The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

 
 
Lieutenant George Witton

 Introduction  

George Ramsdale Witton (1874 – 1942) was a Lieutenant in the Bushveldt Carbineers in the Boer War in South Africa. He was sentenced to death for murder after the shooting of Boer prisoners. He was subsequently reprieved by Kitchener, although Lieutenants Peter Handcock and Harry Morant who had been court martialled with him were executed by a firing squad on 27 February 1902.

Witton was born near Warnambool, Victoria, Australia, and was from a farming family. He enlisted in the Victorian Imperial Bushmen for the Boer War, and was promoted from Corporal to Squadron Quartermaster-Sergeant. Major Robert Lenehan enlisted him in the Bushveldt Carbineers with a commission as Lieutenant.

Witton's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released after protests on 11 August, 1904, though not pardoned. He had been ill twice in prison in England, once from arsenic fumes in a metal shop and once from typhoid fever. He returned to Australia 12 November 1904 embittered after three years in prison, and wrote a book giving his eyewitness account of the events involving Morant, Handcock and the BVC.

His book, Scapegoats of the Empire was originally published in 1907 by D. W. Paterson of Melbourne, but was long unavailable. Prior to its reprint in 1982 by the Australian publishing house Angus & Robertson, it is claimed that only seven copies of the book survived in various Australian state libraries and in the possession of Witton's family. Although unsubstantiated, it has long been claimed that the book was suppressed by the Australian government and most copies were destroyed; another explanation is that most of the copies were destroyed by an accidental fire at the publisher's warehouse.

Witton's main assertion, as indicated by the book's provocative title, is that he, Morant, and Handcock were made scapegoats by the British authorities in South Africa—that they were made to take the blame for widespread British war crimes against the Boers, and that the trial and executions were carried out by the British for political reasons, partly to cover up a controversial and secret "no prisoners" policy promulgated by Lord Kitchener, and partly to appease the Boer government over the killing of Boer prisoners, in order to facilitate a peace treaty; the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 May 1902.

Witton also claims that many of the accusations about them, which led to their arrest and trial, were made by disaffected members of their regiment whose rebellious behaviour had been suppressed by Morant and Handcock.

An embittered Witton did not rush to enlist in World War I. After Prime Minister Fisher pledged Australia to the last man, he intimated that he would be that last man.

From 1913 to 1934 the Electoral Rolls register him as a farmer on Dundarrah at Biggenden which is about 100km west of Maryborough Qld. In 1913 he married Mary Louise Humphrey who died in 1931 and is buried in Lutwyche Cemetery. While living in Biggenden he was a Justice of the Peace and a director of the Biggenden Cheese factory.

George later married Carolyn Ellen Stranger in 1932 and moved to Gippsland in Victoria after 1934. His second wife outlived him.

He had a heart attack while cranking his car, and died at a Private Hospital in Camberwell, Melbourne on 14 August 1942. George was cremated at the Falkner Crematorium on Saturday 15 August 1942. When the Supreme Court of Queensland granted probate of his will on 14 October 1942 he was listed as late of 41 Malting Road, Canterbury, Victoria, retired Estate Agent. He did not have any children.

He was cremated at the Falkner Crematorium on Saturday 15 August 1942. When the Supreme Court of Queensland granted probate of his will on 14 October 1942 he was listed as late of 41 Malting Road, Canterbury, Victoria, retired Estate Agent. The Brisbane City Council records show that Witton's ashes were interred in his first wife, Mary's grave in Lutwyche Cemetery on 1 October 1942. However, his name does not appear on the monument.

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The Bushveldt Carbineers and the Pietersburg Light Horse by William (Bill) Woolmore (2002, Slouch Hat Publications Australia) ISBN 0-9579752-0-1 pp. 142-144
With additional information including the grave photograph provided by the Chermside and Districts Historical Association Inc www.chermsidedistrict.org.au


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