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They became Empire scapegoats

The bitterness George Ramsdale Witton felt against the government of his day, was so palpable, he wrote a book entitled, 'Scapegoats of the Empire'.


His experiences in the Boer War at the dawn of the twentieth century were the catalysts for his anger, despite escaping a charge of murder with a consequent death sentence.


Born 28 June, 1874 in Warrnambool, Victoria to David William Witton and Rebecca Watson, Witton served as a gunner in the Royal Australian Artillery. He then enlisted in the Victorian Imperial Bushmen for the Boer War and was quickly promoted from Corporal to Squadron Quartermaster-Sergeant. When he enlisted in the Bushveldt Carbineers he attained the title of Lieutenant.


Courtesy The Australian Boer War Memorial.


During his time in South Africa, Witton, along with three other officers killed a number of Boer prisoners. He would say he had fired at an escaping prisoner who had tried to seize his gun. He protested the charges brought against him and secured legal opinion from Isaac Isaacs KC, a member of the Australian parliament, who suggested he petition the King for a pardon.


His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Lord Kitchener, but he was only released from prison after a petition, signed by 80,000 Australians, urged the Crown to pardon and release Witton. After spending three years in prison he returned to Australia in 1904. His fellow officers, also charged with murder, did not escape the death sentence as Lieutenants Peter Handcock and Harry 'Breaker' Morant were court martialled and executed by firing squad on 27 February 1902.


The new edition of the book is available on Amazon.


Witton wrote the book, giving his own account of the events leading up to his imprisonment and execution of Handcock and Morant. He believed the men were made scapegoats by the British authorities in South Africa. That he and his fellow officers were made to take the blame for widespread British war crimes against the Boers. To Witton, the trial and executions were carried out to cover up the secret 'no prisoners' policy promoted by Lord Kitchener.


Witton also wrote the executions were carried out to appease the Boer government over the killing of the prisoners to help bring about a peace treaty, the Treaty of Vereeniging which was signed on 31 May 1902.


'Scapegoats of the Empire' was published in 1907 by D. W. Paterson of Melbourne, but after an alleged warehouse fire, only seven copies survived. Copyright of the publication after his death was passed to Witton's cousin, Cecily Adams, who arranged for a new edition to be published, along with extra information previously not documented in the book.


George Ramsdale Witton's ashes are buried with his first wife Mary Louisa at Lutwyche cemetery. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Witton married twice but had no children. After a heart attack while cranking his car engine, he died in hospital on 14 August, 1942 at the age of 68. His ashes are interred with his first wife Mary at Brisbane's Lutwyche cemetery, ironically on the corner of Gympie and Kitchener Roads.


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