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Morant & Handcock: James Christie's story

From: John Wilson
Date: 11/7/00
Time: 12:50:44 PM
Remote Name: 203.96.26.98

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James Christie on the Bush Veldt Carbineers:

EVIDENCE IN NEW ZEALAND / AN EYE-WITNESS'S ACCOUNT OF / A BRUTAL DEED [OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT] / DUNEDIN, This Day. The Clutha Leader says editorially that it received a full report of the crimes charged against the Bush Veldt Carbineers four months ago from an eye-witness; but the correspondent asked that the communication should be kept private till the conclusion of the war, and the paper felt in honour bound to comply with the request. This eye-witness was one of those who laid the informations against the now executed officers, and was a principal witness at their trial. After saying that he and others refused to shoot a wounded Boer when ordered to do so, the writer proceeds- "Then seeing the feeling of the men, one of the lieutenants sang out, `If you're so ----- chicken hearted I'll shoot him myself'. It is a pity for all of us he was not allowed to do it. A lad named Botha, a Boer, fighting for us, was told off too. He told me, `I know him good. I went to school with him. I don't like to do it, but they will shoot me if I don't.' The wind-up was that a firing-party was called. One shootist had belonged to the Essex volunteers, and was always ready to `blow any Boer's lights out.' "I only thought of going away from the sickening sight, but instead I deliberately walked over to the cart wherein the youth sat, intending to muster up what Dutch courage he had and speak to him. He took from his pocket a piece of paper and wrote a note. A slight twitching of the face was all the concern he displayed. Some Kaffirs lifted him out of the Cape cart in a blanket and set him down some twenty yards away with his back to the firing party. He spoke no word, but clasped his hands, and as the volley rang out he fell from his sitting position backwards. Then a lieutenant stepped over to him and put a revolver shot through his head, and all was over. "Just prior to the shooting Lieut. Morant addressed the firing-party, but what he said I could not exactly catch, except something about Captain Hunt's death. Morant also came to me and said, `I know it's hard lines for him, but it's got to be done. See how the Boers knocked Captain Hunt about.' I said that Captain Hunt had died a soldier's death-that he was killed in a `fair go', and beyond being stripped there was no maltreatment of him; and how the Kaffirs might have stripped him. He said no; that Captain Hunt's tunic and trousers had been found in the Cape cart. `But' I said, `the boy was not wearing them.' `Anyhow, he said, `it's got to be done. It's unfortunate he should be the first to suffer.' I still held that it was not right to shoot him after carrying him so far. But as up to this time Morant and I had been good friends I said no more, but tore off my "B.V.C." badge and cursed such a form of soldiering. Then we saddled up and trekked for home." From Evening Post, 10 April 1902 page 5.

THE BUSH VELDT HORRORS / REVELATIONS OF A FORMER CLUTHA RESIDENT The eye-witness whose blood-curdling account of the dark deeds of the Bush Veldt Carbineers has been published by the Clutha Leader turns out to be James Christie of Clutha, who got his discharge from the Bush Veldt Carbineers with first class references, and has since joined the district military intelligence at 10s a day and found. Our Dunedin correspondent telegraphed last week part of his story, and we now append some further extracts from a letter written from Fort Edwards, Spelowen, in October last :--

"We heard Boer wagons to the south and east of us, and presumed, as usual, that they were trekking in to surrender. we had been some four or five days out of camp, when the Corporal told eight of us that we were to go out and bring in three wagons with four men with them, and some women and children. We said :-- "Leave them alone, they are trekking up this way out of the fever country, and will come in.'

`No,' he says, "we are to go out. none are to be brought in.' `What do you mean?" `Oh,' said he, `we've got to blot a lot out.' `What! Shoot kids?' `Yes, of course.' "Whose orders are those?' `Never mind, that's orders.'

"Next day the patrol went out, and the sequel was that two children were shot dead--one three and another nine years and a girl of nine was shot through the neck, and the lobe of her ear taken off. Some cows were also shot. This was done about 5 o'clock at night, and, although the men and women called out that they surrendered, the firing still went on, and when it finally ceased the above were the casualties. With the exception of three men, all the others told me before they went out they would not fire on the women and children. They were about 200 yards or 250 yards off the wagons when they opened fire. Next day I was ordered out, with a Transvaaler called Cootzee, to go to Koodoo river and take over the wagons from Corporal Ashton, and take them to the fort. . . . The Boers were made to inspan in the darkness and trek away, in case the firing might have been noticed by some other Boers, and a dead infant and a dying one were put on board and trekked away to where I was to meet them. The second boy only lived two hours, and the grief of the parents was loud and pronounced. The three wagons now contained four men, four women, and twenty-two children (all of tender years), and two dead bodies. Father Piet Grobler asked leave to bury them, and a coffin was made out of some boards lying about the store. The Kaffirs were put on to dig the grave, and the men themselves made the coffin. I felt we were round one of the saddest sights of the war--sad because quite unnecessary.

"On the last day of our trek I was some two hours ahead waiting for them at noon, when I heard some news which turned me sick. The eight Boers I previously mentioned had all been shot by three officers, a non-com, and two privates, under circumstances which led me to the conclusion that it was not a fair deal, and that some foul play was at the bottom of it. They were surrendered men, and had no arms, and then I thought of my little lot coming along, and the danger they were in. I decided to trek still further that night, but did not let my refugees know the real reason. We halted, outspanned, and lit our evening fires, but slept not that night. I remembered how the six Boers who had surrendered and were said to have attacked our men had all been shot. I remembered Van Buren, one of our own men, being shot while out flanking. He was supposed to know too much. Now, here were eight blotted out, and the same old yarn--that they had gripped at a rifle and fired at our men, and in a melee all were shot, no casualties on our side, and here was I coming in with another lot, and `just within the firing line,' as we called it.

. . . Heard, too that a missionary who had been up at the hospital with a patient had been shot dead on his return at Bandolier Kopjes. He had been present just before or immediately after the eight men had been shot; that one of our Lieutenants had left the fort after the missionary secretly; was seen by the grazing guard to go in the direction the missionary had taken; that the Lieutenant had returned to the fort, late, etc., etc."

The writer proceeds to tell of the effort of one of the Lieutenants to entice him away from his charges, and his own determination not to leave them. He managed to get the party to camp in safety. In his letter he mentions that at the time of writing `our mission is nearly fulfilled, for one of the officers is in "clink" with seven others, charged with murder. From Evening Post, 14 April 1902 page 2.

Mr Wilkie on Lieutenant Handcock: " Mr Wilkie, Government veterinary surgeon, who was in Lawrence during the week inspecting the Tenth Contingent horses, remembers Lieutenant Handcock, of the Bush Veldt Carbineers, who with Lieutenant Morant, was tried by court-martial and shot for the cold-blooded murder of Boers in South Africa, as a student in the Royal Veterinary Institute, London. He did not, however, pass his examinations and take his status as a veterinary surgeon, though no doubt he acquired a sufficient knowledge of the business to be of use in a rough-and-ready way on the African veldt. He was not, during his student days at the institution, exactly a model of all the proprieties, to speak charitably, and was just the kind of man to find both congenial companionship and occupation in a regiment composed as the Bush Veldt Carbineers was-Tuapeka Times." From Otago Daily Times, 10 April 1902 page 8f (under heading "OMNIUM GATHERUM")

The above reports appeared in the Evening Post (Wellington) and the Otago Daily Times (Dunedin), from the Clutha Leader (Balclutha) and the Tuapeka Times (Tuapeka). Balclutha is in South Otago, 80 km from Dunedin; Tuapeka is near Balclutha.

"The Forgotten War" L.M. Field (1979) says on page 173 that the Daily Telegraph (Sydney; 1902, 10 April p 5 & 12 April p 9) "... printed interviews with an Australian and a New Zealander who had served with the Bushveldt Carbineers. Both of them regarded the shootings as cold-blooded murders."


Last changed: December 29, 2000