The Week in History, Issue 3.

Issue 3. Monday February 27- Sunday March 5. Including contemporary accounts, histories and newspaper reports of: The execution of Breaker Morant, 27 Feb (1902) . The Execution of Cuauthemoc, 28 Feb (1521). The Battle of Adwa, 1 March (1896). The Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, 2 March (1836). Emancipation of Serfs in Russia, 3 March (1861). Boston Massacre, 5 March (1771).

Military Justice, or Imperial Coverup?


After committing what are undoubtedly war crimes, but under arguably obscure circumstances, 3 men from the Colonial mounted unit the Bushveldt Carbineers, where tried for the murder of various prisoners in their care and other witnesses, and sentenced to death. Explaining this actio, after the execution which took place on 27 Feb, to the Australian newspapers in April, Lord Kitchener wrote:

“In reply to your telegram, Morant, Handcock and Witton were charged with twenty separate murders, including one of a German missionary who had witnessed other murders. Twelve of these murders were proved. From the evidence it appears that Morant was the originator of these crimes which Handcock carried out in cold-blooded manner. The murders were committed in the wildest parts of the Transvaal, known as Spelonken, about eighty miles north of Pretoria, on four separate dates namely July 2, August 11, August 23, and September 7. In one case, where eight Boer prisoners were murdered, it was alleged to have been done in a spirit of revenge for the ill treatment of one of their officers – Captain Hunt – who was killed in action. No such ill-treatment was proved. The prisoners were convicted after a most exhaustive trial, and were defended by counsel. There were, in my opinion, no extenuating circumstances. Lieutenant Witton was also convicted but I commuted the sentence to penal servitude for life, in consideration of his having been under the influence of Morant and Handcock. The proceedings have been sent home.”

The Last Tlatoani.


Contrary to popular belief, the Aztecs, or more properly the Mexica did not have an emperor. The man that they recognised as sovreign was known as “The speaker”. In surviving codexes the is represented as a squat little figure, wearing a blue coronet shaped like an upturned shield with what looks like a small puff of smoke coming from his mouth, indicating speech. The last Tlatoani, or speaker, was a man named Cuauhtémoc (given here as Quauhtemoctzin) and it was his fate to fall foul of the paranoia of Cortés.

“I have now to relate a circumstance of a very different nature, which occasioned much grief to us all. Quauhtemoctzin and other Mexican chiefs who accompanied our army had, it would appear, spoken among themselves, or secretly determined to put the whole of us to death, then march back to Mexico, and assemble the whole armed power of the country against the few remaining Spaniards, and raise an insurrection throughout the whole of New Spain. This circumstance was discovered to Cortes by two distinguished Mexican chiefs, one of whom was named Tapia, and the other Juan Velasquez. This latter personage had been Quauhtemoctzin’s captain-general during our war with Mexico, and his testimony was borne out by the investigation which Cortes made into the matter, and by the confession of several of the caziques themselves who were implicated in the conspiracy. These men fearlessly declared, that seeing how carelessly and dispiritedly we roamed about; that numbers of the men were ill from want of food; that four of our musicians, with the buffoon and five soldiers, had died of hunger; and that three other men had turned back, more willing to run the risk of reaching Mexico again than of moving forward, the thought struck them that they could not do better than fall suddenly upon us while we were crossing some river or marsh, particularly as they were upwards of 3000 in number, all armed with lances, and several of them with swords. Quauhtemoctzin did not hesitate to acknowledge that these men had spoken the truth, but added that the conspiracy did not emanate with him, and that he himself had never for a moment contemplated carrying it into effect, but had merely spoken about it with the other caziques. All the cazique of Tlacupa confessed was, his having declared to Quauhtemoctzin that it was better to die at once than daily to have death before their eyes on these fatiguing marches, and see their countrymen and relations perish with hunger. These were sufficient proofs for Cortes, and without any further ceremony he sentenced Quauhtemoctzin and his cousin the king of Tlacupa to the gallows. Before, however, this sentence was executed, the Franciscan monks, with the assistance of Doña Marina, strove to comfort these unfortunate men, and commended their souls to God. When they were being led to the place of execution, Quauhtemoctzin turned to Cortes, and said: “Oh Malinche! I have for a long time perceived, from your false words, that you had destined me for such a death, because I did not lay violent hands on myself when you entered my city of Mexico! Why are you thus going to put me unjustly to death? God will one time ask this of you!” The king of Tlacupa said, he could only rejoice in a death which he would be permitted to suffer with his monarch Quauhtemoctzin. Previous to their being hung, both these unhappy caziques confessed to father Juan, who understood the Mexican language, and they begged of him to commend their souls to God. For Indians they were good Christians, and they died in the true faith, and fully believed in our holy religion. The death of these two monarchs grieved me excessively, for I had known them in all their glory, and on our march they honoured me with their friendship, and showed me many little attentions; for instance, they would often order their servants to go in quest of fodder for my horse; besides which, they were innocent of the guilt imputed to them, and it was the opinion of all who accompanied this expedition that they were put to death unjustly.”

Bernal Díaz del Castillo. “The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Vol 2 (of 2).” iBooks.

An Italian iSandlwana.


Here is an excerpt from The New York Times published on March 4, 1896, reporting on the destruction of an Italian army at the hands of the Ethiopian Empire of Menelik II. Here referred to as Abyssinian.

Three thousand Men Killed, Sixty Guns and All Provisions Lost.
Baratieri’s Strategy Condemned.
All Available Steamers for Transport of Reinforcements to Abyssinia are Ordered.
Persistent Rumor of Ministry’s Fall

Rome, March 3 – The present campaign against the Abyssinians threatens to become one of the most disastrous in which the Italians arms have ever taken part, and what the final outcome will be it would be hard to predict. It was rumored today that the latest defeat of the Italians by King Menelik had compelled Ministry to resign, owing to the popular disapproval of the Government’s policy, but tonight this report is denied.
Details received here today of the defeat on Sunday of the Italian Army show that the Italian losses were very heavy, they being placed by some at 3,000 killed. It is still impossible to ascertain the precise losses, but popular opinion credits the report that the number of killed is not overstated. Thus far the reports make no mention of the number of wounded. Among the dead are Gen. Albertone, Commander of the Left Brigade, and Gen. Dabormida, Commander of the Right Brigade.
The news of this latest disaster has caused the greatest excitement throughout Italy, and the Opposition party is taking advantage of it to make violent attacks upon the Government’s policy in attempting to extend the sphere of Italian influence in Abyssinia. The scenes in the streets today were very exciting, the populace being greatly incensed against the government. The Pope is greatly disturbed by the news. He has ordered the suspension of the Te Deum and diplomatic banquet which were to be given in celebration of the anniversary of his coronation.
A meeting of the cabinet was called last night immediately upon the receipt of the news of the Italian reverse. The Ministers met at midnight and sat in closed session until late this morning discussing the situation. They will meet the Chamber of deputies tomorrow and make a statement regarding the position of their affairs and their intentions. A persistent rumour circulates that the Cabinet will retire. King Humbert today had interviews with Prime Minister Crispi and Signor Farini, President of the Senate.
As stated in the United Press dispatches last night. Gen. Baratieri, Governor of Erythrea, and at present commander of of the Italian forces operating against the Abyssinians, made an attack upon the latter on Sunday. The reserve Italian forces took possession of the passes leading to Adowa without any opposition from the enemy. This force was commanded by Gen. Ellina. Gen. Albertone, with four battalions of native levies and four mountain batteries, then engaged the Abyssinians, but was soon overcome by overwhelming odds and was forced to retreat. Gen. Arimondi, the commander of the centre brigade was ordered to cover the retreat of the left brigade, but his position was such that he was prevented from carrying out the order. In the meantime, the Abyssinians, flushed with success, made an energetic attack upon the entire Italian front and enveloped both wings. The Italians made a desperate resistance, but could not withstand the attack and finally orders were given for them to fall back. Their positions were speedily abandoned. The fighting lasted all day. Gen. Baratieri was wounded, Gen. Ellina and his command, together with the men under Gen. Arimondi retired to Adecajo. 100 kilometres from Adowa. Since Gen. Baratieri returned to Abyssinia from his visit to Rome, on which occasion he was decorated with the order of the Red Eagle by Emperor William, his conduct of the campaign has been very harshly criticised in certain military circles. His decision to break his line in this last battle, and the tactics subsequently pursued by him, are regarded by military experts here as inexplicable. The Italians are said to have lost sixty guns and all their provisions. Even the Government acknowledges that when Gen. Baratieri was compelled to order his army to retreat from positions held by it, he was forced to abandon many of his guns. The nature of the country prevented the guns from being used against the enemy and later prevented the Italians from taking them with them in their retreat. These of course have fallen into the hands of the Abyssinians. The captured guns will enormously aid the artillery of the Abyssinians, already a factor that has had to be taken into account by the Italians. The situation is regarded as being so serious that the government has called out the reserves of 1872. Every effort will be made to hasten the dispatch of reinforcements to Abyssinia. Orders have been issued for all available transport steamers to assemble at Naples on Saturday next for the purpose of taking on board troops for immediate dispatch to Massowah. Gen. Baldissera, who was recently appointed to succeed Gen. Baratieri in the chief command of the Italian forces in Abyssinia, has arrived in Massowah. It is reported that Gen. Baratieri’s attack upon the Abyssinians Sunday was the result of his desire to make a grand military coup and rehabilitate his reputation before he was superseded by Gen. Baldissera. Among the many reports current today was one to the effect that Gen. Baratieri had committed suicide, being unable to endure the humiliation of his defeat. A late dispatch from Massowah states that General Arimondi is also missing.”

Published on March 4, 1896 in the New York Times


A Lone Star Declaration.


The rebellious citizens of Texas, who adhered to the liberal Mexican constitution of 1824 had begun their fight as Mexicans, but with Santa Anna now in the field with a powerful army, it was clear that a formal declaration of intent was required to break entirely with Mexico and fight at Texians.

“The Unanimous
Declaration of Independence
made by the
Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention
at the town of Washington
on the 2nd day of March 1836.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.

When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth….

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.”

to read in full go here.

Freedom for Serfs.


The idea of abolishing serfdom in Russia had been kicked about ever since ideas of enlightenment got imported from Europe. It was the thing that all the emperors wanted to do but just never got around to doing. Then came Alexander II, who acted upon the initiative ordered by Nicholas I, and it culminated in this stupendously rambling Manifesto, which finally put paid to the tradition of the Serf. It’s really long so if you want to read it, for the sake of brevity please go here.


A Gift for Propoganda.


In March 1770 a small squad of British soldiers opened fire on an angry mob killing 5 and wounding 6, two of whom died of their wounds. Although hardly an unprovoked massacre by most standards, John Adams got the soldiers off pretty lightly, it was propaganda gold for those who opposed the quartering of soldiers on civilians, and who wished to paint the British as brutal oppressors. No piece of propaganda sums this up better than the rhyme that accompanied Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the “Bloody Massacre”.

“Unhappy Boston! see thy Sons deplore Thy hallow’d walks besmear’d with guiltless gore While faithless P____n and his savage bands With murd’rous rancour stretch their bloody hands Like fierce barbarians grinning o’er their prey Approve the carnage and enjoy the day. If scalding drops from rage, from anguish wrung If speechless sorrow, lab’ring for a tongue Or if a weeping world can ought appease The plaintive ghosts of victims such as these The patriot’s copious tears for each are shed A glorious tribute which embalms the dead. But know, Fate summons to that awful goal Where Justice strips the murd’rer of his soul, Should venal C___ts, the scandal of the land, Snatch the relentless villain from her Hand Keen execrations on this plate inscrib’d Shall reach a Judge who never can be brib’d. The unhappy sufferers were Mesr’s Sam’l Gray, Sam’l Maverick, James Caldwell Crispus Attucks, & Patr. Carr Killed Six wounded; two of them (Christ’r Monk & John Clark) mortally.”

See you again for another Adventure in Historyland.


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