by Greg Growden
Opinion is still sharply divided on whether Breaker Morant and his Australian co-defendants were criminals who got what they deserved, or scapegoats used by the British Empire. Major Thomas, the bush lawyer drafted in at the last minute to defend them, is invariably depicted as either a hero or an incompetent fool. Now, for the first time, Greg Growden attempts to unravel the truth about the lawyer and soldier who returned from South Africa a broken man.
Before the Boer War, Major Thomas had been a pillar of his community. He was a published poet, newspaper proprietor, lawyer and decorated soldier, but defending Breaker Morant became the defining episode of his life. The former ‘King of Tenterfield’ endured a stunning fall from grace, slipping into bankruptcy and imprisonment. Thomas ended his days as an eccentric recluse, his life ruined by the ignominy and frustration of finding himself on the wrong side of history.
For more than a century he has been a footnote in diverging historical arguments. A proper hearing for Major Thomas is long overdue.