HC Deb 18 July 1811 vol 20 cc1027-36
Mr. Brougham

rose, and observed, that some time ago he gave notice of a motion for the production of the minutes of evidence taken in the harbour of Barbadoes, before a court martial upon lieutenant Richards, of the Dart sloop of war. It was with very considerable pain that he now felt himself com- pelled to move, but his duty as a member of parliament would not allow him to pass over circumstances which he was in possession of, relating to the transaction for which lieutenant Richards was tried. In doing so, he brought it forward as a case, for further information. The facts were these, as had been stated to him from persons of respectability, on whose credit he could rely. Two years since the Dart sloop lay in the harbour of Carlisle, in Barbadoes, as a guardship, about fifty or one hundred yards from the shore. There was a seaman on board, who was under confinement, certainly for very bad behaviour, and during that confinement, while the captain was on shore, made a great noise, which disturbed lieutenant Richards, who with some other persons went to the man and inflicted a further, punishment, a punishment, which he with great pain and regret believed existed to a certain extent in the navy, namely, that of gagging, which was done by means of forcing a piece of wood into the mouth of the offender. In this instance, a large piece of iron was the gag made use of, which was fastened with a bandage over his mouth, and tied behind with a knot. This being done, lieutenant Richards went a-shore, leaving the man quiet; and on his return he was indeed perfectly quiet—for he was dead! apparently as if suffocated by the gag; but this he did not mean to assert positively, though his information went to that effect. Lastly, in, the morning the unfortunate deceased was carried out of the ship; no coroner's' inquest was taken on his body, and he was; buried. Lieutenant Richards was then apprehended, but suffered to go at large; and it was a justice due to him to say, that he did hot attempt to escape. He was afterwards tried by a court martial, whether for murder or for breach of discipline he did not know, but he was acquitted and dismissed the service. The hon. and learned gentleman then went on to State that this was not the only case of' oppression and cruelly in the navy: he had several from the most respectable sources, which he could not bring forward from the lateness of the session, but which-he would state, abstaining from mentioning the names of the accused persons., A captain in the navy, about two years since, acted with great severity to his crew, so much so, that to a man they expressed their discontent. One man was flogged once or twice, and this man said that if he was flogged again, he would not endure it, for he would leap overboard. This being told the captain, he replied, "I will try the gentleman." The next time he was sentenced to be flogged the man actually leaped into the sea. At this time the vessel was under an easy press of sail; murmurs were heard among the crew, of "heave to! heave to! lower the boat! lower the boat!" But the captain said, "No! if the gentleman prefers that ship to my ship, he is welcome to sail in it." no attempt was made to save the man, and he was drowned! In the same ship, with the same captain, two other men were sentenced to be flogged, and they leaped overboard to avoid it; one or both were with difficulty saved. There were other circumstances connected with the conduct of this captain, which would, if his evidence was correct, establish the charges against him. It was a remarkable circumstance that two apparently respectable persons, at the distance of 250 miles from each other, spoke to the precise words of the captain when the man had leaped into the sea, and one offered to make affidavit of the fact. There was another case in which a seaman, named Absalom Foot, chose to keep for his amusement an account of the stoppages of grog, and the captain for this conduct ordered the fingers of the right hand to be fast bound with cord, which was sealed with wax, and impressed with the captain's seal. When this case was mentioned to the hon. and learned gentlemen, he thought it too absurd to be true; bat the testimony of five or six persons of very good character put the matter beyond doubt, especially, when they desired to make affidavits to the truth of the statement. The man received five dozen of lashes and was turned over to another ship. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded with' expressing his thanks to the illustrious Commander in chief, for the very wise, salutary, judicious and generous order issued for suppressing military flogging, and moved, "That there be laid before this House, copy of the Minutes of the court martial held at Carlisle Bay, Barbadoes, on Lieutenant Richards, of his Majesty's guardship Dart."

Mr. Yorke

wished the hon. and learned gent, had confined himself to the subject of the motion which he concluded with, and had not introduced irrelevant matter. He felt concerned that he should have thought it necessary to introduce the ano- nymous cases which he had brought forward, and which could not tend to any good whatever. It could only, by being left over to the next session, produce mischief and inconvenience. The hon. and learned gent. must have known that it was his duty, if he did not chuse to bring the subject forward, to have stated the cases of complaint to the board of admiralty, who would have instituted the necessary inquiries into the truth immediately. If the facts had been true, the officers charged would have been put on their trials. Ha must therefore complain of the hon. and learned gent, for throwing these cases before the public, without the opportunity being afforded of ascertaining the truth or falsehood of them. If true, the officers were responsible in the highest degree for their injustice and cruelty, and would be brought, according to law, to condign punishment. With respect to the case of lieutenant Richards, the right hon. gent, had no objection to the production of the sentence of the Court; but the minutes of the evidence would produce no good. The sentence would contain the substance of the charge, and the judgment of the court. The case must be strongly made out to warrant the production of the minutes, which would be trying the prisoner over again the facts which the hon. and learned gent. had stated, were in many instances well, founded, but he would more particularly state them. As to the charge, of gagging, that he must positively deny to be in practice in the navy, either now or at any previous time, Lieutenant Richards was tried for his life; and it was the opinion of the court who fried him that the man did not die from the gagging, but that the, lieutenant's conduct was so far bad, that be was incapable' of serving his Majesty, and he was accordingly dismissed the service. The man who was punished was a very bad character, riotous and dishonest, and when the ship was lying-in the Bay of Carlisle, got drunk, and was disorderly. The captain directed he should, be put in irons, and went on shore, leaving the ship under the command of lieutenant Richards. Soon after the man became riotous, and began to blaspheme his God and his King, and the service generally. The ship was a small one, and it was obvious, that when a man so conducted himself, it was necessary to pursue rigorous measures to enforce order and obedience, for it was impossible, as in society, on shore, to put a man of-that description away. The lieutenant accordingly ordered that he should be gagged, which was done, but he still persisted in his blasphemous conduct, and the first gag was taken out and another put in of a larger description, in doing which the officer certainly acted very improperly. Having put in this gag, the officer went a-shore, leaving the man with his hands tied behind him. There was another man near him in confinement, but no sentry over them; the man was extremely intoxicated, and in the course of the afternoon he died. This was not a case in which the coroner could interfere, for the order was to take the man to the hospital. It was impossible, however, for the boat's crew to row on shore, the wind setting in from the shore, and the body was so offensive. Under these circumstances, the body, which had been previously sewn up in a sack, was taken to the harbour and thrown into the sea. Lieutenant Richards was tried under these circumstances, and the court negatived the charge of supposed murder, by acquitting the prisoner of the death of the man. The House, therefore, he trusted would not be inclined to try him again, particularly, as in so doing they would be arraigning the proceedings of the court. The right hon. gent. had, as he before ob served, no objection to procure the sentence on which the hon. and learned gent, might take such measures as he thought proper.

Sir R. Bickerton

said be had been 37 years in the naval service of the country, 22 years of which he had been in actual service, and he had never on any one occasion seen gagging resorted to.

Lord Walpole

stated that the vessel was a mile and a half from the shore at the time the circumstance occurred. A coroner's jury, therefore, could have nothing to do in the matter. The sentence of the court martial proceeded on the narrative of having maturely weighed the whole circumstances of the case, and on that narrative found that there was no malice nor any intention on the part of lieutenant Richards to cause the death of the seaman, and therefore acquitted him of the charge of murder. After that, was the House to be told that no trial for murder had taken place?

Mr. Creevey

stated several instances in' which the admiralty had paid great attention to complaints brought before them.

Lord Cochrane

was of opinion, that although the discipline of some ships might be severe, yet that, generally speaking, more humanity could not be shewn than was exhibited in the navy. The naval service would be much better if the prisons of the country were not so frequently emptied into men of war. As to the punishment of gagging, it might sometime be rendered a cruel practice; but when there was a notorious drunken scoundrel aboard, who not only drunk his own grog, but sold his clothes to buy the grog of other men, it would be very hard if the whole ship's company, doing their duty watch and watch, should be kept awake by such a brawler, from the absence of power on the part of the officers, to prevent him from making any disturbance. He bad known some ships will governed without any punishment but that of shame. In one in particular, the delinquent was made ridiculous by being compelled to wear military jack boots and long spurs. On the whole, however, he was convinced that when men of war were on foreign service, it was impossible to manage the men without some other punishment than mere shame.

Sir F. Burdett

said no reason whatever had been urged for the concealment of the minutes of the court martial, for which his hon. and learned friend had moved. He thought his hon. and learned friend quite justified in declining to mention names, recollecting that those who complained of any abuse in any departments, were certain to tall under the displeasure of ministers. The conduct of the officer in this case appeared to him to be entirely undefended and at common law amounted to murder. The hon. bart. then cited an opinion, as he stated, from Blackstone, that a man shooting at game without a licence, and killing a man through accident, was liable to be tried for murder. It was also laid down in all our law books, that the smallest participation in any felonious act rendered the accused amenable to all the consequences attending the act itself.

The Attorney General

lamented that his hon. and learned friend had not thought proper in the first instance to submit the cases which he had adduced to the consideration of the Admiralty, and in the event of their having been neglected, then to have brought them before Parliament. In the present instance, it appeared that the officer had been tried by a competent tribunal, and although acquitted of murder, convicted of cruelty, and that the severest sentence which the court could inflict for the offence had been passed upon him. Even On the supposition that the court martial bad been in error, yet this man, having been acquitted of a capital charge, ought not to be capitally questioned again. In his opinion, no grounds had been laid for the production of the minutes of evidence.

General Tarleton

regretted that his hon. and learned friend, for whose talents he entertained the highest respect, had brought forward the present subject. The principal part of his hon. and learned friend's statements had been most fully answered. Adverting to the question of military punishments, while he acknowledged that those were the best regiments in which flogging was not resorted to, he was obliged conscientiously to say, what-ever odium might follow the declaration, that in his opinion, it would be impossible wholly to abolish the practice of flogging in the army.

Mr. P. Moore

supported the motion, and trusted that the discussion would have as good an effect on the regulations respecting the discipline of the navy, as the discussion brought forward by an hon. hart, near him had had on the regulations respecting the discipline of the army.

Mr. Croker

was surprized that the hon. and learned gent, should suppose that any persons who gave information of abuses to the board of Admiralty, would expose themselves to its displeasure. He could assure the hon. and learned gent, that the board of Admiralty was fully disposed to listen to all complaints brought before it, and had within his knowledge thanked several individuals by whom those complaints had been preferred. As to the anonymous cases which bad been mentioned, if the hon. and learned gent, chose to keep the names of his informant and of the persons accused secret, yet if he would only stale the name of the ship from which the man jumped overboard, the Admiralty would institute a minute inquiry into the circumstances of the case. For a long series of yearns no accusation, not even an anonymous one, had been passed over by the Admiralty without investigation. As to the old practice of sending convicts on board men of war, the Admiralty had for several years opposed it with the utmost determination.

Mr. Brougham,

in reply, declared that be bad not heard a single argument against the production, of the Minutes of Evidence. There were two parties whom their production might affect—not the officer, for he agreed entirely with his right hon. and learned friend, that it would be impossible again, to try him—but the court martial and the Admiralty, by whom the trial by court martial was ordered.

Lord Walpole

in explanation of his former statement observed, that the trial had been ordered by the admiral on the station, not by the Admiralty.

Mr. Brougham

resumed, and contended, that the individual in question ought to have been tried, not by a court martial, but by the Admiralty's jurisdiction. If there was one species of jurisdiction, to the proceedings of which greater publicity ought to be given than to any other, it was that of courts-martial. As to mentioning the names of those from whom he received his information, he should be very cautious on that head. He did not mean to say that the board of Admiralty-would distinctly visit their resentment on such individuals. They would not for instance put them at the bottom of the list. They would not set a black mark against them in the Admiralty books, but they would set a black mark against them in their own minds. They would be biassed to their future prejudice. This he said without reference to any particular set of men, for he should have the same apprehension were his own political friends in office. He cordially closed, however, with the proposition of the right hon. secretary of the Admiralty, to state to him the name of the ship in which the transaction that be had described happened. He would obtain as soon as possible the name of the man, and some approximation at least to the date of the occurrence, for the purpose of communicating the whole to the right hon. gentleman.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the hon. and learned gent, must entertain a strange notion of the effects of office, if he conceived that against the name of a person who gave information of a foul murder, gentlemen in office would set a black mark in their minds, and that they would be indisposed from that period to do any thing kind of fair by such an individual, so strongly was the hon. and learned gent impressed with this notion, that he thought even his own friends, were they in power, would be influenced by considerations of' that nature. The observation would be unfortunate for the hon. and learned gent., if at any future time he should himself get into office, as it might be supposed to proceed from a conviction of what would be his own feelings under similar circumstances. It appeared to him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) that no grounds whatever had been laid for the production of the minutes of evidence. The hon. gent complained of the officer alluded to having been tried by a court martial instead of an Admiralty court. Now, the act of Parliament expressly declared, that any one accused of having committed a murder in the fleet should be tried by a court martial. The hon. and learned gentle man's observations therefore ought to be directed against the law, and not against this case, which was in conformity to the law. He lamented that the hon. and learned gent, should have stated so many anonymous instances of misconduct. How ever delicate the subject, yet by not mentioning the names of the officers accused, the charge was, in fact, brought against the whole service. It would be generally circulated, that but for the apprehension of a black mark in the minds of the Admiralty, many persons would come for ward to sustain these complaints. Al though he was sure that the hon. and learned gent, did not mean it, yet all this would do infinite mischief. Let the hon. and learned gent, place himself in the situation of the gallant and honourable officers on the western station, and then say how he should feel under that general imputation which the publication of charges not specifically made against any particular individual by name, must necessarily occasion. He moved as an Amendment to leave out the word "Minutes," for the purpose of inserting the words "Charge and Sentence."

Mr. Brougham

explained and stated the extreme reluctance with which he had listened to the information that had been given to him, until he became satisfied of its authenticity.

Sir F. Burdett,

in support of the opinion of his hon. and learned friend, that persons preferring complaints were liable to the resentment of the higher powers, called to the recollection of the House the case of admiral Montague, who, soon after he had made a complaint to the Admiralty, was put on half-pay.

Mr. R. Ward

denied that the one was in consequence of the other; and observed that this was another of those unfounded assertions which, the hon. baronet was in the habit of making in greater number, though certainly without being aware' of their falsehood, than any man he had; ever heard.

Sir F. Burdett

disclaimed any assertion on the subject; he had merely said that there was a strange coincidence between the complaint and the dismissal.

Lord Cochrane

observed, that, in addition to admiral Montague's being put on half-pay, his son had been denied the privileges of the school at Portsmouth, until the subject was mentioned in the House of Commons.

The Attorney General

declared that this latter circumstance arose out of the misstatement of admiral Montague himself. As soon as the error was discovered, his son's wrong was redressed.

The Amendment was then carried without a division, and the original motion, so amended, was agreed to.