The story behind Boer War soldier George Ramsdale Witton
GEORGE Ramsdale Witton, born in Victoria on June 28, 1874, went on to become a lieutenant after enlisting in the Boer War. Following an incident, lieutenants Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant and Peter Handcock, along with Witton, were tried and convicted by British Military court martial for executing Boer prisoners of war in South Africa.
While Morant and Handock faced a firing squad, Witton’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was kept in English prisons and treated as a common criminal, not a soldier. Their families and the Australian Government were never officially informed of the court martial and the sad outcome. Witton returned to Australian soil on November 12, 1904. He was released from prison after a petition was presented to King Edward VII signed by more than 80,000 Australians. While in prison he hadn’t received the letter informing him of his father’s death.
After returning home to Victoria, he wrote the book Scapegoats of the Empire. The movie Breaker Morant was based on this book.
In 1910, Witton selected the first of his Coalstoun Lakes blocks where he grew pineapples and later became a dairy farmer.
He was a founding member of the Dundarrah Cheese Factory.
He married Mary Louise Humphreys on January 7, 1913 but sadly she died in 1931. In her memory, George donated a baptismal font to the local church that is still used today.
The first house Witton built was for the cheese factory manager while he built himself a larger, more grand style of home at the end of what is known today as Witton Rd.
In 1939-40 he sold his farm and returned to Victoria, where he died of a heart attack while cranking his car on August 14, 1942, aged 68 years.
On the 100th anniversary of Morant, Handcock and Witton’s court martial, a memorial was unveiled in the Coalstoun Lakes Hall grounds as a tribute to Witton and other Boer War veterans.