§ Mr. Kinnaird,
pursuant to his notice, rose to make his motion on the subject of the papers before the house relative to the conduct of sir Home Popham. He had come down to the house prepared to make such a statement as he trusted would induce the house to agree to the motion which he should have the honour to propose, for the appointment of a committee to examine the very large body of papers that had been laid before the house on this subject. Since he had been in the house, however, he had learned that there was no intention 638 to oppose his motion for the appointment of the committee, on the part of the gentlemen opposite. It would be unnecessary for him, therefore, to take up the time of the house by any prefatory observations, and he should therefore content himself by referring to the many important documents contained in the volume before them for the ground of his motion. At present he should confine himself to moving, "That the several papers presented to the house, relating to the repairs of the Romney and Sensible while under the command of sir Home Popham, be referred to a select committee." On the motion being put,
§ Sir Home Popham
rose, and declared that he would not make a single observation on the present motion if he did not apprehend that a silent acquiescence might be construed into a tacit acknowledgement that the motion rested on an actual charge existing against him. If the hon. member had made his motion on that ground, or with a view to such an object, he should have felt himself bound to give it every opposition, because there was nothing of the nature of a charge against him in the papers which he could not completely and satisfactorily refute. There were, he would not dispute, several matters contained in these papers, which it was desirable to have referred to a committee, and consequently he was not disposed to object to the motion, provided that in so doing, he should not be considered as giving any acknowledgement of any well founded charge against himself. Many gentlemen, no doubt, had read the whole of the papers, and from being acquainted with their contents were competent to decide whether such a step was not expedient. His object in rising had been to state a general outline of his conduct, by adverting, if he should be permitted, to what had passed on a former night. The hon. member (Mr. Kinnaird) had on that occasion stated, that he had been treated conformably to the usual practice of the navy; that he had been treated in the same manner as three gallant and hon. officers whom he had mentioned by name, sir Richard King, sir Richard Bickerton, and sir Andrew Mitchell. He had been extremely surprised to hear this assertion, and though he knew that each of these officers had attended the different boards, he had been so nervous that he could not bring himself to contradict an assertion so confidently made. But he had yesterday received a letter from sir R. King, 639 confirming his own opinion, and stating that that gallant officer, on his return from India, had had occasion to attend and correspond with the different boards on the subject of his accounts. The navy board were justified, therefore, in the concluding paragraph of their letter, wherein they had stated, that in his case there had been a deviation from the ordinary practice of the board, and that he had been singled out, as the victim to such a course. He had felt it necessary to advert to this circumstance, because of the impression that might have been made on the house by the statement of the hon. member, and because at the time of making it, the hon. gentleman had held in his hand, as a document, the scurrilous pamphlet that had been published reflecting on him. That it was usual for officers to attend the different boards on such occasions, he proved by reading an extract from a letter of the navy board to captain Sauce, contained in the papers, in which that officer was called on to attend them on the Friday after the date of their letter. In another letter, they called on him to explain why he had provided the Sensible, at Calcutta, with a greater quantity of stores than were allowed for ships of that class; and in a letter it was stated that such increase had arisen from an alteration of the establishment of that vessel. The fact was, however, that he had never given orders for such alteration, nor had it ever taken place in the establishment of the Sensible. His letter to the navy board would prove that the Sensible had been nearly a wreck in the Red Sea; and he had given directions to contract for two sets of sails for her, provided, however, that if she foundered at sea, or should not arrive, no expence should accrue to government: as to the establishment of the vessel, he had given orders that such a provision of stores should be made as would fit the vessel for any establishment which the lords of the admiralty should think proper. General Baird, on his, arrival in the Red Sea, had proposed to him a plan, by the desire of the governor-general, for attacking, in the event of the expulsion of the French from Egypt, and the return of the Indian army, either the Mauritius or Batavia. He was not prepared to say, that the force under his command at the time was adequate to such an expedition, but he was anxious to have it in such a state of equipment as to be ready for any service required. As to the an- 640 chor, upon which so much stress had been laid, it now appeared that the whole matter was a mistake of the navy board. He owed it to the curiosity of a brother officer, who hearing so much about this circumstance, had examined the original records at Chatham, and found that the ring and shank of the anchor lost in the Indian sea had been returned to that arsenal, that this mistake was corrected; his own letters to the navy board on the subject having been among the papers lost. When he had sailed for India, he had a strong westerly breeze, and he found the ship so crazy, so rotten, and so leaky, that he was obliged to put into Portland Roads, and if it had not been for the importance of the service on which he was proceeding, he should not have ventured in her. He then proceeded to the Cape, afterwards to the Red Sea and to Calcutta, where she was near sinking, as would appear from the papers. He trusted that the bad and leaky state in which his vessel was there, would be a satisfactory reason to the house for the repairs she had undergone. From the first moment of his hearing that an unfavourable impression was entertained of his conduct by the admiralty, he had pressed earnestly for a hearing. He had passed, under the imputations that followed, the strongest and severest ordeal that any officer ever had. This would be evident from a reference to the strange accounts that had been made up, as would appear from the letter of the navy board by Mr. Tucker. They had been told in that of criminal prosecutions, and if those should not answer, of the matter being carried into the exchequer. But he contended that the law that ought to have been appealed to was martial law; that law which had upheld the navy of England. He ought, if supposed guilty, to have been brought to a court martial, rather than to have been made the subject of a paper war. He should have met the court martial with the same fortitude that he had shewn in meeting the scurrilous pamphlet to which he had before alluded, which, from a letter in his possession, that he was almost ashamed to read, he had reason to think had proceeded from a source which ought not to have stooped to such unworthy expedients. The hon. member here read a letter signed John M'Namara, stating, in answer to a question put by him to that gentleman, that he had heard, from the publisher of the pamphlet, that it had come from lord St. Vincent's 641 board of admiralty. Before he should touch upon the other points, he begged leave to advert to a letter written by the navy board, dated 11th of Feb. 1802, to capt. Mitchell, composed of exhortations and threats, and affording an extraordinary instance of an attempt to influence the evidence of an interior officer. This letter called on capt. Mitchel seriously to exhort his boatswain to state all he knew, and to inform him, that from the state of his accounts his evidence might have very serious consequences. This was a call upon him to rack his memory.
§ Mr. Kinnaird
here called the hon. member to order. He had a right, no doubt, to read the passage from the letter, but he did not conceive it orderly to put the meaning into another form of words; which appeared to him to be rather a comment than a quotation.
§ Sir Home Popham
appealed to any learned member in the house, whether he had put a construction on the words which any court of law would not allow. They called upon an inferior officer to rack his memory for any thing during the course of two years that could be brought against the conduct of his captain. He should not deny, and it was what might happen to any officer, that he might have committed some irregularities; but he was sure, he had not been guilty of any criminal irregularities, that could call for, or warrant the criminal industry that had been employed to decry his character. The whole transaction had been submitted to the commissioners of naval enquiry, whose conduct had been so ably argued, and so universally applauded in that house, that he should feel a pride in abiding by the issue of their examination of Mr. Lewis, and in their report thereon to the house. The hon. gent. in his opening speech on this subject, had stated, that he would feel as much pleasure as any hon. gent. if the investigation of the business should be favourable to the person who was the object of it. Nothing could so completely exculpate him from the calumnies that had been propagated against him, as a proof that there was no collusion between him and the naval officer alluded to. On this subject he had written a short and pithy letter to the naval commissioners, calling on them to state, whether, even from inference or misrepresentation, it appeared by the examination of Mr. Lewis, that any collusion existed between himself and that officer. They replied, that they had made their report to 642 the three branches of the legislature, and that they could not answer his question. He had in every instance retrenched expences, but on a scale deserving the attention of an officer. As to the canvass, which did not exceed in value 12l. and the junk not 21l. though the account occupied 3 pages in the report, neither could be supposed worthy of notice. He had deemed it necessary to advert to these topics, and might have expressed himself with some warmth, but he was sure that would be overlooked, when it was considered how long he had been exposed to the calumnies so industriously propagated against him, and how severely his own and his family's feelings must have been affected. In the whole of the expenditure he had been regulated by a desire to have his ships as highly and as well dressed as they could be. He had given orders in drawing for money that no bills should be drawn at a higher exchange than 2s. 6d. which was lower than the rate of exchange on bills drawn by admiral Blanket, who had also been in the Red Sea. In the rations also there was a saving. The diminution in the extravagant expence of transport tonnage had been very considerable. On his arrival in the Red Sea he had taken upon himself the management of the whole of the company's transport tonnage, and in a short time made a reduction an the expence to the amount of 17,000l: per month, which he had followed up till the saving amounted to 27,000l. He did not advert to these circumstances as instances of any great merit on his part; what he had done was only his bounden duty. He could not, however, but confess that he might have been a little extravagant with respect to his flying sails; but he trusted an additional expence of a few pounds for such an object would not be looked upon as a ground of disapprobation of his conduct. He had the testimony of the marquis Wellesley as to his measures of reform and retrenchment, together with an assurance of every assistance to enable him to continue them. Thus far he had thought it necessary to state the outlines of his whole conduct, and, as he had stated at first, he had no objection to the appointment of a committee, provided his acquiescence should not be construed into an admission of the validity of any charge against him. The report of the committee, he trusted, would be as favourable to his character as he could wish. If he had erred, he had the satisfaction to know, that 643 he had not erred from principle. He did not mean to say, that ignorance was any justification of an officer's conduct, but he was of opinion that that conduct should be considered on a great scale, and with a just attention to every part of it. He was sensible that he was addressing the most liberal and enlightened assembly in the world, and except the moment that should restore him to the service in which he gloried, the moment of referring his whole conduct to their decision was the happiest of his life. If he had gone too much at length into the particulars, he trusted to the indulgence of the house for having taken up so much of their time and attention.
said, that as he had paid considerable attention to these papers, it became him to offer a few words. The impression which a careful perusal of these papers had made on his mind was, that the hon. officer had discharged his duty, not only with great fidelity, but with great ability. He lamented that he was not able to convey in words the strong opinion which he had of his merits. He thought that the charges against him were of a very serious nature, first, that he had defrauded the public, and then (he was almost ashamed to state it) made use of a false document to screen himself. This appeared to him certain, that a very partial investigation bad been made, and very arbitrary proceedings adopted against the hon. baronet, and then that he had been refused permission to attend, and denied the opportunity to prove his innocence. Whether this was the ordinary practice, he had yet to learn. But if it was not, the persons who had begun it deserved the severest censure. He would vote for this motion, not because he thought that there was a case made out against the hon. officer; on the contrary, he not only was of opinion that he was innocent, but that his conduct was meritorious, but because he thought that many other points in these papers required investigation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
observed, that as it was likely the house would come to an unanimous vote for the appointment of the committee, he should just remark, that he did so under the impression of similar sentiments with those so forcibly delivered by the hon. member who spoke last. There was nothing contained in those papers from which any imputation of guilt could be drawn against the gallant officer; but, on the contrary, there was much that tended 644 to shew great and exemplary merit. His merits, he knew, were not confined to that particular service, but had been displayed an other occasions. The papers were so numerous, complicated, and detailed, that they could not be advantageously discussed but in a committee, when it would be proper also to consider other collateral matters. There were various points respecting the admiralty and navy boards, and the short examination of one single witness to which their attention might be directed. There was likewise the circumstance of the publication of the report from one board to another. The loss of the vouchers was a matter fit for enquiry, as well as the singular manner in which an English subject, an officer of the navy, had been impressed. He should forbear entering into details; but all these matters deserved examination, and those points should be left open to the committee, for their report to the house. As the motion was worded, it did not embrace enough for this purpose, but only respected the repairs of the Romney and Sensible. He should suppose there would be no objection to an amendment to this effect:—"That the committee should examine the matters of the repairs of the Romney and Sensible, and the proceedings of the admiralty and navy boards, and commission of naval enquiry thereon, and also enquire into the circumstances of the unauthorised publication of Feb. 20, 1804; the loss of the vouchers; and the circumstances of impressing Mr. David Evan Bartholomew; and report to the house, with such observations as arise to them from the consideration of the whole."
§ Mr. Jeffery
(of Poole) said, that the hon. officer, in what he had that night so clearly and eloquently stated, had convinced his mind that he had discharged the important and arduous duty entrusted to him, in such a manner as reflected the highest honour on his zeal, his talents, and his perseverance, and he was happy in the opportunity of paying this small tribute to his merits. He thought, from every thing that he had observed, that the hon. officer was a highly oppressed man. The charges against him were frivolous, vexatious, and litigious in the highest degree. The whole rested upon about 12l. worth of canvass and some oakum, while nothing was said of the great saving he 645 had made. In his opinion, that hon. officer, instead of incurring the censure, ought rather to receive a vote of thanks from the house.
§ Mr. David Scott
meant at first to have objected to the committee, as no case had been made out; but on the grounds on which the motion now rested, he would vote for it. When he was chairman of the East India company, he had corresponded with sir Home Popham, whose conduct had made the most favourable impression on his mind; that impression had been increased by the perusal of the papers on the table. Serious observations had been made on the expenditure of oakum and other trifles, while the saving of 27,000l. per month in the reduction of tonnage was overlooked.
§ Admiral Markham
declared, that the pamphlet mentioned by the gallant baronet certainly did not proceed from what had been termed lord St. Vincent's board of admiralty. Whether his hon. friend wished to assert any share in the manufacture of it, he did not know, but for himself, he utterly disclaimed it: the first time he had ever heard of it was last November at Portsmouth. The scurrility of this pamphlet had been insisted on, but surely it was not more scurrilous than the pamphlet antecedently published by the hon. baronet himself, in which he had indulged in observations calculated to defame and disgrace one of the highest public boards in the country. The hon. admiral read several passages from the law opinion annexed to sir Home Popham's narrative of the proceedings between him and the navy and admiralty boards, in support of his statement, and contended, that if a pamphlet, accusing an individual of improper conduct, was unjustifiable, one of the same tendency, by an officer, against a public board, was still more so. The hon. admiral called on the right hon. gent. (the chancellor of the exchequer) to consider, whether or not, by the measures he was now pursuing, he might not destroy that service which it was his duty to uphold. The liberty of the subject, to which he had alluded was a very ticklish point, and he cautioned him how he allowed it to be agitated. He warned him, lest by persevering in the system which had been adopted, the whole navy should go to ruin. His noble friend had persevered against a host of enemies in endeavouring to improve the state of the navy. Whether they 646 considered the civil or the military services of that noble lord, the house would ultimately find him entitled to their warmest thanks; and he could not help believing, that the right hon. gent. wished in his heart that the navy was in the situation in which it was when his noble friend retired from office.
§ Sir Home Popham
said, he should be very glad to leave the comparative scurrility of the two pamphlets to the determination of the committee.
Mr. W. Dickenson
jun. reprobated the keeping of the gallant officer in a state of suspence for such a length of time. Why was it that sir home Popham had not been tried by a court martial? Or why had not a civil or criminal prosecution been instituted against him?—Because, in that case, facts must have been distinctly proved; because a jury must have been convinced of his guilt before they returned a verdict against him. Instead of this, the conduct of the hon. baronet had been submitted to the consideration of the commissioners of naval enquiry, who very fairly declared that it was not a fit subject for their investigation, but for that of a court martial alone. But why had it been referred to the commissioners of naval enquiry? Because that was a court dilatory or summary, as they thought proper. Because that was a court in which a man, contrary to all the principles of British jurisprudence, was expected to criminate himself, and if he declined doing so, he was stigmatized with the name of the hero of the fifth clause!
§ Admiral Markham
said it was not a fit business to go to a court martial. There was such a complicature of charges, and such a mixture of different matters, that a court martial would not have been equal to its full and adequate investigation. This was at least his own opinion, and on that he had acted.
§ Mr. Sheridan
begged to trouble the house with a very few words. The hon. gent. who spoke last but one had said he would not say any thing against the naval commissioners, and had immediately afterwards styled them a court which might acquit or delay, according to their caprices, and that they might wish for persons to criminate themselves. This was a kind of language he could not bear, and thought no member ought to use, when the commission had been renewed, and the same powers invested in their hands by the house, 647 as they had before. If the hon. gent. thought they were a court acting according to caprice, or wishing persons to criminate themselves, he should in a manly way have come forward, and stated such facts as strong objections to the renewal of the commission, and not at this time deal out insinuations against hon. gentlemen who had acted with so much zeal, fidelity, diligence, and inflexible integrity, in the great trust reposed in them, as to acquire most deservedly the universal approbation and applause of the whole country.
Mr. W. Dickenson
jun. said he did not mean to cast any reflections on the commissioners of naval enquiry; on the contrary, he had said, that they recommended the trial by court martial, of which he approved.
§ Mr. Kinnaird,
however induced he might be, would not give way to the temptation of making that statement on the subject which he certainly was completely prepared to make. In reply to the accusation of delay that had been brought forward against him, he said, that not being aware in the first instance of the extent of the papers that it would be necessary to call for, it was impossible for him to fix a time for referring them to a committee. He asked the hon. gent. in what part of the papers was to be found what he had in vain looked for, the wish expressed by the commissioners of naval enquiry, to decline the investigation of the gallant baronet's conduct, and to refer it to a court martial. The observations made by the right hon. gent. opposite, on the impressing of Mr. Bartholomew, were extremely unfair, as they implicated the conduct of a noble lord, which, he was convinced, when it came to be scrutinized, would be found to be in the highest degree praiseworthy and honourable.
Mr. W. Dickenson
jun. had not stated that the wish of the commissioners of naval enquiry to decline the investigation of sir H. Popham's conduct, and to refer it to a court martial, existed in the papers before the house. It had been mentioned by an hon. baronet at the head of that commission, and confirmed by a conversation he had with him on the subject that morning. The motion as amended by the chancellor of the exchequer was then put and carried.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer,
as he saw the hon. gent. was prepared with a list of names, took the opportunity of intimating, before he heard them read, that 648 he should propose the committee to be chosen by ballot.
§ Mr. Kinnaird
remonstrated against this proceeding. The right hon. gent. had himself named a committee in the early part of the evening respecting the India business.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that it did not follow such was to be the invariable mode of appointment. There was a considerable difference between a committee, such as that the hon. gent. had alluded to, and one to which matter that went to criminate an individual was to be referred.
§ The Speaker
observed, that it would be necessary, for the sake of form, to propose the first name on Mr. Kinnaird's list, which happening to be that of Mr. Canning, produced a considerable deal of laughter.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
remarked that he certainly could have no objection to his right hon. friend, although for the sake of the general principle, he should be obliged to negative his appointment.
could see no other rule for the conduct of his right hon. relation opposite, except that when he himself chose to nominate, he thought it right; but if any person on the other side proposed it, he found a ballot the only mode.—The motion was negatived. And the chancellor of the exchequer moved, that the number of the committee be twenty-one, and that they be chosen by ballot; both which motions were agreed to.—Adjourned.