November and December passed over, and I was still confined to my bed. I had received a cable message from my brother that the Australian petition had closed with 100,000 signatures, and was now on its way to England; it was the largest petition that had ever left Australia. I now began to feel troubled that I would not be well enough to leave the prison when my release came. I was allowed to receive letters more frequently, as the rules are somewhat relaxed in regard to them when a prisoner is seriously ill.
When the medical officer visited me on Christmas Day he said I was now making good progress towards recovery, and if I kept on as I was going I would be able to get up the following week. "But,” he added, "you will be convalescent for at least another three or four months, but that is nothing, you know, when one is in prison." "Four months!" I exclaimed "I hope to be home long before that." He seemed rather amused at my impetuosity, and said that he could not promise me.
The New Year was ushered in with the usual accompaniments of an English winter-fogs, drizzling rain, and bitter cold winds. Portland, too, is an exceedingly bleak spot, where cold winds and rain seem more prevalent than elsewhere.
On 3rd January I got up and dressed myself for the first time for nearly five months, but was too weak to walk a step. As soon as I had regained sufficient strength to move about, and there was no further fear of contagion, I was removed to another cell. During my illness and convalescence my door was never closed, a barred iron gate being used instead; this was a merciful concession which made my gloomy surroundings a little more cheerful, as I was able to see and hear a little of what was going on around me. I was visited by numerous Home Office officials, the Governor, and many others, also the medical director, with whom I had a long conversation about Australia and Australian industries, particularly the butter export industry and the use of boric acid as a preservative.
I was also on two occasions visited by Captain Harris, a prison inspector, a stout, thick-set man with a stern countenance and piercing grey eyes; he was known and feared by officers and prisoners alike. He had earned the reputation of being the strictest Governor the prison service had ever known; a prisoner could rely upon getting from him all he was entitled to, but a favour never.
During one of his rounds he visited the cell opposite mine, in which was located an elderly man who had once held a responsible position in civil life, but had fallen on evil days. Prison life had wrecked his nervous system, and was undermining his health. "Well, what is the matter with you?" said Captain Harris. "I—I—I—feel all broke up, sir," stammered the old fellow. "All broke up, broke up, how broke up, what do you mean?" said the inspector. "I'm all broke down, sir," was the abject reply of the prisoner. There was no mistaking it, either; every day was a torture to him. He eventually got his wish, and was transferred to Parkhurst.
One day the president of the Board of Visiting Magistrates came to see me; he told me he was in communication with the war Office, and wished to investigate my case, but I need not say anything to incriminate myself. I told him that I had no desire to conceal or disguise any of the facts or the events that had brought about my conviction; I had not acted with any criminal intent towards those against whom I was fighting, but had merely obeyed the orders of my superiors. I was daily expecting my release, and after this visit I became more impatient.
Up to this time the medical officer had not allowed my hair or beard to be cut, consequently I had five months' growth of hair on my head, and had also, cultivated an "Uncle Sam" beard. One day it was decided to have it trimmed with a pair of scissors, instead of the regulation prison clip; the warder and orderly came along with a comb and an antiquated pair of scissors, and set to work. The orderly cut and snipped until his arms ached; the warder then took the scissors and did likewise. The principal warder then came on the scene, took command of the situation and the tools, and finished the contract. This was, I believe, the most notable "hair-cut" in the history of the prison. After this ordeal I returned to my cell. Time passed slowly; every day was much alike in this land of gloom, I expected my release at any moment, and rapidly regained health and strength, and put on weight accordingly. When I was discharged from the infirmary I was heavier than I had ever been in my life before, turning the scales at a very little short of sixteen stone.
One afternoon the warder, with several "old lags" as assistants, was serving out the supper. One of the latter, a short, pugnacious-looking little character, stopped opposite my cell. I was standing at the gate, and I noticed this little fellow eyeing me very attentively from head to foot. When the warder's back was turned, he sidled up to me and suddenly whispered, "If I was as big as you I'd fight Sullivan" (referring to the champion American pugilist). And he looked as if he really meant it.
When I was strong enough to walk about, and weather permitted, I was allowed exercise in the fresh air for forty minutes every afternoon. What a treat those intervals were, and how I drank in the sharp, brac ing air of the English springtime. For some time there was a lunatic in the cell next to mine; he walked behind me as we circled round at exercise. My nervous system had been greatly shaken, and it was not likely to be improved by having a madman walking close to my heels, who talked incessantly without sequence, and at times would break out into maniacal laughter. I usually got over the difficulty by falling out on some pretence or other-my shoestring required attention, perhaps. By some such little stratagem I would get him in front of me. I was not sorry when, after a determined attempt at suicide, he was transferred to Parkhurst.
After seven months in the infirmary my health was reestablished, As yet I had received no intimation as to the result of the petition; persistent efforts were still being made in Australia and South Africa to obtain my release. Further petitions had been sent from Australia, supported by members of the Federal and State Parliaments; resolutions had also been passed in my favour by both Houses of Parliament in Natal and Cape Colony; public meetings had been held throughout South Africa, and letters and circulars had been distributed throughout the Empire. Subscription lists had been opened to defray expenses, and a notable one was returned to the Treasurer by a ship's officer who had collected from the passengers. It included people from Nova Scotia, Ireland, Wales, Norway, England, Denmark, Scotland, Belgium, Russia, France, Germany, Palestine, and Japan. Innumerable petitions from public and private bodies and individuals were sent to the Home authorities asking for my release.
These were all referred to a War Office whose policy in Africa prevented them from dealing in such a quality as justice. This action of the War Office was greatly resented by the subjects of the Empire generally, and caused strong comment by the press in Australia, South Africa, and Canada.
About the middle of May I was discharged from the infirmary , and sent back to my 3 x 7 cubicle. I had heard that there were a few large cells in one of the wards, which had been formed by taking out a partition, thus making two cells into one. I interviewed the medical officer, and asked to be recommended for a larger cell. My request was granted; my quarters were then a little more habitable; the cell, being the second from the end of the hall, was better ventilated.
The next day I appeared on parade, to the great surprise of the majority of my fellow prisoners. Vague rumours had been in circulation; some had heard that I was dead, others that I had been released and had gone home. I returned to my old party and made another start at tinsmithing; here I became acquainted with the past life of some of my fellow-workmen. Most of them belonged to the genteel ranks of criminals. There were representatives of the medical fraternity, the Bar, the clergy, the stage, the army, and the navy; bank managers, company promoters, spiritualist mediums, and all sorts and conditions of men - all on an equality, all swelling the revenue of John Bull by making tin cans.
When I had been at this work about a month I found that the confinement of the workshop and the acid fumes were again impairing my health. I once more interviewed the medical officer. On this occasion I requested outdoor labour, and the following day I was transferred to 33 party, stone dressing. This party worked in the stone yards near the quarries, about three-quarters of a mile from the prison. I liked this work, and made very good progress. After I had been about a week at it I was complimented on the headway I had made in mastering the art of making "headers and stretchers." The work was in no way laborious, and there was the walk backwards and forwards twice a day; the opportunities of indulging in conversation were also more numerous.
While working in the stone shed I had for companions an M.D. on one side, and a well-known English champion prize-fighter on the other. One day I saw the champion of the art of self-defence, whom I will call C-03, give a little exhibition of his skill. There is a good deal of jealous spirit shown even in a prison; C-03 accused a fellow-prisoner of backbiting him, and watched for an opportunity to retaliate. The warder in charge just at the time had his head buried in the tool-chest, taking stock of the spare tools. C-03 made a dart like lightning, and with a blow nicely aimed at the jaw felled his maligner to the ground. I was the only person who saw it, and I went to the assistance of the fallen man, and tried to put him on his feet; he was limp and speechless. When the warder's attention had been attracted he inquired of me, "What is the matter with him?" "I think he has had a stroke, sir," I replied. The M.D. was called; he examined the man's pulse; he said it was throbbing and beating in a most erratic manner; the case puzzled him. However, a little cold water soon brought the man round. "What is the matter?" inquired the warder, "did you faint?" "I must have, though it is the first time I ever fainted in my life," was the reply. The sick man was eventually removed to the infirmary, where he was treated for some time for neuralgia.
There was also in the party a great burly Irishman, a very strong and powerful man, whose inclinations were strongly averse to any kind of labour. By some means he softened the heart of the medical officer, and was put on light labour, which consisted of breaking refuse stone into fine road metal; this was done in a sitting position. He had for a companion a little hunch-back cripple, whom out of fear he prevailed upon to collect and wheel to him all the stone to be broken. But when his burly companion monopolised all the smallest and soft pieces, and left the larger and hard chunks for his "little mate," it was time to protest. This the "little mate" did, and backed it up by dancing around the big man with a shovel, breathing out threatenings and slaughter. This necessitated the intervention of the warder, who read the "Riot Act" to both of them.
There was also another little old man, who had passed his three score years and ten, and was serving his first term of imprisonment. I saw him in the infirmary, when I was struck by the huge boots he wore, which he dragged along the ground as he walked. One day I got an opportunity to speak to him; I asked him why he did not change his boots for a better fit. The old fellow smiled, and replied that he got them like that on purpose, so as to be able to pull them on and off without unlacing them. His three years' term was nearing completion, so I asked him what he intended to do when he was released. "Have a glass and a pipe first," he readily replied. A glass of ale and a pipe of tobacco were evidently the greatest solace the future held for him. This case appealed to me very much; surely justice would not have been violated if his sentence had been suspended after a short part of it had been served.
Time went on; I worked and waited, and summer was now well advanced. I had fallen into the stereotyped routine of prison life, and had made up my mind to be civil and silent, and cause as little trouble as possible to those in authority over me. I could see that complaints or violence could accomplish nothing in one's favour in the long run; if the warders were interfered with they never lost a chance of getting their own back. A prisoner who does his work to the best of his ability and obeys all orders implicitly without comment, practically surrendering his individuality to the Governor and his satellites, and having no opinion of his own, is the best off.
I settled down to my work and did it tolerably well; I was often rewarded with a cheery word from the Governor or his deputy. One day in August the Deputy-Governor came to me while I was at work and said he was afraid he had bad news for me. The first thought that rushed through my mind was a family bereavement; it was my father, or perhaps my mother. He then added, "The petition for your release has been refused." I was staggered for a moment; this was indeed a heavy blow to me. I could not and would not believe that the King had declined to release me. I knew full well that the blocking of all progress to the efforts on my behalf was due to the obstinacy of the War Office; my hopes, however, were not altogether annihilated. I knew there was increased agitation throughout the Empire on my behalf, so I toiled on, and hoped and waited through the winter, which was a very severe one. Another Christmas and New Year's Day passed away, the third I had spent within prison walls.
Shortly after this the War Office was reorganised and the Army Council constituted. A slight turn in my favour then occurred, and in reply to a petition which I sent to the Home Secretary I was informed that the question of my release would be considered when I had completed a term of three years' imprisonment. This concession lifted a great weight from my mind. I did not let matters rest here; as soon as I had completed two years and three months, and had earned the number of marks representing a three years' sentence, I petitioned again for my release under the existing Classification and Remission System. Failing this, I asked that my term of imprisonment should date from the award of the sentence, instead of from the confirmation of the sentence, which occurred a month later. The latter request was granted, but I was informed that I must not expect my release until I had actually completed three years' imprisonment.
So to this fate I had for the time being to submit. I knew that at Capetown a meeting had been held and a powerful organisation formed, and strenuous efforts were being made for my immediate release. Messrs. W. B. Melville, Herbert Easton, and R. Bruce-Hardy, did Trojan work. An influential deputation waited on Sir Gordon Sprigg, the Cape Premier, with the object of enlisting his sympathy. The following is a summary of the proceedings, extracted from the South African press:—
A deputation of citizens waited upon the Premier, Sir Gordon Sprigg, with the object of enlisting his sympathy on behalf of the movement to secure the release of ex-Lieutenant Witton, of the Bushveldt Carbineers. Lieutenant Witton, it will be remembered, was tried with others by a court-martial in connection with certain military irregularities on the high veldt. He was sentenced to death, which sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life by Lord Kitchener. He is now a prisoner in an English gaol. The deputation consisted of the following gentlemen:-The Hon. J. H. Hofmeyr, and Messrs. J. W. Van Reenan, J. J. Michau, C. A. MacBride, R. Bruce-Hardy, B.A., W. B. Melville, C. R. Juchau, F. W. Wilson, G. W. Baudinet, Thomas Gibson, Drs. Forsyth and Crozier-Durham, Dr. Petersen, M.L.C., D. Van Zyl, ex-M.L.A., and Messrs. Herbert, Easton and D. McKey.
Mr. D. McKey, who introduced the deputation, said:-Sir, as a member of the recently-formed Constitutional Club of this city, which includes among its objects the maintenance of the glorious traditions of British justice and fair play, I have the honour to be one of the conveners of this deputation, which has been formed to ask you, as the Prime Minister of this colony, to use your influence in such a manner as you may deem best on behalf of our young fellowsubject, for some time known as Lieutenant Witton, but who is at present undergoing sentence for life in Portland Prison. When first approached upon this matter I was of opinion that it was a case which called for mercy alone, but upon hearing the statements of one of his fellow-officers, and that of others acquainted with the entire facts, I have come to the conclusion that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice in committing to prison for life one who I have every reason to believe is an innocent man, and, therefore, as it is justice alone that is sought, it is with that end in view that Mr. Easton and myself called upon and asked you to receive us here to-day, and I feel sure that our appeal for your assistance will not be made in vain. In forming this deputation we have endeavoured to make it non-political by inviting the leading representatives of both the Progressive and South African party, to each of whom we have written, giving at least seven, days' clear notice, and asking them to attend; and I therefore, hope, that whatever may be the outcome of our efforts on behalf of this unfortunate man, our motives will not be misconstrued, as our sole desire is to obtain his honourable release.
I have not considered it necessary to go fully into the details of the case, as there are others of this deputation who are in a position to, place the matter more fully before you. I will therefore ask Mr. Herbert Easton to address you, and I beg to thank you for the patient hearing which you have given me.
Mr. Herbert Easton said:—Sir Gordon,—Our object in meeting you to-day is to enlist your sympathy and secure your support towards a deep and far-spread movement to obtain the release of ex-Lieutenant Witton on the grounds of justice. We do not approach you to, ask mercy on his behalf, for, regarding him as innocent, we think it a scandal that this young officer is being detained in an English gaol.
The War Office is an administration that has lost the confidence of the people, and public feeling on the Witton case has been intensified by the tactics adopted by that discredited administrative board in resisting the, efforts of Witton's advocates to bring the true history of the case to light. The voluminous evidence taken at the courts-martial-on behalf of the War Office—remains withheld, and all official information so far published is that which has been subjected to the severest press censorship. Little by little the true history of Wit-ton's connection with the B.V.C. has come out, and has made a profound impression on the popular mind, which is now filled with anxiety for what we believe to be the unjust fate of a British subject. (Hear, hear.) You, Sir Gordon, are fully aware of the extraordinary excitement caused by the Dreyfus case-how the military authorities of the great French Republic were so wilfully misled as to the accusation against Dreyfus; that it was only after the intemational-and particularly the British press roused such a great wave of feeling by minor discoveries, that the French Government suspected the verdict of the military court-martial, and was compelled to have Dreyfus retried before a civil tribunal, which fully justified the immense trouble and labour taken by the public in his cause. We here to-day feel convinced that we are voicing the sentiments of millions in saying that we believe a retrial of Witton before a civil tribunal will reveal a second Dreyfus case.
We are oppressed with the belief that the promises made to, the petitioners to have our statements and prayers brought directly under the notice of His Majesty the King have not in England been carried out to the spirit and the letter, as we, feel assured that, were it possible to reach the ear of His Majesty with the whole evidence, there would be no question that His Majesty would cause a retrial of Lieutenant Witton to be instituted.
In conclusion, Mr. Easton read the following letters Schoon-gezigt, Stellenbosch, 4th December, 1903.
Dear Sir,-I regret that a previous engagement to speak at the Paarl on the Chinese importation question will prevent me from joining your deputation. As a firm believer in the fullest possible measure of amnesty, I think that It would be good policy to release Witton. I do not wish to enter on the particulars of his crime, his trial, or his sentence, but upon the broad grounds of policy; I think that you have followed the right course in appealing to the Prime Minister of the colony to use his good offices in laying the case before the Imperial authorities, with whom the matter rests.
I am, dear Sir, yours faithfully, JOHN X. MERRIMAN.
De la Rey, Gardens, 5th December, 1903.
My dear Mr. Easton, I regret very much that I cannot form one of the deputation to interview the Prime Minister in connection with the Witton case. I have to leave on Monday early for Pietersburg to address the electors at several places in that district, where I am a candidate. I hope you will be successful. I cannot see any reason for believing that Sir Gordon Sprigg will not assist you in connection with your efforts re the Witton case.
Yours truly, C. Du P. CHIAPPINI.
"Ons Land," Kantoor, Kaapstad, 27th November, 1905.
Gentlemen,-I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of even date with reference to "the Witton case," inviting, me to join a deputation which will wait upon the Prime Minister on Monday, 7th December, and I beg to state that I have the greatest sympathy with the object of the proposed deputation. I would consider it a privilege to be able to do something towards its attainment. I find, however, that it will be impossible for me to be present on that date, seeing that I have already arranged for a public meeting (announced in "Ons Land" of yesterday) at Vredenberg, Saidanha Bay, with my fellow-candidate, Mr. J. A. Smuts, for Saturday, 5th December, and that I shall not reach Capetown again before Tuesday evening, 8th December.
I sincerely regret that this previous engagement will prevent me from joining you in the deputation, but I wish you all success, and I shall do all in my power to assist you.
Believe me, gentlemen, to be, yours faithfully, F. S. MALAN.
Mr. W. B. Melville, who was deputed to state the case for Witton, said:~
"We are grateful, Sir Gordon, for the opportunity you are affording us to-day to lay before you, as the head of His Majesty's Government in this free country, the case of Lieutenant Witton. Your readiness to receive us, and to listen to what we have to say is courtesy and consideration characteristic of you, and appreciated by us. It will be our aim to represent to you to the best of our ability the broad circumstances and salient features of the case as they bear on the innocence of Witton of any act of barbarism or criminal complicity in connection with the tragedies on the high veldt in August, 1901. At the outset, we desire to dissociate ourselves from any defence of the murders and other brutalities which blacken the record of some members of the Bushveldt Carbineers; but we do say that it is unfair to assume that any more than a small percentage of that irregular corps is directly, or indirectly, responsible for crimes that cried to heaven for vengeance. Unfortunately retributive justice, in blind pursuit of the guilty, punished, in at least one instance, the innocent. You will gather from this that we regard the court-martial proceedings as incomplete, and seriously unsatisfactory. As the responsibility of Witton's sad position rests with the court-martial, and as the strength of our position is the imperfect character of that tribunal, perhaps it would be well to state at once how it was possible for that court to fail in arriving at the truth. In the first place it was hurriedly summoned, and sat for three weeks dealing with a host of charges against the Bushveldt Carbineers. Counsel for the defence (Major Thomas) appeared in court forthwith, as he had no time for the preparation of the many cases entrusted to him. He had scarcely a statement to guide him, and was only confronted with evidence while the trials proceeded. There was no chance of testing credibility, and there was little opportunity of sifting evidence. Evidence objected to was admitted, and rebutting evidence, available under ordinary circumstances, was unobtainable. The defence, not designedly, but none the less regrettably, was hampered throughout. The period was scarcely favourable to calm judicial temperament, and the accused were prejudiced by the stories current regarding the barbarities of the Bushveldt Carbineers. These barbarities were bad enough, but report made them infinitely worse. The men on trial had to bear the full brunt of every crime, real or imaginary, attributed to the corps. Witton, being one of the accused, had his case prejudiced with the rest. The headquarters of the military were impressed with the necessity of decisive action to counteract the effects of the international wave of horror created by the reports from the high veldt. Necessarily, the mind of the court-martial—in direct touch with Army Headquarters-was imbued with little official sympathy with the men on trial. We do not infer that the court-martial was corrupt; we do say it had been unconsciously influenced by its environment. If the same court-martial sat to-day, its proceedings would be widely different, and its conclusions more in conformity to British justice. We trust, therefore, Sir Gordon, that you will bear in mind the all too rough and ready character of the court-martial. However much it sufficed for the period at Pietersburg, its deliberations and decisions must not be held, at this later and quieter date, to be beyond review and reversal when a precious human life is fretting within the walls of an English prison.
"We understand that you, Sir Gordon, have devoted some attention to this case, and that the evidence published in the London Times' of 18th April, 1902, may have come before you. That evidence does not fill a page in the 'Times,' whereas the court-martial proceedings extended to three weeks. Not more than one-twentieth part of the evidence has been made public. Press censorship was responsible for the elimination of questions and answers not deemed judicious for public examination during the war. Since the signing of peace the War Office has not been called upon to produce for public inspection the whole of the evidence. It is most unfortunate that the papers—the missing papers—have been so completely hidden from view. We now ask your assistance in procuring a certified copy of the whole of the evidence, believing that such will be sufficient to establish innocence, in Witton's case at least.
"As to the condensed and sharply-censored report of the evidence, we desire to say little. As it has been tampered with, it is almost valueless. Nevertheless, it does not disclose the guilt of Witton, even though it infers it. But it does not assist the inquiry. It merely mystifies it."
The connecting links in the Witton story have been gathered from many sources, chiefly from those who gave evidence, or who were present to give evidence, and were not called, or who were not asked to be present at the court-martial. It is necessary to narrate everything about which there is general agreement.
Here is a copy of a letter addressed by the Church of England chaplain to Handcock's widow. It will explain much that is dark and mysterious in the Witton case:—
"Dear Madam,—I was military chaplain at Pietersburg, in the Northern Transvaal, during all the time that the Bushveldt Carbineers had their headquarters there, and I knew your late husband and all those officers and men who were concerned, for and against, in his trial, and I attended most of the sittings of the courts. And, knowing what I know, I want to say to you that, great as may be your grief for the loss of him, you need feel no shame, but rather pride, on his account. He was a good-hearted man, and a brave soldier, simple and fearless, and he did what he was told. If he did wrong-I do not say that he did-it was the fault of his superiors, who gave him their orders. In the matter of the shooting of the Boer prisoners, of which he and others were found guilty, he acted under the orders of Lieutenant Morant, a man of strong feelings and eager to avenge the savage murder of his friend Captain Hunt.
"In the matter of the shooting of the missionary, the only one of the crimes charged which really excited any moral indignation, the court, without hesitation, found him not guilty, and never, I should think, has a feebler charge been brought before a court.
"I was not a friend of these officers of the Bushveldt Carbineers, but my sympathy was aroused by the harsh treatment they received-in being kept in close arrest (I myself, the chaplain, was requested not to visit them) for some months before they were tried, and by the way the case was, as it were, prejudged from the statements of bad men, and by the utterly false accounts which were inserted in English and, I believe, Australian papers.
"I did not see your husband after he was taken down to Pretoria, but I understand that he died simply and fearlessly, as he had lived.
"I have heard it said that the execution convinced the Boers of British fairness, and made them ready to come to terms. If this be so, then Lieutenants Morant and Handcock died for their country in a very special sense, and this is one of the many instances of suffering, even if undeserved, bringing salvation."
"With much sympathy and good wishes, I am yours very truly, JOSHUA BROUGH."
Now, as to Lieutenant Robertson, who gave evidence against his brother officers. During the long imprisonment of the men before they were shot, and the others who escaped the death penalty, he was retained in Pretoria as a witness, and allowed £1 a day expenses. He had afterwards a first-class passage to England and back.
As to the witnesses for the prosecution, whose statements were more or less conflicting, some of them boasted openly that they expected to be rewarded with farms. This will show how much their evidence merited reliance. I had an opportunity while in Pretoria, in June of last year, of discussing the case with many ex-irregulars of the Bushveldt Carbineers. Those who had volunteered evidence against their officers would scarcely favourably impress a jury of citizens. Decent young fellows complained that they had not been called for the defence. The conviction of Witton, they declared, fairly staggered them. They begged of me, with no simulated emotion, to do my utmost as a journalist to bring out the truth and to rescue as speedily as possible Witton from the dungeon he did not deserve, for his humanity was apparent throughout his military career, when a ruder nature would have been absolutely corrupted. I promised these young men to do my utmost, and, although effort after effort has resulted in failure, we do not despair of abstracting Witton's case from its musty pigeon-hole in the War Office. I leave to other members of the deputation a statement of what we have done on Witton's behalf.
The War Office assures us that "there are no extenuating circumstances in Witton's case." The French Minister for War assured the Republic-and the world-that there was no doubt about the guilt of Dreyfus. The Empire's Dreyfus case is the Witton scandal. It is a greater peril to Empire than a conspiracy of the Powers. Let justice be done and honour vindicated, even though the delicate susceptibilities of the War Office be perturbed thereby.
Mr. Bruce-Hardy spoke on the legal aspect of the case as follows:—Sir Gordon Sprigg,-! am afraid that after the eloquent speech of my worthy friend Mr. Melville, I can say but little that will be of any great assistance to this deputation. One point, however, I might put some slight stress on, and that is the legal aspect of the case. Firstly, I would like to cite a clause out of the Army Regulations and Manual of Military Law of 1899, viz., part 1, sec. 9:—"Every person subject to military law who commits the following offence, that is to say, disobeys in such manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority any lawful command given personally by his superior officer in the execution of his office, whether the same is given orally or in writing, or by signal or otherwise, shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to suffer death or such less punishment as in this Act mentioned." Now I think the above Act is very plain, and I would take it that in this case it implies that had he (ex-Lieutenant Witton) disobeyed the order given him by his superior officer to shoot the now deceased, he (Witton) would have been guilty of a misdemeanour, and would have been liable to be shot. But to come to the point, we ascertained that ex-Lieutenant Witton did at the time oppose the shooting of the deceased. He stated that as a junior officer he would have to carry out the order of his superior, but he did so under protest; therefore again I might say that I fail to see how this ex-Lieutenant has committed any crime. The only point, as far as I can ascertain, that could be brought up against him is that, having received instructions from his senior in command, he protested, which would be but a slight misdemeanour or offence. But he has not been tried on that account. He was tried for murder, and has been sentenced to penal servitude for life. I must confess that I fail to see where this man has obtained justice. Undoubtedly, if he had disobeyed his orders, he would probably have been sentenced to death or imprisonment. It appears clear that had ex-Lieutenant Witton obeyed or disobeyed he would have been found guilty. Therefore I would submit that this man is, according to Army Regulations, innocent, and I trust that you, Sir Gordon, will see this matter in its true light, and use your best endeavours and advocate a reopening of this case before a civil tribunal.
Mr. C. R. Juchau, who spoke next, referred to what had already been done in this matter locally. Continuing, he said:—Shortly before the arrival in Cape Colony of the ex-Colonial Secretary, a meeting was held, at which it was decided to prepare a petition for signatures, and a deputation was appointed to wait on the right hon. gentleman with the petition, and ask him to lay the matter before His Majesty the King. Mr. Chamberlain would not receive the deputation, but would take the petition and place it before the King. This promise we agreed on was not fulfilled. Meetings were held also in Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Boer Generals giving their hearty support to the movement; and this we submit, argues well for the justice of our cause. Sir Arthur Lawley, however, has stated that in Witton's case there were no extenuating circumstances. This, we hold, is a very unfair and most infamous decision in the face of the facts. As you are aware, sir, all our efforts so far have been fruitless, but we are determined to persevere. The press throughout the world has recently been written to and asked to lend its powerful influence to get the case reopened and the full evidence published. Our labours are purely humanitarian, and we are determined to see justice done the unfortunate ex-officer. With regard to one point dealt with in re the shooting of Boer prisoners for wearing khaki, I do not think the authorities concerned will deny the following case which came under my notice. Colonel Cookson's column operated in the Western Transvaal during the later stages of the war. About April, 1902, two Boers were caught in Reitvlei district, about 40 miles from Klerksdorp, and one of these men was drumheaded and shot for wearing a British khaki uniform-I believe by a firing party from B squadron (Major Scott) Damant's Horse. As a trooper of Cookson's column, I know that none of the officers concerned were court-martial led up to the declaration of peace.
Captain Baudinet cited the case of the shooting of Baxter, a Boer, for wearing khaki by the order of Colonel Scobell, and up to the time of the signing of peace he had not heard that Colonel Scobell had been tried by court-martial. He had offered at the time of Witton's trial to give evidence on Witton's behalf, but was assured any exculpatory evidence would be superfluous.
Mr. J. W. Van Reenan, an ex-officer of high rank in the army of the late Free State, said that on the subject of khaki he wished to make some pointed remarks, inasmuch as previous to the outbreak of hostilities khaki clothing was ordered to be, purchased for the use of the Boer forces. In support of that statement he added that he had to produce vouchers from the various merchants who supplied the cloth. British prisoners captured by the burgher forces on many occasions informed him that orders had been given by British officers that all Boer prisoners found wearing khaki were liable to be shot. Consequently, under these circumstances, he could quite understand the difficulty and uncertainty which must have arisen in the minds of junior officers in carrying out such instructions from superiors.
Sir Gordon Sprigg said he had listened with great interest to the speeches of the deputation, and was impressed with the very remarkable features of the case. In many respects they were unique, and he could quite understand that there was widespread public interest taken in the case. He would at once say that he was in sympathy with the wishes of those who desired to see the early release of the young Victorian officer. He could quite understand the difficulties of a court-martial sitting during military operations arriving at just decisions. He would go into the case very carefully, and could promise them that he would put the appeal in the proper quarters in the strongest terms.