morant. "No; it was not quite so handsome. As to rules and regulations, we had no Red Book, and knew nothing about them. We were out fighting the Boers, not sitting comfortably behind barb-wire entanglements; we got them and shot them under Rule 303," referring to the .303 calibre Lee-Enfield rifles the Carbineers carried.

Morant made "a plucky defence", openly admitting the charges and taking all responsibility on himself, pleading "custom of war and orders from headquarters". But his temper appears to have got the better of him and Witton says Morant made "disclosures which he believed would in all probability 'stagger humanity'". He vowed to have Kitchener put in the witness box and cross-examined about the no-prisoners policy. Witton's remarks about his friend's boast are striking:

"The folly of this was apparent to everyone, as Lord Kitchener held Morant's life in his hands; but Morant would not be restrained, and was prepared to suffer."

Witton describes in detail how defense counsel Major James Francis Thomas argued that the accused were being wrongly tried as accessories before the fact without the principals in the alleged crime — the troopers who shot Visser — being first found, tried and convicted, as required by common law, but the court rejected this argument.

The President made his summing up and the case was adjourned while the court considered the verdict. No announcement was made about any verdict or sentence at the time, and Witton says that some three years later he discovered that he had secretly been found guilty of manslaughter and cashiered.

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Famous quotes containing the word case:

    When trying a case [the famous judge] L. Cassius never failed to inquire “Who gained by it?” Man’s character is such that no one undertakes crimes without hope of gain.
    Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.)