The trial of the last, and what was considered the most important case, that of the murder of the alleged German missionary, was opened on the 17th February. Lieutenant Handcock was charged with having killed Mr. Hess; Lieutenant Morant was charged with the offence of inciting to murder. For some unknown reason this case was heard privately in the garrison, and not publicly in the town, as the others had been.
Another court was also constituted, with Lieutenant Colonel McVean, C.B., Gordon Highlanders, as president. The members were:—Major L. L. Nichol, Rifle Brigade; Major E. Brereton, Northampton Regiment; Captain E. Comerwell, York Regiment; Captain Stapylton, Royal Field Artillery; Captain Rhodes, Welsh Regiment; and Captain Kent, Northampton Regiment.
Morant and Handcock pleaded "Not guilty," and the following evidence was adduced:~
Trooper Phillip deposed that on 23rd August preceding he was on Cossack Post duty, when a Cape cart, containing the missionary and a Cape boy, was going in the direction of Pietersburg. The missionary showed a pass signed by Capt. Taylor. He was greatly agitated, saying there had been a fight that morning and several had been killed, but he did not say whether they were British or Boers.
Corporal Sharp said that he had seen Morant addressing Hesse, and had afterwards seen Handcock riding in the same direction as the missionary. It was about 10 or 11 a.m. when the missionary went past, and Handcock went about 12, The latter had a carbine. He did not take the same road as the missionary.
Cross-examined, the witness admitted that he had gone a long way to fetch one Van Rooyen, who, he thought, was an eye-witness of the killing of the missionary. He did tell Trooper Hodd that he would walk barefooted from Spelonken to Pietersburg to be of the firing party to shoot Morant. He admitted that Handcock had issued an order against soldiers selling their uniforms, in consequence of the witness having done so. He had made it his business to collect notes of what was going on at Spelonken.
Two witnesses said that Handcock had left the fort that day with a rifle. He was on a chestnut horse. It was not unusual for an officer to carry a rifle.
A native deposed to having seen an armed man on horseback following the missionary. The man was on a brown horse. The witness afterwards heard shots, and then saw the dead body of a coloured boy. He took fright and fled. This was about 2 p.m. Trooper Thompson testified to having seen the missionary speaking to the Boers who were shot.
Other witnesses gave evidence as to having seen Hesse speak to Taylor while Morant was present after the shooting of eight men.
H. van Rooyen gave evidence as to having spoken to the Rev. Hesse on the road about 2 p.m. The witness trekked on with his waggon till sundown, when he saw a man on horseback coming from the direction of Pietersburg. The man turned off the road. Afterwards the man came on foot to the witness. He could not say if it was the same man that he had seen on horseback. The man on foot was Handcock, who advised the witness to push on, as Boers were about.
Trooper Botha deposed that he was one of the patrol of which Handcock had charge, and which found the missionary's body.
The case for the presecution then closed.
The accused Morant deposed that on 23rd August eight Boers guilty of train-wrecking and other crimes were shot by his orders. Hesse spoke to these Boers, and was told not to do so. Afterwards the witness saw Hesse in a cart. He produced a pass signed by Taylor. The witness advised him not to go on to Pietersburg because of the Boers. Hesse said he would chance it, and by the witness' advice he tied a white flag to the cart. The prisoner returned to the fort and then went to Taylor's, and he afterwards saw Handcock at Bristow's. Handcock went on to Schiels'. The prisoner never made any suggestion about killing the missionary. He was on good terms with him.
The accused Handcock made a statement as to his doings on that day. He said he left on foot for Schiels' in the morning, taking the road which branched off to the Pietersburg-road, and then across country. He lunched at Schiels', and then went to Bristow's till dusk, then back to the fort.
Mrs. Schiels, who lived on a farm about three miles from Fort Edward, the wife of Colonel Schiels, an artillery officer, who had fought with the Boers, and had been captured and sent as a prisoner to St. Helena, gave evidence that Lieutenant Handcock had lunch at her house on the 23rd August, and left during the afternoon.
Mrs. Bristow, who lived about a mile from Fort Edward, and was not on speaking terms with Mrs. Schiels, was the wife of an old settler In the district who had not taken any part in the war. This witness deposed that Lieutenant Handcock had been at their place on the afternoon of the 23rd August, and had returned to the fort in the evening.
The court gave a verdict of "Not guilty" in the case of both prisoners.