HC Deb 03 June 1806 vol 7 cc509-13
Lord Tenple,

pursuant to the notice he had given upon a former day, now rose for the purpose of moving a specific day, for taking into consideration the charges of high crimes and misdemeanours against the marquis Wellesley, laid upon the table by an hon. member, on the 28th of last month. He hoped it would not be necessary for him to preface his motion by observations to any great length. But as the hon. member, who had brought forward those charges, had named no particular day for moving the house to their consideration; feeling, as he did, the nature and importance of those charges, to be such as called for their full investigation with the least possible delay, he now rose for that purpose. Gentlemen, who had looked into those charges, must have felt them to be of the most weighty nature. They directly imputed to lord Wellesley, not only every species of public delinquency that could brand the character of a public officer, but every charge of private depravity that could stain the personal reputation of an individual. He had no doubt, that the hon. gent. who brought forward those charges, had done so under a self-persuasion of their truth, and a belief that he should be able to substantiate them in evidence. He would not pay the hon. gent. so bad a compliment, as to suppose he would bring forward such charges against any man, much less against the noble lord, unless he was himself persuaded they were founded in fact, and without being prepared with evidence which he himself conceived competent to sustain them. But the hon. gent. must allow that, notwithstanding the strength of his own persuasion upon the subject, it was still possible the noble lord might possess a confidence in his own innocence, superior to every accusation of such a nature, and must feel extremely impatient for the opportunity of his own vindication; more especially, when those charges included one of a nature more atrocious than all the rest, and such a one as called for the most immediate investigation, namely, the charge of a foul, deliberate, and cruel murder. In this charge was also included another person, not a member of either house of parliament; for whose account, also, much anxiety must be felt, though he had not the honour even of a slight personal acquaintance with him, namely, Mr. Henry Wellesley. But, from the nature of the charges altogether, and more especially the last, it became absolutely necessary, that an early investigation should now take place. If the hon. gent. had named any day for such an enquiry, it would not be his wish to take it out of his hands: for the present, however, he should move, "That the Article of Charge, of high Crimes and Misdemeanours committed by marquis Wellesley, in his transactions with respect to the nabob vizier of Oude, which was delivered in at the table, and read upon the 28th day of May last, be taken into consideration upon to-morrow fortnight, the 18th day of this instant June." If the hon. gent. should then have any motion to submit to the house upon the subject, he would have an opportunity of doing so. If not, he (lord Temple) should certainly propose a motion on the subject.

Mr. Paull

adverted to the precedent of Mr. Burke's proceedings against Mr. Hastings; and said, that that right hon. gent., after 5 years' deliberation, and repeated motions, had, upon the 4th of April, 1786, laid on the table 7 articles of charge against Mr. Hastings; on the 12th of April, he laid 4 more; and, on the 7th of May, 3 more; and, notwithstanding the right hon. gent. had taken 5 years to deliberate upon his purpose; that he had the benefit of the reports of the secret committee, of various papers he moved for, and of evidence examined at the bar for the proof of his charges; yet it was not in less than 6 weeks afterwards, that he moved the house to any proceeding upon those charges. Now, he had given notice only the preceding day, that he had witnesses to examine; and had, also, moved for a number of papers, many of which were absolutely necessary in support of the charges alluded to by the noble lord. Let those witnesses be examined at the bar; let those papers be produced in proper time; and he should not have the smallest objection to proceed to the investigation on the day proposed. Indeed, it was his intention to have moved for that day, if the testimony and documents had been fairly before the house; but, until they were, he should not be induced to move one step to the right or to the left, or to move one degree quicker or slower, in consequence of the noble lord's motion, or of any importunity from the friends of lord Wellesley.

Lord Archibald Hamilton

could not let pass some expressions which had fallen from the noble lord, without making a few observations upon them. The noble lord had complained, that the charges of the hon. gent. went to impeach the private character of lord Wellesley, for acts merely of public and official conduct; and that he had applied to the noble marquis, personally, every atrocious epithet, of tyranny, cruelty, oppression, plunder, and even of murder, for acts done in his public and official situation. But he must conceive it impossible, that such could have been the purpose of the hon. gent.; and as to the charge of murder, he did not conceive it to be put by the hon. gent. in the way it was imputed. But really, if, in bringing forward charges such as those now on the table of the house, and every tittle of which his lordship conceived to be warranted by the documents already brought forward in support of them, a member was to be restrained in the use of such language, and such epithets, as were usual in expressing opinions extremely natural to his feelings, upon such circumstances as those charged, lest the private character of the party accused should be supposed to be implicated in his public conduct, it would be impossible for any man to devise a becoming language for bringing before that house criminal charges against public delinquency in any man.

Sir John Newport

expressed some surprise, how the noble lord who spoke last, if he had read the charges upon the table, could so far mistake that particular charge, which related to murder, as to say the crime was not roundly and specifically charged against the noble marquis, in conjunction with others. The hon. bart. here read an extract from the charge; which stated, that the said marquis, in conjunction with Henry Wellesley, had, with numbers of armed men, surrounded the mansions of certain zemindars and rajahs, the subjects of the nabob of Oude, and within his dominions; and did attack, slay, and destroy, several of the said rajah's zemindars, and their attendants and adherents; and did sack and plunder their said mansions of their property; thus completing the measure of his oppression and tyranny, by a foul, deliberate, wanton, and cruel murder. If this, then, was not a charge of murder, couched in as strong words as had ever appeared in the language of an indictment, he was at a loss to conceive what words could describe it more strongly.

Sir Arthur Wellesley

rose, to express some surprise at the declaration made by the noble lord who spoke last but one; namely, that he thought the charges against the noble marquis, his relation, borne out by the documents already laid upon the table; and more especially as the hon. gent. (Mr. Paull) had said, only the moment before, that he could not sustain those charges, without several other documents, which he had moved for; and also, the examination of several witnesses at the bar. It was very extraordinary, therefore, that the noble lord should pronounce so decidedly upon the truth of charges (which, however, remained to be proved), that his hon. friend, who brought them forward, declared he was not able to sustain without much more evidence. With respect to the charge of murder, however, it was one of too foul and atrocious a nature to be suffered to go forth unexplained, or remain as a stain upon the character of his noble relation, without placing the circumstances, upon which it was founded, in a proper point of view. There were certain officers, called zemindars and rajahs, resident in that part of the nabob's territory which was ceded to the company in 1801, and rendered liable to pay certain tributes, in the way of land-tax upon that territory, annually, to the company. The first year's tribute they did pay, he believed, regularly; and the regulations of the company, which were the laws of the country, were promulgated and established in that territory; but, upon the 2d payment being required, instead of complying with the law, they combined to resist it: they assembled together their armed forces, under the chief command of an officer named Amas Ali Khan; they retired to their forts; they set the laws at defiance; they refused to pay any tribute; and it was found necessary by the governor-general, in support of the laws, to reduce those men by force. So formidable were they, that it required the whole of the Bengal army, with the commander-in-chief at their head, to effect this service. They were attacked in their forts, and, in the course of their obstinate resistance, some persons fell; some blood was spilt; and this was what the hon. gent. imputed to the noble marquis as a murder. It was an act of public power, done-in-sup- port of the laws of the country, like what would have been done against any class of British subjects, in similar resistance to the laws passed by that house; and the house would judge how far it was just to describe such a measure by the epithet of murder.

Lord A. Hamilton

explained, that when he said the charge was warranted by the papers on the table, he could not be supposed to mean that it was proved. This was quite a different thing.

Mr. Golding

said, a charge of murder was as well warranted against the lord lieutenant of Ireland, for the death of the rebels, slain in the suppression of the late insurrections in that country; or against the magistrates of London, and the ministers of the time, for the death of those killed in the suppression of the riots in 1780.

Mr. Fox

submitted whether this was a time to enter upon the merits of the case; and expressed his hope, that the subject would be dismissed for the present.

Dr. Laurence

said, that it was impossible, in a case of this kind, to fix a particular day. The house could not, with any propriety, proceed to the consideration of the charge, till the whole of the evidence was before them. Papers had been moved for, which had been suppressed by the late board of controul, and had not yet been produced.

Lord Castlereagh

complained of the illiberal manner in which he had been treated by the hon. and learned gent., who said that he had suppressed papers, when he had only exercised a proper discretion, thinking that the communication would be injurious to the public service. He thought the learned gent. ought rather to have made a specific motion on the subject, and then he should be prepared to defend himself. These papers would not certainly justify the expression in the charge.

Mr. Johnstone

said, that the papers in question related to troops and forts, and other matters of public notoriety, and were, therefore, the worst grounds in the world for the exercise of this discretion. As he was on his legs, he must say, that the word "murder" was improperly applied.

Lord H. Petty

agreed with his right hon. friend (Mr. Fox), that this was a most improper time for entering on the merits of the case; and hoped, therefore, that the subject would be dropped.—The motion was then put and carried.