The poet Harry Harbord Morant (Edwin Henry Murrant, 1864?–1902) was nicknamed ‘the Breaker’ because of his skill and daring as a horse-breaker. He also worked as a drover, and acquired a reputation as a steeplechaser, polo player, and drinker as well as a womaniser. From 1891 he contributed to the Bulletin as ‘The Breaker’, writing lively and entertaining bush ballads which conveyed the flavour of bush life and the attitudes of the bushman. His horsemanship, swagger and cheerful nature won him friends. He served in the Boer War in an irregular unit formed to counter Boer guerrillas, was court-martialled for the murder of Boer prisoners and was executed by firing squad in Pretoria on 27 February 1902 (ADB).
Lambert made this quick sketch at Richmond, New South Wales, when he visited the area with Breaker Morant. The Breaker’s accompanying poem, ‘Dreaming’, is dated 31 December 1897, and Lambert made the drawing at about the same time. The sketch is inscribed (presumably after the Breaker’s death in 1902): ‘The Breaker/ Horse poet shot for complicity in Boer murder/ affair/ sketched at Richmond NSW/ Hawkesbury River/ accompanying poem or verse written/ at about same time’.
The poem begins:
Oh, faintly the first stars twinkle and shine
As slowly the tints of the sunset wane,
Then it’s ‘boot and saddle’, and through the pines, Across the river and over the plain.
There’s a star that guides to a waiting girl,
And a kiss that is worth the midnight ride. –
Then a last farewell as the flowers unfurl
In the fresh’ning breezes of the morningtide
Through the open window the sunlight streams
And the beams glint brightly on boot
Gray Warwick’s on grass, whilst his
Of a girl – and his parting words to her.
Now a shadow steals where the sun had shone,
And into the dreaming a phantom creeps
Of a tear-wet face, in the years agone –
Of one who is sleeping the dreamless sleep.