HC Deb 25 May 1811 vol 20 cc320-2
Sir Francis Burdett

rose to call the attention of the House to the subject of Military Flogging. It was a subject which had long and deeply occupied his mind, and he would have brought forward some motion on the subject before, but he had been advised to defer it, as the general feeling of the government appeared to be adverse to this odious, disgraceful and abominable practice, and the clause which had been introduced this session into the Mutiny act, shewed, at least, a disposition to counteract the evil; and he had been willing to receive it as an earnest of some better plan of military discipline than that which now existed. However, he had received information of the continuance of this practice, and in a service where such an ignominious and cruel punishment could least be justified—in the case of a person compelled to serve in the Local Militia, which obliged him, however reluctantly, to bring before the House some motion, which might lead to a more certain remedy for so great an evil. The circumstances with which he had been made acquainted, by letter, were these: The Liverpool regiment of Local Militia, commanded by colonel Earle, had been marched from that city to Ormskirk, on the 22d of April, and the quality of the bread was a subject of complaint among the men, many of whom had been used to a comfortable mode of living. However, the quality of the next rations of bread was not better, and after some representations on the subject, and the examination of the bread by the colonel, who declared it to be good, the major part of the men consented to take it, but nineteen of them refused, who were confined on the 27th of April. One of them, Thomas Taylor, composed a song, which contained allusions to the bad quality of the bread, (here the hon. baronet read a part of the song) copies of which were printed, and the colonel obtained a copy, and then sent to stop the press. No further notice was taken of it until the 2d of May, when the adjutant confined Taylor, who was tried immediately after in the course of the day, and allowed but one hour to prepare his defence, in which three witnesses bore testimony to his good character. He was sentenced to receive 200 lashes, and was marched to the regiment at 2 o'clock the same day, when he received 50 lashes, the rest being remitted. He was refused a copy of the Minutes of the Court Martial, and among other reasons alledged for his punishment, his politics were one. He was a very respectable man, held the situation of clerk, was married, and his wife, when he received the first lash, fainted away, and had since been very ill, and the privates and drummers of the regiment had been much affected at the infliction of the punishment. The hon. baronet said, that he considered this case of the highest importance, both as it affected the individual and the character of the country, which was disgraced by the continuance of such a practice, and he had the authority of persons who stood high in the service for saying, that flogging was as unnecessary as it was cruel, and not at all requisite for the maintenance of discipline in the regular service, when its only effect was to produce a loss of character, to which loss of life was infinitely preferable. But when this punishment was extended to the respectable father of a family, dragged into the service, it was truly dreadful. After some further remarks on the nature of military punishment, the hon. baronet concluded by moving," That the Minutes of the Court Martial held on Thomas Taylor, private in the 8th company of the Liverpool Local Militia, be laid before this House."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

expressed a wish that the hon. baronet would defer his motion until some inquiry could be made into the propriety of complying with it, as he believed it was contrary to the general principle, and was desirous that some general officers might be consulted upon it. As next week was full, and Monday and Tuesday in the following week were holidays, perhaps the hon. baronet would consent to defer his motion till Wednesday se'nnight.

General Tarleton

thought that it would be better to delay it, till a letter could be received from the district.

Mr. Whitbread

agreed in this suggestion, and said, he should be sorry to be absent at the discussion, as he had been one of those who hoped the new clause in the Mutiny act would have prevented the continuance of the practice of flogging, which he believed to be wholly unnecessary in the English army. As Wednesday se'nnight would be the 5th of June, perhaps the following day would be more convenient.

Sir F. Burdett

signified his concurrence in the proposed adjournment of the question.

The further debate on the subject was then adjourned till Thursday the 6th of June.