HC Deb 18 June 1811 vol 20 cc698-710
Sir F. Burdett

rose to make the motion of which he had given notice, respecting corporal punishments in the army. He said, the "abject had for several years weighed and pressed upon his mind, and he at length had determined to bring it before the attention of the House; but having, from time to time, heard from several gentlemen, high in the army, that government had an intention to abolish the infamous practice of Flogging, he had been induced to withhold from making any motion, wishing rather that the measure should voluntarily flow from them, than that it should be adopted in consequence of the interference of that House. It had been said at the time of passing the Mutiny act, that a clause would be introduced, which would have the effect of abolishing this scandalous punishment by degrees; but having found from the clause in the Local Militia act that that was not the case, he thought it his duty not to loss a moment in coming down to the House, to give a notice on the subject; and he had only brought forward the case of Taylor as an instance that something was necessary to be done. Finding, however, that the case of a Local Militia-man did not perhaps sufficiently apply to the case of the general adoption of the punishment of Flogging throughout the main body of the army, he had given up that case, and thought it best to proceed on the motion which he should have the honour, before he sat down, to submit to the House, There were other reasons which urged him much to come forward with it. The press had been treated with uncommon-severity on account of mentioning the disgraceful punishment of flogging our soldiers. Very severe sentences had been passed on two public writers for having said that these degrading punishments in our army had—

Sir M. Wood

spoke to order, and Was proceeding to comment on the speech of sir Francis Burdett, when

Mr. Brougham

spoke to order, and said, that if the hon. baronet who spoke last was allowed to proceed in that way, he would move that the debate be adjourned.

The Speaker

said, that sir M. Wood had not shewn that the hon. baronet whom he had interrupted, was out of order; he must do that, and not comment on the hon. baronet's speech.

Sir M. Wood

then moved that the gallery be cleared.

Mr. Brougham

then gave notice that he would constantly move an adjournment so long as sir M. Wood persisted in excluding strangers.

[The gallery was then ordered to be cleared; but when most of the strangers had withdrawn they were readmitted.]

Sir F. Burdett

(on our readmission into the gallery) was speaking. In the view that he took of this subject he was sanctioned by the opinions of many general officers, and persons who had eminently distinguished themselves in the service of their country. Many of those officers not only agreed with him in theory, but had proved in practice, and in the discipline of their own corps, that the system of flogging was not essential to the discipline of the English army, and that it was as unnecessary as it was cruel and disgraceful. Among the many bright examples of officers who knew how to maintain proper discipline in their regiments without flogging, he thought it would be injustice not to mention the illustrious name of his royal highness the duke of Gloucester, who far the last three years had kept his regiment in a high state of discipline without having recourse to flogging; and it appeared to him that his conduct in this respect did equal credit to his abilities as an officer, as it did to the amiable qualities of his heart. He was sorry to be obliged to state another most remarkable instance of the inefficacy of pursuing an opposite line of conduct. He must say that the 15th regiment of dragoons was a regiment long distinguished for its efficiency in the field, and for its peaceable, modest, and proper demeanour in every respect, before his royal highness the duke of Cumberland got the command of it. Until that time, punishments of this nature had seldom been known in it; and it was a melancholy fact to state, that more cruel punishments had taken place within. a very few months after the duke of Cumberland was appointed to the command, than had taken place in that re- giment ever since the period of the seven years' war, down to the time in which he had got the command of it. The excellent pamphlet of sir Robert Wilson upon this subject, was, as he supposed, in the hands of every member; and therefore he should content himself with stating, generally, that that gallant and distinguished officer most decidedly reprobated the system of Hogging. He understood, also, that the present Commander in Chief wished, as far was in his power, to get rid of this ignominious and cruel mode of punishment; and he must do him the justice to say, that he understood that in the management of his own regiment a very mild system of discipline had always been pursued. He thought it would be also doing injustice to the known homanity and benevolent nature of his royal highness the Prince Regent, not to suppose that he also felt alive to the sufferings of our brave Soldiers, and that he also would be anxious to free them from the degrading and cruel punishments to which they were now exposed. He therefore by no means thought the improbability of succeeding in this object so great as it appeared to many.—He would mention, also, a militia regiment which had been commanded by lord Euston, the present duke of Grafton. This regiment had long been considered as a pattern regiment, and many other officers endeavoured in vain, by the severity of punishments, to make their regiments equal to it; and yet lord Euston brought his regiment to this perfection without having recourse to flogging. The instrument called a cat-o' nine-tails was not known by the drummers of that regiment. When persons of such rank and acknowledged merit as he had mentioned, had proved by practice that the best discipline could be kept up in the army without flogging, he conceived himself entitled to state, that it would be well for the British army, in every point of view, if the example and authority of such men were generally followed. With regard to the cases that he should think it necessary to state to the House, he had derived his information from persons who were in situations that gave them the means of knowing, and of whose veracity he had no doubt. He did not think it proper to name his authorities in the first instance, although many of them had given him permission so to do. He considered that naming them now might possibly do injury to those individuals without being of any public advan- tage; but if the House should errant an enquiry, he would certainly bring them forward as witnesses to prove, the statements he should now make. He had been informed by a surgeon of a regiment, that a man under his care who had a defect in his sight, had literally been flogged for being blind, [murmurs from the ministerial benches.] The case was this: the surgeon who gave him the information was a young man at the time, but this soldier had been under his care, and had even undergone many painful operations for the defect of sight, which he was convinced was natural. This case, with many others, was referred to a senior surgeon, who was a hasty and careless man. His report was, that there was nothing the matter with his sight, that it was all a pretence to avoid duty, and that he was (to use a term he did not understand) a malingerer. The young surgeon finding his professional judgment thus impeached, appealed to the judgment of another surgeon of still greater practice, who coincided with him that the defect of sight was real. Nevertheless, the man was brought to a trial by Court-martial for being a malingerer, and was actually condemned, and did receive a hundred lashes. When the surgeon of superior standing afterwards told the officers that the man really had a natural defect in his sight, the answer of one of them was—'Well! what signifies a hundred lashes to a man of his description? This case he should be ready to prove if an enquiry should take place. Another instance he had to state of severity of punishment took place at Gibraltar; two men had been so harrassed and disgusted with the service, that to get rid of it they chopped off, each of them, one of their hands. Instead of gaining their object, and getting rid of the service, they first receded a severe punishment for this offence; and after they had so received their punishments, they were condemned to eke out the remainder of their lives in servile employments, and no soldier was allowed to speak to them. He must, however, ask, upon this case, what must have been the disgust which those men had received, to induce them even to cut their own hands off, and how harrassing must that service have been, which they would take such methods of endeavouring to free themselves from? There was another case of a soldier of 70 years of age, and who had served for upward of 50 years with great credit and an excellent character. He unfortunately got a little in liquor, and was sentenced to be flogged. In vain he stated his length of service, his never, having been before sentenced to any ignominious punishment, his wounds, and his age. The answer to him was, that his age and his length of service should have made him know better; and he was accordingly flogged. The very same day, another soldier, a young lad of 16, was condemned for some impropriety of conduct. He pleaded his youth and inexperience: but he was answered, that on that very account he must be made to learn his duty; so that youth or age, inexperience or long and faithful services, were urged equally to no purpose, as a mitigation of the severity of punishment.—The hon. bart. said, that when he was confined in the Tower, he was unfortunately an eye-witness of the-severity of the punishments that were inflicted on very old men for trivial offences, One of those whom he saw flogged had been 30 years in the army, and had received no fewer than seventeen wounds in the service of his country. It was, indeed, a most heart-rending sight to see an old man, whose breast was scarred with honourable wounds, having his back lacerated with ignominious stripes for some petty offence. He saw another old soldier flogged, who had been 27 years in the service. As to the severity and cruelty of the punishments, he could not have had an idea of it if he had not been an eye-wit" ness. Great as the corporeal suffering must be in such cases, he thought the shame and disgrace of it was still worse. There were but few persons who knew what a severe instrument of torture the cat o'nine tails was. Every lash inflicted by it was, more properly speaking, nine lashes. These were pieces of whipcord, not such as gentlemen used to their horse-whips, but each of them as thick as a quill, and knotted. This dreadful engine of torture was frequently applied by the strength of fresh men relieving each other, until human nature could bear no more suffering; and then, if pains were taken to recover the unhappy sufferer, it was only to enable him to undergo fresh agony and farther pain. What appeared to him be the most disgusting thing in the whole transaction, was the attendance of the surgeon, whose business appeared principally to detect any lingering principle of life which could enable the man to undergo more torture; and his art and knowledge, with an al- most impious profanation of the healing art, was exercised principally for the purpose of renewing the fatuity to bear fresh tortures. He really did not believe that in the description the poets gave of hell, there were any tortures equal to what was called a military punishment. He believed the principal part of the complaints of the soldiers, and of the reasons for which they were flogged, was, that they were often dissatisfied with the manner in which their pay and what was called necessaries were furnished. [The hon. baronet here read an extract from a work of Major James, intitled the "Regimental Companion," in support of his opinion, that such was the general cause of discontents in the army, and military punishments.] He had often thought, that if instead of nothing but punishment for offences however slight, soldiers could stand before a court-martial to determine what rewards, what honours or what increase of pay they were entitled to for gallant services, the army would get on much better. At present, the system pursued was degrading to the whole army, to the officers who ordered and witnessed the punishment, as well as to those who were condemned to endure it. The gentlemen of this country were thus exposed to witness what no other gentlemen in Europe were obliged to see. These severe punishments were not inflicted for serious offences only, but on the most trifling matters of regulation in the regiment. There was nothing so trivial, either in dress or equipment, for which a soldier might not be flogged. When the number of desertions which took place every year was considered, and the punishments which might be inflicted for such desertions, he calculated that five millions of lashes might be annually inflicted on this account; for he must always calculate every lash given with a cat-o'-nine-tails as nine lashes. We often heard of how many strokes a minute was given by a steam-engine, but the flogging system would far exceed, in this respect, any powers of the steam-engine. It was the opinion of almost every experienced officer, that no regiment, or no soldier, was ever corrected by those military punishments. The men who suffered the punishments were, in a manner, driven from their rank in existence, and afterwards appeared heart-broken, and ashamed to look their comrades in the face. The House had lately expressed its sympathy for the sufferings of West India slates, but there was nothing in the West Indies which could, be at all compared for cruelty, with the manner in which English soldiers were flogged. How painful it must be to their feelings when they marched against an enemy whom they knew was never flogged, to think of their own discoloured shoulders, and dishonoured carcases? It was melancholy for them to recollect, that if their bodies should be found upon the field of honour, although their breasts might be pierced with glorious wounds, their backs would exhibit the cruel marks of disgrace. It was no honour for any man to command persons liable to be flogged, as it was no honour to command galley slaves. The hon. baronet here read a letter from-sir Robert Wilson, wherein he stated, "that he had the mortification to hear a Russian minister tell the emperor, that nothing was finer than to see an English regiment on parade, but that nothing was more disgusting than to see their camp in the morning, and witness the cruel and inhuman punishments that were constantly inflicted there." Mr. Drakard, who was now suffering in Lincoln jail, had, in fact, very much libelled the Russian nation, when he stated that they had copied the barbarity of oar military punishments. British officers, however, found that they could discipline the people of other countries without resorting to the cat-o'-ninetails. The Portuguese were allowed to have arrived at great proficiency in discipline, but they were never flogged as our soldiers were. The great Frederick of Prussia once governed his army, in a great measure, by the stick of the corporal; he, however, soon found the error of his system from the number of desertions, and latterly adopted a very mild system. In this country, the system of cruelty and torture had been introduced, principally with the view of Germanizing our soldiers; but the Gorman soldiers in our pay were quite astonished at this mode of discipline, as nothing like it had been practised in Germany during their recollection. If British officers could make good soldiers of Germans, Portuguese, and every other nation without flogging, what a scandal it was to this country to say that it was necessary with the. English alone? In the army of our enemy, it must always be recollected, that there were rewards as well as punishments, and parliamentary influence was not necessary to obtain promotion. As to the cruelty with which English soldiers were treated, he insisted that it was greater than the common feeling of mankind could bear to witness, if exercised on a beast. If any man was to use a horse, or any other animal, with such cruelty in a public place, his brains would probably be knocked out by the populace. After a variety of observations on the cruelty and inefficacy of the system of Flogging, the hon. baronet concluded by stating, that, considering the advanced period of the session, and the impossibility of now going into the enquiry, he thought it the best way to move for an Address to the Prince Regent, which he did to the following effect: "That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, That his royal highness will be graciously pleased to take into his consideration the practice of flogging Soldiers, and that his royal highness will be graciously pleased to issue such orders to officers commanding regiments and corps of regiments as shall to his royal highness's wisdom appear best calculated to restrain, and finally to abolish, that cruel, unnecessary, and ignominious mode of punishment."

Mr. Manners Sutton

admitted the importance of the subject, but must think the statements of the hon. baronet much exaggerated. The very object proposed was already attended to, so far as was consistent with the military policy of the country, and could be made useful or manageable. It was unfair to speak of the effect of the law, until it had been tried; from the lateness of its enactment, it had not been fairly tried. Even now, frequent applications had been made to him to know how far the usual punishment might not be commuted for imprisonment. Instances of cruelty had been spoken of. If (hose instances were brought forward distinctly, they would meet investigation, and receive punishment. It was to be observed, that the object of the former motion, the Local Militia-man, was omitted. From the mode in which the statement of that case was originally made, some enquiry had been necessary, and the result was the following statement. The recruits had been assembled some days before the main body of the regiment, and there was a natural tendency to disorder. There were some reports that the men's bread was bad, and the colonel sent for the contractor to direct him to give better. The contractor as serted that the bread was good, and it was sent to the mess-table to be tried. The officers were all of opinion that it was of the proper quality; but the colonel not leaving it even to this, sent some to the inspecting general, who pronounced it good. The regiment arrived in small parties, and some of those at night rather intoxicated. The clamour against the bread was kept up by these people; and loaves were found kicked about the streets, a proof that there was no attempt to try the bread. After this, the words, "sour bread," and other insulting expressions, were chalked upon the wails—placards were hung up—the officers were hissed down the parade—and still the ringleader could not be found. The officers, however, were anxious that something should be done; the spirit was too dangerous to be passed over, and it was important to find out who was the exciter of the spirit. Taylor wrote the song of which so much had been said, and exhibited himself as a prominent parson. He was punished; not for the song, as was absurdly said, but for the part which he had taken. His punishment was partially inflicted, and he acknowledged its leniency in the presence of the surgeon. Some of Taylor's comrades had come into the room and were reproaching him with faint hearted-ness. Taylor told them, and repeated it to the surgeon, that he now was satisfied that without discipline, subordination could not exist; that the sentence was merciful, and his punishment lenient. So much with regard to the cruelty. As to the other statements of the hon. baronet, he hoped they were exaggerated. Some of those cases arose from regimental courts martial, which of course could not come within his cognizance; but they might be examined into. A few days ago, the Duke of York directed, that a regular return should be made of the sentences of regimental courts martial. The statement of the desertions was exaggerated. The hon. baronet had apparently concluded, that the whole number of 879 desertions implied so many individuals. This was a mistake, for the same individual sometimes deserted five or six times before he could be finally prevented. There were some parts of the hon. baronet's statement which he had heard with great regret. Such were those expressions, that the" state of the British soldier was looked upon with horror by other troops. It was the first time such an idea had been started. The practice which had been lately adopted, of bringing military subjects before the House in all cases, was mischievous. Much mischief must be done by its growing into a custom. If parliament made itself a court of military appeal, it would soon find that it had taken upon it an excessive burthen. It was unfounded to attribute the perfection of our discipline to any thing but the mutual respect of officer and soldier. This was not meant to cut off the appeal to the authority of the House in matters of extensive military policy, but to make that application customary would unhinge the whole frame of discipline. The source of the late glorious successes of our soldiers was not numbers, they were always inferior; nor exclusive courage, for it would be a calumny to suppose all other nations cowards. The system would be broken down by this habit of appeals to parliament. If the army were accustomed to make those appeals, some trifling abuses might be corrected, but the army would be gone. Where was the substitute for the present system; Imprisonment was now part of it. Capital punishment might be used; but was it to be said that there was to be no punishment, except capital, for the higher offences?

Mr. Brougham

regretted that the actual statement of the hon. baronet seemed to have totally escaped the hon. member, whose speech was much more like a prepared anticipation of a speech expected, than an answer to one made. The cases which his hon. friend had adduced had been objected to, but he would not trouble himself about those cases. He was satisfied with shewing from the principle of reason and law, that the system of flogging was unwise. This was the object of the motion, and nothing relating to any particular case: he was only anxious to bring the House to a pledge that it would proceed on the subject next session. The judge advocate had spoken of his amendments to the Mutiny act, and the effects he expected from them. But what was the change? The Mutiny act had, since the Revolution, allowed of a latitude of punishment for higher offences, and a court-martial might sentence to imprisonment or flogging. By the 22d section of the act a court-martial could go to any extent of punishment that did not injure life or limb. There, was, of course, no change in the law. If it was still to be insisted that there was a change, it must reduce itself to a hint to courts-martial, that they might look rather more to imprisonment than they had done. But all this was feeble. Flogging for mutiny, &c. would continue to the amount of eight or ten hundred lashes, and the change produced by the amendment would be nothing. Why was not the amendment introduced into the first section, and made adequate to supersede capital punishment, as the only thing that could be superseded by the amendment? The courts martial having already had power of imprisonment for inferior offences, would find their powers neither increased nor diminished by this alteration. Taylor's case was of small interest compared with the general question. He had lately expressed himself strongly in abhorrence of the flogging of negroes, a race less connected with us than the objects of the motion, and the House were loud in their detestation of the cruelty. Why not, when it came nearer home, and among a gallant and manly race of beings? The spectacle of a military flogging was one of the most horrid; and, that not on the testimony of persons of peaceful habits, but on the authority of officers educated in the view of them. But those were the very men who talked of them in the most powerful language. The representations of those officers would have been answered, if they were capable of being answered; but they were not. They had given their names in the face of the whole army. If any thing could have been said there were venal pens enough to vindicate the cruelty. That the punishment was ignominious was proved on the testimony of officers of no common distinction; general Stewart, sir Robert Wilson, and general Cockburne. Flogging turned the indignation at the crime against the punisher. Why was not torture a regular punishment? except a dictum, and a solitary passage in the Bill of Rights, there was nothing about the abolition of torture, because it never was the law of England. On the trial of Fenton for the murder of the duke of Buckingham, there was an attempt at examining by torture, but the judges declared that it could not be administered by the law of England. That law prohibited any unusual and cruel punishment. The punishment was not merely obnoxious as not reclaiming the culprit, but as an offence to public decency. His hon. friend had been called on. to point out a substitute for flogging. The law had done it already, by pointing out imprisonment. There were other modes of making discipline secure, such as deprivation of pay and restraint of food. But now we took the wretched victim down from the triangles, an object for the dissecting room, or for the hospital, to be hung up again, and receive another such punishment; the Duke of Gloucester thanked his lieutenant-colonel for not having had a single flogging in his regiment in two years and a half. Was there any decay of discipline on that account? The practice was ruinous to the soldier: He thereby lost his spirit, feeling, and character. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded, by saying that the motion should have his cordial support.

Lord Palmerston

spoke against the motion.

Mr. Whitbread

reprobated the system of punishment which had been adopted in our army, and highly panegyrised the dukes of Gloucester and Grafton for their discountenancing it in their respective regiments. Save this one black spot, he knew of no taint upon the honour of our army.

Mr. Yorke

opposed the motion, and was inclined to think, that during the hon. baronet's stay in the Tower, he had been picking up stories from the old soldiers, and they really had played the old soldier on him.

Mr. W. Smith

spoke in favour of the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the House ought not to put any faith in the statement of the hon. baronet, who had gone about collecting old stories, which, the moment they were stated, were falsified. The hon. baronet came forward with an abstract catalogue of complaints, which were uncontradicted and uncontradictable, because anonymous. He reprobated in strong terms the degrading light in which the hon. baronet had attempted to place the British soldier. God knows where he had got the notions which he had promulgated that night, but whether he had derived them from some periodical work which he was in the habit of reading, or from the company which he was in the habit of keeping, he trusted that he would not find in that House a single teller to support him.

Mr. Adams

and Sir H. Montgomery spoke against the motion.

Mr. Hutchinson

supported the motion, and vindicated the discipline of the French and Russian armies.

After a short reply from Sir F. Burdett, the House divided, Ayes 10, Noes 94.

List of the Minority.
Barham, J. F. Smith, W.
Creevey, T. Talbot, R. W.
Folkestone, Viscount Whitbread, S.
Hutchinson, C. H. TELLERS.
Ossulston, Viscount Burdett, Sir F.
Parnell, H. Brougham, H.
Sharp, R.