Witton (Lieutenant George R.)


The Story of the Bushveldt Carbineers. Illustrated from photographs.

Published: D.W. Paterson Co., Melbourne, 1907

Edition: First Edition

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First Edition: 240 pages, frontispiece of Witton leaving Portland Prison, 7 plates, rebound in half brown leather with matching marbled boards, titled gilt on the spine, uncut edges, light foxing and spotting on edges of pages, overall a good copy.

Editor's note to the new edition published by Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1982: The court of inquiry - the British court martial convened in Pretoria to try Australian officers of the Bushveldt Carbineers for shooting Boer prisoners. The trial and its outcome - the execution of Harry Morant, Peter Hancock and the sentencing of George Witton to life imprisonment - has intrigued many writers. Was this true military justice or were the defendants indeed scapegoats sacrificed to political expediency? Here, at last, after many years in obscurity, is the story told at first hand.

It is George Witton's own straightforward account of events which led to the controversial trial, of the trial itself and later of his prison life. There is some mystery surrounding the first publication of 'Scapegoats of the Empire' in 1907. Two editions were published in that year but very few copies are found today. A story exists that a fire in the printery destroyed one edition but rumours persist that the book was censored. Whatever the reasons for past silence, it is time George Witton’s quite candid voice was heard again in his own defence. In his well-researched afterword to this edition Geoffrey Embleton has presented some startling evidence in the form of a letter from Witton to his defence counsel, Thomas. Lodged at the Mitchell Library and marked at Thomas's request, "Not to be opened until 1970" the letter was intended to reveal the whole truth when that truth could no longer hurt the descendants of those involved. Perhaps one man's truth is not the whole truth, but Witton's view at the least adds a new dimension to this fascinating and painful story.'

'The Last Man': George Witton and ''Scapegoats of the Empire'' Among the many books about the Boer War in the Special Collection of Deakin University Library is a small brown-coloured book which has a significance that far outweighs its plain cover. ''Scapegoats of the Empire'' is the only first hand account of the infamous 'Breaker' Morant - Peter Handcock trial, held in South Africa in 1901-2 and of the Bushveldt Carbineers, the irregular force in which these Australians served during the war against the Boers. It is alone amongst Australian memoirs of the Boer War in being infused with disappointment and disillusion and it is the reasons for this, and for its rarity today, which go some way towards explaining its significance.

Publishing History ''Scapegoats of the Empire'' by George R. Witton was first published in June 1907 and although it was reprinted at least twice that year, it is today an extremely rare book with very few copies in existence outside major libraries. This is because there is still some mystery surrounding the circumstances of the book's publication. Stories persist that the Australian government of the day were so nervous that the book's contents reflected badly on Lord Kitchener (who was then one of the foremost heroes of the Empire) that they caused all copies of the book to be seized from D.W. Paterson, the original publishers and printers, prior to its publication. Another rumour abounded to the effect that the government bought up copies as they were published in order to prevent the truth from 'getting out' and, more prosaically, it has also been suggested that there was a fire in the publisher's warehouse in Melbourne which destroyed all copies. ‘Whatever the truth behind the circumstances of its publication, the rarity of the first edition of ''Scapegoats'' today suggests that the possibility may well be correct that the only copies of the 1907 version to survive are the author's own pre-publication copies.’ Deakin University Library: http://www.deakin.edu.au/library/special-collections/collections/scapegoats

A South African Bibliography volume 4, page 808, lists only two copies of the first edition.

  • Overall Condition: A Good Copy
  • Size: 8vo (190 x 130 mm)
  • Sold By: Clarke's Africana & Rare Books
  • Contact Person: Paul Mills
  • Country: South Africa
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Telephone: 021 794 0600
  • Preferred Payment Methods: Visa & Mastercard via PayGate secure links and Bank transfers.
  • Trade Associations: ABA - ILAB, SABDA

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