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Death Penalty: Morant & Handcock

From: John Wilson: email hugo@actrix.gen.nz
Date: 11/7/00
Time: 12:32:24 PM
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The Australian Defence Act of 1903 effectively abolished death penalty, which was allowed only for mutiny, desertion and dealing with enemy, and required confirmation by the Governor-General. But the clause was in the 1901 Defence Bill (from colonial acts of NSW, Qld, Tas) and did not originate with the controversy over execution of Handcock and Morant in 1902. See pages 131-2 & 315-6 of “On the Fringe of Hell” by Christopher Pugsley (1991).

In WWI, 5 New Zealand and 31 Canadian soldiers were shot by court-martial. Two of the 5 NZ soldiers executed were born in Australia: John King (shot 19 Aug 1917) and John Joseph Sweeney (shot 2 Oct 1916).

James Christie from Balclutha, New Zealand who was in the Bush Veldt Carbineers was a principal witness at the court-martial of Morant, Handcock & Witton. He had refused to shoot a wounded Boer, and escorted Boer men, women and children to camp despite efforts to entice him away so they could all be shot.

He wrote “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.” His letter (later published in the Wellington “Evening Post” of 10 & 14 April 1902) said that “our mission is nearly fulfilled, for one of the officers is in `clink’ with seven others, charged with murder.”

Last changed: November 07, 2000