MP calls Bathurst's Peter Handcock's execution as "flawed"

BATHURST blacksmith Peter Handcock had his day in parliament on Monday, when Queensland MP Scott Buchholz declared his conviction and execution in 1902 as “flawed”.

HISTORY'S PAGE: Bathurst war historian Denis Chamberlain with a photo of Peter Handcock. Handcock was executed for war crimes in 1902 during the Boer War - a decision that remains controversial to this day. Photo: BRADLEY JURD

HISTORY'S PAGE: Bathurst war historian Denis Chamberlain with a photo of Peter Handcock. Handcock was executed for war crimes in 1902 during the Boer War - a decision that remains controversial to this day. Photo: BRADLEY JURD

Mr Buchholz also declared that Handcock was not “afforded the rights of an accused person facing serious criminal charges”. 

Handcock was a volunteer in the Bushveldt Carbineers unit during the Boer War, alongside Harry “Breaker” Morant and George Witton, when all three men were involved in the shooting of 12 Boer prisoners while acting under the orders of senior British regular army officers. 

Mr Buchholz described their sentences as illegal.

“I acknowledge that Lieutenants Morant, Handcock and Witton were not tried in accordance with military law of 1902 and suffered great injustice as a result,” he said.

“The convictions were unsafe and unlawful and the sentences illegal as appeal was denied.”

Mr Buchholz also said the descendants of the three convicted men have had to deal with much grief and shame. 

He asked the House of Representatives to “find relief” and said that “history books will reprieve” the three war criminals. 

Bathurst war historian Denis Chamberlain said there was a lot of resentment due to the conviction of the three war criminals.

“They are folk heroes in the mind of family and friends that live on today,” he said.

“There is a lot of resentment because the decision was carried out by British troops. 

“It was a rushed process. In those sort of days, everything needed to be down quickly during war. 

“The law was being made by a small group of people to suit the conditions.” 

When on trial, the court strongly recommended that Handcock, Morant and Witton be shown mercy, but it was ignored by the military commander-in-chief Lord Kitchener. 

Beginning on October 11, 1899, the Boer War was between the United Kingdom and the two Dutch South African republics.

The war lasted until May 31, 1902, with approximately 16,000 Australians serving and 600 dying under British command in the nation’s first overseas conflict since Federation.