A reply was received some time later by Mr. Easton from the Premier's secretary, stating that the Premier had received a despatch from the Colonial Secretary, who said that the Secretary of State for War was of opinion that the time had not yet arrived for advising His Majesty to grant my pardon.
Affidavits were secured from E. Hammett, late Sergeant-Major in the Bush veldt Carbineers, and R. Maynard, also a late member of that ill-fated corps; they were as follows:—
I, Ernest Hammett, Squadron Sergeant-Major, late Bushveldt Carbineers, of Taunton, in the County of Somerset, make oath and say as follows:—
1. That on 20th June, 1901, I joined the Bushveldt Carbineers at Capetown. On the 24th June, 1901,I proceeded to join my regiment, then stationed at Pietersburg, Transvaal.
2. That on 2nd August, 1901, I received orders to join the detachment at the Spelonken, some seventy miles north of Pietersburg, which was commanded by Lieutenant Morant. Lieutenant Witton was the officer in charge of the convoy, which left Pietersburg on 3rd August, 1901, and I, being the senior noncommissioned officer, had many opportunities of conversing with him, and found him to be a thorough officer and a gentleman. We arrived at Spelonken on the 4th August, 1901, at 5 p.m.
3. I am positive that in all the operations in which Lieutenant Witton and myself were engaged. Lieutenant Witton carried out to the strict letter of the law the orders he received from his superior officer only. And therefore I fail to see how he could be held responsible for any regrettable orders given by Lieutenant Morant.
4. Lieutenant Morant and Lieutenant Handcock, who were shot at the old Pretoria gaol on 27th February, 1902, were senior officers to Lieutenant Witton, all being Australians, and, I may add, not drilled to the discipline that is traditional to the ordinary British officers; but for hard work and fighting propensities I never fell in with three braver or more humane gentlemen during my fifteen years' military career.
5. I was arrested on the 24th October, 1901, with the officers of the Bushveldt Carbineers, and detained in the Pietersburg prison until 1st January, 1902, when I was, for some reason never made known to me, released with Lieutenant Hannam.
I, Robert Maynard, make oath and say:-
1. I was a member of the Bushveldt Carbineers on active service in the high veldt. North Transvaal, and took part in the operations against the Boers.
2. I was acquainted with Lieutenant Witton, and verily believe that Lieutenant Witton at all times carried out to the strict letter of the law the orders he received from his superior officers.
3. In those particular incidents which led to his becoming court-martialled and convicted he was merely carrying out the orders received from his superior officers.
Many paragraphs, verses, comments, and illustrations on my case appeared from time to time in the press in different parts of the world.
This is from "The Owl," South Africa:
Now list to the tale of an injured man— As ever a one was he— Who is eating his heart in durance vile, While those who should suffer can laugh and smile, And pick their own company.
He came from the land of the kangaroo— From a land of men, I trow— To fight or die for Old England's right, To risk the peril, obey the might That should order him to or fro.
But an order came, in the course of time, Hard for a man to do; For life, after all, is a precious thing, And it isn't so easy to sever the string When it comes to me or you.
But you must not falter, or reason why, In the deadly time of war. You must simply do as you're told to do By those in authority over you, Or what is authority for?
He obeyed, as a son of the Empire should, Nor stopped to count the cost; The result was the same, with authority's name. As though he had done it for personal fame, His case was entirely lost.
And so, to abide with the vile and corrupt They sent him to prison away, To languish and pine for his freedom divine; Though they made it for life, yet I think there's a sign That he has not much longer to stay.
Just about this time Major Lenehan had been reinstated in the Commonwealth forces. To use his own words, he had a terrible battle the lying reports that had been published had discredited the Carbineers in the eyes of the public. Ultimately he succeeded in obtaining the sympathy of one Australian Government, with the above result.
In June, 1904, I received a message informing me that my father was seriously ill, and that Mr. Hughes, the then Minister for External affairs, had been interviewed, and it had been suggested to him that, as the Imperial authorities had agreed to consider the, question of my release in the following February, they might be again approached. Mr. Hughes brought the request before the Prime Minister, and a cable message was sent, rehearsing the facts with respect to, my dying father, and intimating that it would be regarded as a gracious act if my immediate release were granted.
To this the Hon. A. G. Lyttelton, Secretary of State for the Colonies, replied on 21st June, the date of my father's death, that he was not disposed to depart from the promise made by the military authorities to reconsider my sentence in February, 1905. Early in July, being still ignorant of my father's death, I again petitioned, asking for my release on account of his serious illness; to this petition I did not receive any reply.
Just at this time the Hon. J. D. Logan, M.L.C., of Capetown, arrived in England. He was a doughty champion of my cause, and enlisted the sympathy of many of the members of the House of Commons on my behalf, particularly that of Major Eustace Jamieson, M.P., who, after much battling and buffeting, induced the authorities to grant my release. Not expecting this to be accomplished for several days, Mr. Logan returned to his home in Scotland. Upon arrival at Cardross House, in Perthshire, he found a telegram waiting for him to the effect that the prisoner Witton would be handed over to him at once. This meant returning immediately to England. Mr. Logan was completely knocked up, and hardly felt equal to the task, but he ordered out his motor car, caught the midnight express at Stirling, and arrived in London the following morning.
My case had been brought forward in the House of Commons during the night of 10th August. Mr. Churchill asked the Secretary of State for War whether he could now state the intention of His Majesty's Government in respect to Witton; to this question Mr. Arnold-Foster replied, "His Majesty the King has been pleased to order that Witton be released." (Cheers.)
The first intimation I received that my sentence had been remitted, and that I was at last free, was imparted to me by the Governor of the prison in his private office, on Thursday, 11th August. He asked me if I knew the Hon. J. D. Logan or Major Jamieson. I replied that I was not personally acquainted with either of those gentlemen.
"Well," he said, "I have just received a telegram instructing me to hand you over to them; they will be here at three o'clock to take you away. There is not much time to get you fitted out; however, we will do the best we can for you." After being handed several congratulatory telegrams I was hurried away to the separate cells.
Here I began to collect my thoughts. So at last the glad tidings had come, and in two hours I would pass the barrier that separated the bond from the free. My joy was unutterable, yet it was tinged with one regret-I wished that it had come a little sooner. I had received the news that my father had passed away, and I felt that the knowledge that I had gained my freedom would have gladdened his heart in his last hours.
At the cells I was waited upon by the tailor and shoemaker, who took a rough measurement for clothes and boots; after this a hurried visit was paid to the photographer's studio. Here I took off my prison jacket and donned a coat of mufti, many sizes too small for me. and a collar that fastened at the back; an antiquated, faded tie completed the civilian outfit. In a few minutes two photographs were taken, also finger prints on the Bertillon system of identification.
Upon returning to my cell the master tailor brought me an outfit of clothes, the, largest size in stock. I cast off my prison garb and donned a suit of dark green tweed, a suit which proclaims every wearer to the world as an ex-convict. When I dressed myself the trousers required to be turned up at the bottom, and the sleeves at the wrists, but I was satisfied. I did not ask for anything different. The tailor inspected me and remarked, "It's not a bad fit after all."
I was then taken again to the office of the Governor. By this time Mr. Logan and Mr. Herbert Kitson, his private secretary, had arrived. On being ushered in, Mr. Logan came forward and congratulated me on regaining my freedom, and informed me that he intended taking me to Scotland for some grouse shooting. The Governor then handed me over some money that had been lodged with him by my brother pending my release, also a sum of thirty shillings earned by industry and good conduct during my incarceration. I was not furnished with any formal discharge from His Majesty's prison until some weeks later. I was handed over to Mr. Logan, and after being warmly congratulated by the Governor and his deputy, we passed out through the barrier; then the gates rolled back, and I entered again into my freedom. More than one officer came up and wrung my hand, and wished me good luck.
A carriage was in waiting outside, and we hurriedly drove to the railway station. My first thoughts were to send the good news to my relatives in Australia, and from Weymouth a cablegram was despatched to my brother. This was hardly necessary, as the news had flashed round the world before it had been imparted to me. We reached Waterloo station at 9 o'clock, and drove to the Hotel Metro-pole for dinner. Here I met Major Jamieson, M.P., and expressed to him my warmest thanks for his efforts on my behalf. As we sat down to dinner I could not help think ing of the dinner I had with the late officers of the Carbineers the night before we left Pietersburg, when we were in happy expectation of freedom the following morning.
After a few hours' rest we drove to Euston, and boarded the midnight express for the North. I tried to sleep but could not; so much had been crowded into the last few hours that my brain seemed in a whirl. At eight in the morning we arrived at Stirling, where Mr. Logan's chaffeur was waiting at the station with the car. In half an hour we arrived at Cardross House, Mr. Logan's shooting-box in Perthshire. As soon as breakfast was over the guns were brought out, and we joined the other guests, who had made an early start on Flanders Moss; just eighteen hours after leaving Portland I shot my first grouse. The ladies joined us for lunch, making a pleasure party of twelve. This, my first luncheon on the moors, was to me a notable one; speeches and toasts were indulged in, and here I made my first speech.
My host, the Hon. James D. Logan, member of the Cape Legislative Council, is a popular figure in South African circles, where he Is universally known as the "Laird of Matjesfontein." This genial son of Scotia was born at Reston, Berwickshire. He is the life and soul of South African sport, and at one time took a South African cricket eleven to England at his own expense. When the war began he raised a corps at Matjesfontein, and did excellent service at the front; he had his horse shot under him at Belmont.
Those weeks I spent with Mr. Logan I look back upon as the brightest in my life, being such a contrast to the abode of gloom I had so suddenly left.
On 29th September I embarked at Liverpool on the White Star liner "Runic" for Australia; the passenger list totalled 500. Splendid weather was experienced during our run to Capetown.
At Capetown the "Runic" remained in port only a few hours. Here I was met and warmly welcomed back to South Africa by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Easton, Mr. Bruce Hardy, Mr. Palmer, and other members of the Capetown Release Committee, who had done such excellent work in making the facts of my case so universally known.
On the 12th November 1904, after a chequered experience extending over nearly five years, I placed my foot again on my native soil. On my arrival in Australia I met among others Mr. Wainwright, general secretary of the Australian Natives' Association, and his son, Mr. Austin Wainwright, who so ably assisted my brother in his efforts towards my release. I also met Mr. Alfred Deakin, a true compatriot, who during his term of office as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth had been untiring in his efforts to secure my liberty and return to Australia.