Biography Harry Breaker Morant

Harry Breaker Morant

photo of Harry Breaker Morant
  • Time Period1865 - 1902
  • Place

Poet Biography

His short life (it spanned just over thirty-six years) was itself the stuff of romance and adventure; and he went through it like a swashbuckling cavalier, yielding often to human weaknesses common enough in the environment of his prime years, but always fighting back towards recovery. His death was romantic too, and may reasonably have arrived like the fulfillment of a destiny. Such, at any rate, will be the judgment of those who knew him. Some of his story is as old as that of the prodigal son. Although in the development of his personality he became completely identified with the land of his adoption, nevertheless he was not Australian by birth, but English-offshoot of English (or Anglo-Irish)county family stock. Heredity undoubtedly spoke out of him, but the environment that moulded his character in vital years was the Australian bush.

Harry Harbord Morant was born at Christmas time in 1865, at Bideford in Devon (he always said), the son, he also insisted, of Admiral Sir George Digby Morant. He was certainly well educated and he undoubtedly had some close connection with the gentry of Devon and Hampshire. Though there some doubt on the point of his ancestry.
Morant's early life in Australia is known only from fragmentary recollections by people who had known him. Using some of these recollections, he first appeared at Charters Towers in the Queensland outback country about the middle of 1884. He would then be nearly nineteen. How he arrived nobody can say. He was not a remittance-man, like many young Englishmen who occasionally appeared in Australia in those days on enforced exile from their homeland. He may have been cut off with something more than the proverbial shilling when he left England, but that is open to conjecture. Certainly he had to make his own way at that early age in a strange and rough land. It may be deduced from his letters later in life that while in England, or perhaps in Ireland, he had hunted while still a youngster and thereby nurtured his love of horses.

Some said he married in outback Queensland but that he and his wife quickly separated. However, no wife or widow of his could afterwards be traced. He left Charters Towers in a hurry after a horse-buying transaction, it's believed a cheque he gave was dishonoured. At the end of 1884 he was working in Hughenden, Queensland, on a newspaper, and he offered to buy a partnership in the paper, 'referring to a titled person in England who might finance him'. But the project evaporated, for no money came to hand. He is said to have left Hughenden suddenly after some trouble with a hotel bill.

Thereafter he drifted around Queensland until he got a job at Esmeralda Station as bookkeeper and storeman, weighing out the flour, tea, and sugar which by statutory provision was dispensed to swagmen travelling the road, officially looking for work or, as often, dodging it.

Morant in that particular job must have been ludicrous. He quickly exchanged it for work in the open among the cattle, droving and horse-breaking. Following these staple industries of the cattle country, he moved, like others of the bush fraternity, from one employer to another as demand fluctuated or boss and hand fell foul of each other. It was a hard-living, hard-drinking life, of a monotony broken only by change of scene, or by visits to some township or to the city to 'knock down a cheque', or by the excitement of a bush hunt. Horse-breaking meant not only schooling young station stock as they came on, but tackling the wild free horses to be found roaming the bush in mobs. Brumbies which at slack times station-hands would hunt down in hard riding and corral in the bush yards where a trial might be made of the likelier-looking specimens for breaking in. In this game, demanding all the skill and courage of the most accomplished horsemaster, and allowing few to emerge without a broken limb or two, Morant was outstanding. His reputation was known far and wide as Breaker Morant , and Morant himself used to boast that he knew every country hospital and every pub in outback New South Wales. He had an eye for appraisal of a horse second to none in any company; and, having mastered and proved his mount, he became in the saddle full partner with it in action, with an uncanny perception of just what that horse could do.

Such accomplishment has rarely failed to establish a man as a prince among his fellows.

With the outbreak of the Boer War in October 1899 'The Breaker' saw a heaven-sent opportunity.

Throughout Australia young men, and others not so young, responded to 'the call' with an enthusiasm hardly exceeded in the most jingoistic quarters of'the Old Country'. 'The Breaker' enlisted at once and found himself enrolled in the second contingent of South Australian Mounted Rifles.

In the camp of the South Australian Mounted Rifles, Morant won himself a place through sheer personality. He took readily to military discipline as something that helped to pull him together; and his horsemanship quickly earned respect among them, most of them younger than himself. He earned his Corporal's stripes almost at once. He was a Sergeant by the time they landed in South Africa early in 1900.

The reasons for the execution of Morant is still today clouded in mystery, Henry H. Morant was executed by firing squad in Pretoria, South Africa on the 27th day of February 1902 for deeds done to the Boers while under orders of Captain Hunt.

Lord Kitchener, who signed Morant's death warrant, was possible appeasing the German Emperor, since a German missionary also died in the confrontation between Morant and the Boer...but Morant had advised this missionary to defend himself from the dangerous Boers.